August 15th, 2007 | by Michael Byrne Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns

Mirah, Sunday, Aug. 19

     
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Spectratones_4967[UNPREDICTABLE] Even after an electronic remix album and an orchestral klezmer album, Mirah's just-born Share This Place is the strangest thing she's done yet. It features some of the same Black Cat Orchestra folks who joined her on the klezmer-ish To All We Stretch the Open Arm (here, they go by Spectratone International). And it traces back to a similar style, with accordions and bowed strings, albeit on a smaller scale. On a really small scale, in fact: Share This Place is about bugs.

Inspired by French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre, the album follows the life cycles of nature's tiny monsters in almost painfully precise detail. It's still Mirah, of course, a songwriter who can't escape relationship dissection—regardless of species. As such, her musical entomology is littered with metaphor (turns out bugs break each other's hearts, too).

Share This Place is a fine example of Mirah's charming unpredictability. More than that, it's a testiment to her ability to remain both surprising and innovative in the face of going “bigtime” (our Portland-to-Portland phone conversation last week had to be arranged, dentist-appointment style, by a PR company in New York). Despite the charm, her unpredictability is bound to alienate some fans of “classic Mirah”—the rattling arrangements and spare, bent melodies of her early days with Phil Elverum's lo-fi indie-rock project Microphones.

Much of the new record, on the other hand, sounds like children's music. Performing its songs on stage, the already theatrical 32-year-old (whose full name is Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn) takes on a storyteller's persona. Still, she's not winning everyone over. Mirah premiered Share This Place at the Seattle International Children's Festival, and she says of the experience, “Kids are extremely honest, they say what's on their mind.” In a voice that strikingly mirrors her singing voice (you might guess her identity over the phone), she recalls one audience member's response: “This is boring!” But, in the face of growing popularity, there's nothing more idyllic than an artist trying not to win everyone over. And Share This Place is ultimately alluring, even to those who aren't normally fans of Jewish folk music.

But don't expect to hear her entomological tunes at this week's show—a benefit for an ex-Holocene employee who recently had a bad accident (wince warning!) and got some teeth knocked out. All we know is that the benefit will be some kind of sing-along involving ex-Portland electro-popper Anna Oxygen. True to form, when pressed for details, all Mirah offers is: “It's a bit of a secret, actually. It will be,” she pauses, “unexpected.”

Mirah plays Sunday, Aug. 19, with Anna Oxygen and Janet Pants at Holocene. 9 pm. $7. 21+
 
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