Release Date: Apr 26, 2011
Record label: Kill Rock Stars
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Thao and Mirah aren’t the likeliest pair. Sure, they share a love of acoustic guitars and prefer to be on a first-name basis, but you probably won’t find them grouped together in a RIYL list. But when Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn moved from Olympia, Wash. to San Francisco, she found a kindred spirit in Thao Nguyen, and the two eventually toured together.
In the early 2000s in Olympia, Wash., it was not uncommon to see Mirah sitting in the back of a show, knitting. To her credit, this was years before the ubiquity of Stich 'n Bitch and Etsy and "Urban Craft Uprisings" and that one woman at the gym who knits while riding the stationary bicycle (hate). No way of proving this, but Thao Nguyen doesn't come across like much of a knitter.
Much has been made of the perceived incompatibility of Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Thao Nguyen. The former is a veteran of San Francisco’s indie scene, quietly soldiering away through album after album of intimate, introspective folk. The latter is a scrappy, power-pop songstress, sowing dance parties wherever she goes with the help of her indomitable backing band, The Get Down Stay Down.
As idiosyncratic singer-songwriter types with musical personalities strong enough for them to go by their first names, Thao Nguyen and Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn are probably as amenable and well-suited as they come to pairing up and sharing the spotlight. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that they more or less share a similar indie sensibility and overlapping underground audiences, but there’s something about their approaches that seem particularly compatible and complementary. in the dynamic duo, Thao takes on the headlining role, not just due to possessing bigger and more current profile, but mostly because her party anthems for misfits and underdogs are more extroverted—as she once described her music’s raison d’être, “Sad people dance, too.
While two people hardly constitute a super group, when the two personalities in question are as strong as Thao and Mirah, egos still need to be put aside in order to make the project work. Unlike Monsters of Folk, to use one recent example, Thao & Mirah does not sound like a series of songs written by one member or another. In fact, Thao and Mirah have done such a good job of marrying their styles that the album feels like one piece, not a patchwork of two artists trying to coexist.
For a collaboration between a couple of noted songwriters, it's striking that the songs are often the least interesting thing about Thao & Mirah. There are a handful which stand out on their own merits -- Thao Nguyen's singsongy "How Dare You," an R&B-tinged call-and-response that's the only proper duet here; Mirah Zeitlyn's characteristically hushed, thoughtful "Hallelujah," which dares to brush against the deathless Leonard Cohen classic and fares impressively well, considering. But by and large, the album is more notable and enjoyable as an exploration of sounds and textures (both instrumental and vocal) than as a collection of melodies and lyrics.
Thao and Mirah clearly like each other. When touring together, it's less about an opener and a headliner, and more about collaboration. They play together, rework each other's songs, sing together, create new sounds. So they come across as both close friends and great fans of each other's music ….