Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: K
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Northwest chanteuse gets gentle, elemental If there is a Mother Earth, it may as well be Olympia, Washington’s Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, who coos coyly and with care, who has been championed by those preservationists of primitive innocence, who has reveled in understated arrangements of her girlish wisdom, and who has now, on (a)spera, sung out a sweet and transcendent lament for the natural world with all its inhabitants. Opener “Generosity” reveals the songstress alternating between the perspective of bountiful nature (“I’ve given you all of my energy) and a grieving human who realizes too late all that has been taken and can’t be replaced (“these clouds we’ve made cannot make rain”). It’s a Giving Tree scenario, spun out with strings and a subdued power-ballad build, and it sets the stage for the worldly decay catalogued throughout (a)spera with the help of several gifted collaborators, including Kane Mathis (who provides gorgeous baroque kora work in “Shells”) and Bryce Panic (who creates the serene kalimba base for winding closer “While We Have the Sun”).
Calling an album "mature" can be damning it with faint praise, but Mirah's luminous (A)spera embodies the best qualities of that word. While it might be subtler and gentler than most of her previous work, it also feels like a summation of everything that came before it. Advisory Committee was a gloriously audacious sprawl that showed exactly what Mirah was capable of -- which was a lot -- and C'mon Miracle was a reassuring shoulder to cry on, but (A)spera finds a delicate, sometimes tense balance between adventurousness and empathy.
Hope and hardship are so inexorably linked that they might as well be the same word. Hope is like a fragile pane of glass that separates us from the harsh reality of our lives, periodically shattered, leaving us torn and miserable. We’d be fine if it hadn’t been there in the first place, but could we have endured so long with out it? Best to bandage ourselves and and hope it won’t happen again.
Following three solo albums, a host of collaborations and a four-year hiatus which saw both remix and rarities collections drop, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn returns with a fourth set as striking as anything she’s ever released – a seamless integration of emotional peaks and troughs of the sort she’s spent a career exploring. Immediately apparent upon spinning (a)spera a first time is the sense of ambition on display. ‘Generosity’ – all stabbing, swooping strings, spacious percussion and myriad vocal lines – is a startling, addictive entrée that in a sense recalls her earlier ‘Cold Cold Water’; dramatic, multifaceted arrangements playing out their circular routes married to dreamily seductive yet commanding vocal turns.
Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn has played a vital role in the Pacific Northwest's indie scene since releasing her breakthrough album You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This, a 4-track collaboration with fellow analog enthusiast and sad-eyed songwriter Phil Elverum of the Microphones, back in 2000. Since then she's had far more ups than downs, hooking up for collaborations with artists such as Black Cat Orchestra and Tara Jane O'Neil, releasing 2004's outstanding C'mon Miracle, and providing the soundtrack for the excellent political documentary Young, Jewish, and Left. Fittingly for such a skilled lyricist, the title of Mirah's latest solo album, (a)spera, is a play on the Latin words "asperak," which means "adversity" and "a spera," which translates as "hope.
Mirah's come a long way since her first K Records release, You Think It's Like This, But It's Really Like This. That lovely, affecting work had songs of such and clarity and honesty that a listener could sit at home, wincing in embarrassment at such openness if delivered by someone who lacked Mirah's earnest and conviction. The pretty naked speech on that album is a stark comparison to the songwriting of Mirah's latest, (A)spera.
Mirah’s songs have always fallen somewhere between a caress and a snap, her biting clever words woven around achingly soft melodies, her love songs skewered with unblinking, sometimes lacerating, observations. There is a precision in her best relationship songs that makes you sure they are about specific people, even as you draw parallels with your own experience. C’mon Miracle in 2004 diverged slightly from this type of material, as she tried her hand at geopolitics and religion.