It is unclear what drives musicians to collaborate with one another. The best-case scenario involves both artists getting along swimmingly and gathering their combined strengths to create something truly memorable and magical.
The worst-case scenario (and the more likely of the two) involves a remarkable clash of personalities, styles that are more grating than complimentary and hurt egos for miles — or something the industry calls “artistic differences.” The later is luckily not the case with Mirah & Thao, the collaborative efforts of Olympia to SF transplant Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Thao Nguyen of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Magic most certainly is in the air.
Over the years we have been shocked and awed by the many unexpected and entrancing pairings that have unleashed their unlikely awesomeness before our very eyes. From Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, to Run DMC and Aerosmith, to Anthrax and Public Enemy, to Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus, to the all-or-nothing bad-assery of groups like Temple of the Dog and The Traveling Wilburys, there is certainly no shortage of cassingles to choose from. But that’s just it. Most of these sacred unions are short and sweet. One song, hopefully a hit, and then it is back to burrowing into the safe-space that is the artist’s own reality of self-absorption.
Such is not the case with Mirah & Thao, who met after Mirah moved down to SF from Olympia. The pair hit it off immediately, began touring together, and have now released an album of songs co-produced by tUnE-YaDs’ Merrill Garbus entitled, fittingly, Thao & Mirah (Kill Rock Stars).
Thao & Mirah explodes out of the gates with the first track “Eleven,” which has Garbus’ fingerprints all over it. Clanging percussion, frenetic clapping, and a driving beat along with Garbus’ signature vocals over the chorus makes for one of those openers that is so magnetic it practically propels you headfirst into the rest of the album without a second thought.
The rest of the tracks aren’t quite as fast and furious, instead providing the room to witness the impact of the artists both individually and together. There is a wide depth of field that encompasses each track and it becomes steadily apparent that Mirah and Thao are a match made in heaven. They compliment each other without stepping on and over steadfast traits, but they also push each other in ways that are not present in either party’s solo projects. I’m sure some of this exploration has to do with the influence of Garbus, but it seems that these two have truly found a home within one another.
The album is filled with subtleties that start to surface after the first few listens: the lush backing vocals and horns on “Folks,” the whispered rhythmical beats and sweeping strings throughout “Little Cup,” and the handclap and foot stomp percussion of “Teeth.” Then there are the more overt elements like the afro-beat influenced “Rubies and Rocks,” the ode to Major Tom “Spaced Out Orbit,” and the playful back and forth of “How Dare you.”
Overall, Thao & Mirah is a real pleasure to take in. It feels as though we have been granted a backstage pass to the collaborative growth between two hugely talented forces in the Bay Area scene. Regardless of whether or not they continue as a pair, their time together, so far, has been hugely beneficial to all, the magic and the air, the listener and the player.
Mirah & Thao play Tuesday, May 3rd at The New Parish in Oakland. Doors are at 8pm, tickets are $15. All ages.