First Listen: Thao And Mirah, 'Thao And Mirah'

Apr 17, 2011
Originally published on July 18, 2015 12:24 pm

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With most collaborations come a push and pull between what each artist brings to the table. The most successful musical partnerships use those differences, and occasionally opposition, to force each musician out of a comfort zone and create something new that neither would have come up with by his or herself. That's certainly the case with Thao & Mirah, a new record from Thao Nguyen and Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn that finds a lot of common ground between the indie-folk singer-songwriters, while also delving into new territory for both.

Separately, each has crafted a distinct identity: Mirah's songs are intimate yet robustly produced folk songs built around her breathy, mercurial voice. Thao's approach is more rollicking: She wails and warbles with raw energy and plays guitar with loose but impeccable chops. Together, they complement each other perfectly.

While some songs clearly fall under one songwriter's umbrella — Thao's "Folks" or Mirah's "Little Cup," for instance — the best here are the ones where they blur together stylistically and let their voices intermingle, making it tougher to parse who did what. Each writes songs that are enlivened with off-kilter production flourishes, thanks in part to tUnE-yArDs mastermind Merrill Garbus, who co-produced the album and even wrote the explosive single "Eleven."

Garbus' affinity for sonic experimentation and dissonance can be heard throughout Thao & Mirah, as they stir together an expansive palette of influences that marry chaos and beauty: Consider the minimalist synths in "How Dare You," the ecstatic horn blasts in "Rubies and Rocks" and the bluesy slide guitar and ramshackle back beat of "Squareneck." On paper, it might sound like that stuff would never flow together. Yet there's a consistency here that never lets Thao & Mirah meander or feel too much like a hodgepodge.

Thao and Mirah originally paired up for a one-off set at 2010's Noise Pop festival in San Francisco, then later embarked on a tour together with their conglomerate band, The Most of All. Thao & Mirah was soon recorded over a two-week period at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone Studios. The finished product, out April 26, captures both creative immediacy and a fruitful collaboration that's still discovering what it wants to become.

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