Just the facts
K Records artist Mirah adds more adventures to her latest release C’mon Miracle
It’s usually a good sign when so many people have a hard time wrapping a definitive description around a musician’s output. With K Records artist Mirah, many of the attempts fall into two camps: simplified sound-bites ("Light and delicate lo-fi pop,” from NPR’s All Songs Considered show) or long-winded metaphors ("Much like a loved one taking a nap in your lap, a note from Mirah’s mouth has the precious ability to make you feel special,” from online ‘zine The Morning News).
It’s the same for all musicians, though. The difference with Mirah is that all of it, every word strung end-to-end and back again, actually works. But you have to look at it all at once.
For example, take online scene-makers Pitchforkmedia’s assessment of 2000’s You Think It’s Like This but Really It’s Like This as “brutally cloying.” There are a couple of songs, such as “Pollen” ("You’ve got pollen on your nose/ I’ve been leaking like a garden hose"), where Mirah quite effectively employs a bouncy, cooing, “brutally cloying” persona that befits a playful homage to playing around. But, such a succinct dismissal not only ignores the album’s musical and vocal variety (from the repetitive trance of “Of Pressure” to the overdriven “Water and Sleep"), it’s also the kind of reductive statement that sticks.
“The voice that always gets referred to [is], ‘She sounds like a little girl,'” Mirah said in a recent phone interview from her home in Portland, Ore. With the polite resignation of someone who doesn’t seem to want to waste a whole lot of time worrying about the definitions others pin to her, Mirah continues preparing her dinner, apologizing before giving a food processor a few blasts.
I broached the subject of how she’s defined musically because of the fact that in the world of indie rock, where her records mostly reside, her vocal stylings and her diverse songwriting stand out as something quite different. The two full-lengths that followed You Think It’s Like This…bear this out even more. 2002’s Advisory Committee and the recently released C’mon Miracle feature more of the same intimate and personal lyrics, and, thanks in large part to the inventive production assistance of the Microphones’ Phil Elvrum, the variety of sounds and musical styles branches out even further.
Advisory Committee begins with the thick orchestration of “Cold Cold Water” and from song to song goes through stylistic variances that range from techno beats to Klezmer.
“There’s a certain way they can know you from your music,” Mirah admitted, but in the period since the songs were written, recorded and released, “There is a lag time,” and she’s often moved on to something else in life and in music.
Her K Records bio avoids the issue altogether, sticking instead to the biographical facts. She was born Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn (her middle name means “good day” or “holy day” in Hebrew) in Philadelphia in 1974 and was raised in the suburb of Bala Cynwyd. She moved to Olympia, Wash., to attend Evergreen State College, and though she’d never played or written music before, after graduating and soaking up the vibrant music culture of the town, she began her career as a recording artist, first with Olympia’s YoYo Recordings then graduating to K.
C’mon Miracle continues Mirah’s Elvrum collaborations and includes the assistance of label honcho Calvin Johnson. The new release also features a couple of tunes recorded with frequent collaborator Bryce Panic while spending time in Argentina, further expanding an eclectic existence that’s taken her across the country for school, as well as to Norway to learn cabin building and for what’s becoming an annual tradition of going to her family farm in Pennsylvania to help during the maple sugaring season.
Obviously, each of these adventures tells only part of her story, and at 30 years of age Mirah continues to add to the description.