Hes Mia Hen
Got a new Mia Doi Todd record in the mail last week. "Mia" means "one" in Greek, so if I were one of those critics who relies on boring-ass intro paragraphs to ease him smoothly into the review, I'd probably spend a long time yammering about oneness or something. Really, though: can't we please grow past that stuff yet? Are we trying to impress our creative writing teachers or something?
Astute readers will note that in calling out the intro-paragraph villains, I have myself succumbed to the intro-paragraph virus, but really, the joke is on the astute reader; the smart reader, who skims, has been reading about how fucking awesome the new Mia Doi Todd record is for several minutes now. He may even have adjourned to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich, since you slow-poke astute guys tend to get hung up on tenses & persons & whatnot. Me, I don't care, I get paid the same (i.e., zero) whether I get to the point early or late. This whole paragraph, were your editor actually an editor instead of a bum which is what I am let's face it Charlie, should probably have been excised for clarity, brevity, and on vague moral grounds. Around here we favor the vague moral grounds over clarity and brevity, seeing as how if we wanted clarity and brevity we'd turn to logic and not oh say music reviews. Straight is the gate! Anyhow, I got the new Mia Doi Todd album, Manzanita, in the mail last week.
Have we all caught up with the smart reader, who (rightly) does not give two shits about how a critic feels about his review? Christ. Sometimes it's like we've actually entered a timewarp, only this time the seventies are really, really aggressive. Is that the last of you, then? Good. So see here. Mia Doi Todd is a folk singer. She plays the acoustic guitar with skill and care; this does not mean, you fuckin' wiseguy you, that she just plucks single-note runs. She does her best to sing clearly and sonorously, and succeeds wildly: her voice, quite deep for a woman, fills up a room like a gorgeous, thick fog. Finally, she writes almost uncomfortably direct songs about love and pain and what it feels like to look inside her heart, and what she finds in there when she does.
Manzanita, after a week in the CD player — during which week I found myself wanting to hear it more often than pretty much anything else in the house — strikes me as something of a masterpiece. Its textures are rich but unprepossessing; all the musicians competent, expressive, but austere; it is a very even-keeled affair. The darker moments ("The Way," "Muscle, Bone & Blood") don't try to frighten you; they just remind you that intimacy is difficult, sometimes so hard that we wouldn't dare it if loneliness didn't seem even worse. In so doing, they accomplish something rather more impressive than just spilling their guts and howling about the mess they've made. Listening, I'm reminded that Ozu's films are at least as good as Kurosawa's; I am absorbed into incredibly personal narratives. I am stunned, finally, into speechlessness by the nakedness's of Todd's lyrics; many try but almost none succeed at writing verses as surgically unadorned as
It's getting late. We had better head back.
We could stop and get some dinner.
There's a full moon rising, the stars are aligned.
We could spend the night together.
What if we do?
Alone again, I hope to find
a greater kindness, peace of mind,
a faith, a joy in my core.
I head for some unknown shore.
or, most remarkably to me, in four lines so elegant that it's hard to slow one's reading down enough to really drink in just how good they are:
I am a human being.
I'm made of muscle, bone and blood.
I'm full of awesome feelings
like unconditional love.
I imagine that some folks reading this will find some of the above corny; each to his own, I suppose. But so many people — so many! — have lately expressed (in print, even!) a liking for music that aims at articulating the raw truths of the heart. I would hazard a guess that nobody will hit the mark quite so truly as Manzanita does on almost every song. ("Almost" = the attempt at reggae is a little too 10,000 Maniacs for my tastes.) And the voice — the voice! You can expect people to haul out the Joni Mitchell comparisons when reviewing it; forgive them. It's just that they haven't ever actually heard anything like Manzanita, so they're grasping at straws. Seek it out and see for yourself. She is really something special.
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