Album Review: Holly Miranda – The Magician’s Private Library

by Raffi Youssoufian on February 22, 2010

Listening to Jealous Girlfriends’ front woman Holly Miranda’s first solo album, I couldn’t help but think of an old Bjork interview referring to Debut and Post as her greatest hits albums.  They stood as a sparkling mesh of every style of music that piqued her interest.  And that is the energy trying to burst out here, traveling with Holly from one sound scape to the next.

After recording the EP Sleep on Fire last year, Holly, a New Yorker since the age of 16, began receiving rave reviews from critics everywhere including the likes of Kanye West, who put up one of her songs on his website.  Produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, The Magician’s Private Library was churned out in a cluster of “sleepless and magical nights recording in the studio.”  It’s very possible that the lack of sleep helped create the very dreamlike quality running throughout the music, which shows up immediately in a very bizarre, soundtastic but eerily alluring way to start the album, as “Forest Green Oh Forest Green” leads the way into Holly’s forest, filled with analog sounds, noises, theatrical singing, horns, and background vocals some might consider sound effects.  As cheesy as that combination could sound, it’s prime artisan gruyere.  Unexpected as the first song is, it effortlessly connects into a juxtaposition of a second song, appropriately titled “Joints,” filled with ethereal and lush delayed guitars, having a quality to the melody that lends itself to a Radiohead-like church hymn.

Swimming in the multiple airy layers, it’s hard not to notice how different but somehow united all the songs are, almost like exploring completely new levels in different environments as you progress through the same video game.  After three songs sounding nothing alike, level four comes with blazing and stark electronic horn sounding organs straight out of a dark James Bond movie.  Even resembling a Bond movie title, ” No One Just Is” is an early Goldfrapp but  produced by Massive Attack sounding song, with Holly starting in a sing-speaking that climaxes into a beautiful vocal melody.  Subsequent levels do seem to calm a bit, and probably are not as strong as the first half of the album but are still worth playing to get to the end of the game.

As her soft visceral voice floats and soars, taking major precedent when it needs to, it sometimes feels like an instrument itself, stepping back and taking its place complementing everything in one lovely lattice of sound.  Depending on the song, I can hear a lot of voice comparisons some could make off mere association of the style.  But the most noticeable are at the few instants in the mellifluous and enveloping “Waves,” when Holly hits a note or two, I can’t help but hear her channeling a moment of Cat Power that is trying to escape into the air.

So often, people are afraid to try music in different languages for whatever reason.  The idea that someone who doesn’t understand French can love Edith Piaf is something so endearingly wonderful about music.  Holly sings in English, but after repeated listens, I have thoroughly enjoyed the music and her singing while only deciphering just about 5-10% of the lyrics.  But for me, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the music is about as long as it touches you in some way.  Holly and Dave have created something that dares to fill a space with sound, with so much going on aurally, sometimes you’re not sure where to look or listen.  But nothing ever seems excessive.   Walking through these woods, everything always feels just right, which makes it such a satisfying listen, with a landscape  lush enough to warm you up on a cold day.
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The Magician’s Private Library will be released February 23, 2010 on XL Recordings. In addition, she’ll be headlining Cafe Du Nord on March 9, 2010.

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