New Music:Holly Miranda
Brooklyn has got to be putting something in their water. Over the past few years, this populous borough of New York has been cultivating some of the indie scene’s most prized gems, which include – but are not limited to – Grizzly Bear, MGMT, Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio and Yeasayer. Oh, but it doesn’t end there. Now, Brooklyn would like to present: Holly Miranda.
Things didn’t come easy for Holly; in fact, one could say her story is proof that patience is a virtue. Since the age of 16 – nearly ten years now – Holly has been trying to get her solo album produced and released. She went through a number of fallouts with record labels that tried to boil her sound down into something more commercial. But Holly’s luck finally changed when she met producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio.
Her debut album, “The Magician’s Private Library,” straddles the conflicting state of dreams versus reality; Holly uses ethereal sounds that lull listeners into a hypnotic state, breaking it periodically with blaring brass to bring us back to reality. Holistically, the album is a lush atmospheric playground of sound, pretty and sweet. Yet at the same time, Holly sings about dark, menacing themes that touch on love, hope, loss – and more importantly, dreams.
The album starts off weak with “Forest Green Oh Forest Green,” a duet between Holly and Brendan Coon. Coon’s voice overpowers Holly’s vocals throughout the song, and the addition of rumbling horns in the background takes away from the brilliance of the album’s centerpiece: Holly’s diverse vocal skills.
However, the album steadily rises with the second song, “Joints.” Beginning with a trumpet solo and segueing into a guitar riff, the song is slow and evenly-paced as Holly sings “Dreamt of you again last night / called your phone to hear your voice / I know / I know you know.” Coupled with wispy cymbal tinkering and subtle trumpet interjections, “Joints” gradually crescendos into a full organ soundscape that makes up for the disappointing opening track.
Perhaps one of the more menacing songs on the album is “No One Just Is,” a track that mixes fuzzy guitars and distorted strings to create a sound of imminent fear. The fear in this case is the endless disappointment of searching for and sustaining the contentment of love, while always hanging on the edge of discontent. The track’s most captivating feature is its ominous instrumentals which tactfully complement Holly’s low (almost monotonous) voice.
Tucked neatly in the middle of the album is “Slow Burn Treason,” arguably the strongest track on the album. Give the song a couple of seconds and you’ll be hooked by the lush atmospheric resonance of soft driven beats, simplistic guitar notes, distorted keys and ephemeral synth chords. Coupled with Holly’s low smoky serenade, the song can easily soothe listeners into a drowsy mood, but just when the drowsiness is about to slip into the enticing prospect of slumber, Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio joins in and backs Holly’s already superlative voice with his falsetto cries. Steadily, the song climaxes with the help of a string build up as Kyp and Holly question in unison, “Who’s gonna feel you, who’s gonna lead you, who’s gonna want you, who’s gonna hold you, who’s gonna love you, who’s gonna tease you?”
“Magician” ends on a high note with “Canvas” and “Sleep on Fire,” two songs that champion the hope of love on an album that is predominantly struggling with the notion of love within the balance of dream versus reality. Presumably, both songs are about two lovers in the place where dreams are cultivated – the bed. “Canvas,” is a delicate lullaby with sparse instrumentals, thus relying heavily on Holly’s vulnerable voice to express the safety of being in the arms of a lover. “Sleep on Fire” closes the album with echoing guitar chords and the jangling of chiming tambourines as Holly proclaims in full assurance “A head full of clouds/But I don’t care/There’s no place/ I want to wake up/But besides you.”
Perhaps the biggest flaw of this album is the overwhelming gush of sound that tends to overshadow the brilliance of Holly’s musical and lyrical writing abilities. Songs such as “Sweet Dreams,” “Forest Green Oh Forest Green,” and even the noteworthy “Joints” seem dominated by Sitek’s habit of smothering a song until it’s an intricate, dense ball of sound. The beautiful simplicities of Holly’s songs are lost in the abyss of overflowing horns and the occasional electro-beats.
The idea was right, but the execution was off. Holly Miranda has got talent which can’t be denied – underneath the layers of sound, the raw skeleton of her songs are still prominent, and they shine even if they’re encased in a bubble of noise.