Monday, May 25, 2015

Holly Miranda Is Here

I've probably told the story of how I came to Holly Miranda too many times. Suffice it to say that I've been a fan since 2009 and that being her fan seems to involve a lot of waiting. At first I was collecting the free songs she dropped on the Internet, waiting for her to release something official. Then I got Sleep On Fire, her first EP, and found myself waiting for her first album (or her first "real" album, as she had recorded one as a teenager). The album, The Magician's Private Library, came out and, while it was quite good, I still found myself waiting for a record that reflected all of her talent. I was also waiting to see her on stage, and finally did in Prospect Park  as an opening act. Then, of course, I was waiting to see her as a headliner. 

Somewhere in there she started a Pledge Music campaign so I was now waiting for an album in which I was essentially an investor. Actually, that was in 2011, so it was there was a lot of waiting ahead. During all that time, I did get to see her headline at the Knitting Factory in 2013, which was fantastic. That same year, she released Everlasting and Desert Call, two of her best songs yet, featuring the kind of singing and emotion that just stop you in your tracks. That made 2014 the hardest year of waiting, because I knew she had finally figured out how to reveal her full talent in the studio. While she did let us pledgers know about some of the mitigating circumstances behind the delay, I did start to worry that she was stalling out somehow, getting lost in side projects and backing other musicians. 

Then, earlier this year, the dam finally broke. Some songs appeared on Spotify and pledgers were notified that the album was coming in May. I tried not to get too hung up on dates, to just let it happen, but it all happened on schedule: Holly Miranda was released on May 18th and it is brilliant. The waiting is finally over. 

Mark My Words opens the album with chiming guitar and sleigh bells, and then Holly comes in, intimately singing "Sneaking words into your pocket, bleeding lyrics from my veins," a perfect invitation for all that follows. The song is a slow build and her singing instantly impresses with its clarity, control and soul-singer phrasing. The song ends with powerful, chunky guitar, and drops us into the breezy strumming that opens All I Want Is To Be Your Girl  This is an instantly hummable  singalong: "The days are shorter but the nights are long/We could fuck in the sun and dance till dawn/And all I want is to be your girl." Of course, our puritanical culture will keep the song in this form off the radio, but this should be a pop hit. It goes down so easy that all those Swedes who machine-tool the Billboard charts will look up from their Pro-Tools and say, "Damn. Why am I working so hard?"

Then we get Everlasting, a swoon in song with no small debt to John Lennon at his best. The vocal arrangement is elaborate, with a chorus of Hollies and some deep male underpinnings just above the subsonic. Bowie does stuff like that, but few others even try. Whatever You Want has a touch of the 80's but is cheese-free, with Miranda more than holding her own with an army of guitars and clattering percussion. Come On alternates from spare to full-on, and there's a bit of girl-group innocence and yearning: "I've been waiting for a blue moon to cover me/Get me through this lonesome night ahead of me."

Pelican Rapids has the feel of a bedroom recording, in the best way, with Miranda singing along to herself accompanied by electronic drums and keyboards. It's an overture to Desert Call, which like Everlasting was re-recorded for the album. It's both longer and more luxuriant than the earlier version while still retaining the same classic, elemental feel. That great baritone sax solo (by Maria Eisen) I heard at the Knitting Factory is well-represented here and Miranda sounds so at home singing alongside the throaty horn, her true musical foil. 

The Angelo Badalamenti songs Julee Cruise sang for Twin Peaks have become more and more foundational, most recently (and unfortunately) in the faltering attempts of Lana Del Rey, who sings like someone who is never quite sure what's going to happen when she opens her mouth. Holly Miranda definitely doesn't have that problem and brings some of Badalamenti's dark romanticism to both The Only One and Heavy Heart. Each song is lead by rich piano parts, with that bari sax droning underneath, and features a bit of theatrical flair. Music supervisors take note. 

The penultimate cut, Until Now, is so good I almost don't want to share it with you, or anybody else. In a way the whole beautiful album builds to this point. It's mostly just Holly and her acoustic, with gorgeous touches of electric guitar swooping in the spaces between. "Never opened my eyes until now/Never really realized until now," are the opening lines and we're instantly plunged into the white-hot moment when friends become lovers. "You've got some kind of sweetness," she sings in the chorus, her voice ascending in a curlicue of pure longing  "Tied up in that string I've been tugging on/ But I'm pulling now." This is almost Nick Drake territory, where you get wrapped up in the song and wind up feeling protective of the singer. Then again, I've always been rooting for Holly Miranda, and my cheerleading will continue. But I have a feeling the real cheering is about to begin, and it will be louder than ever. 

Join the applause when Holly Miranda returns to the Knitting Factory on June 13th.

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