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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 10:30 pm

A blissful sound

Mi and LÂ’au invite you to join their lovefest

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Mi and L'au Mi and L'au (Young God Records)

Mi and L'au
Mi and L'au
(Young God Records) You don’t know Mi and L’au, but you know a couple like them: beautiful, blissfully in love, and, well, sometimes a bit of a drag. They’re so into each other, so deeply connected and complete in themselves, that being around them feels vaguely creepy, as if you’re interrupting their foreplay. Although it makes you feel like a jerk to begrudge them their perfect-couple contentment, begrudge them you must: Don’t they get sick of staring at each other’s flawless faces? Mi and L’au are a Finnish ex-model and a French composer/multiinstrumentalist, respectively, who fell in love in Paris (but of course — such people never hook up in Des Moines). When not discovering new and fascinating things about each other, they found the time to befriend freak-folk avatar Devendra Banhart, who dedicated Oh Me Oh My’s “A Gentle Soul” to them. Then the pair retreated to a cabin in rural Finland, where, between sessions of what was no doubt mutually satisfying and respectful lovemaking, they wrote these 14 spare, gentle, steadfastly pretty songs. Although their debut features guest turns and overdubs by Banhart, Angels of Light, and others, it sounds very much like a couple’s effort, so intimate that it might as well be in a secret language. Mi sings in a soft, plain semimonotone, as if she’s trying to console a colicky baby while the rest of the family sleeps in the next room; L’au decorates her pristine whisper with the barest instrumentation: some delicate acoustic-guitar arpeggios, a spectral synth line, a touch of piano, a cello or two, the occasional ambient fillip. The sound is austere and dreamy, the aural equivalent of the aurora borealis. The silence that surrounds almost every phrase functions as an instrument in its own right; like a skylight in a tiny bedroom, it suggests just enough distance and space to stave off cabin fever. Although the welcome-to-our-womb vibe can grate at times, as on L’au’s ode to his unborn child (“There’s a Word in Your Belly”) and Mi’s naked hymn to spousal nakedness (“Nude”), the hushed elegance of the orchestration and the transparent simplicity of the songs are irresistible. To loveless, misanthropic ears, the CD might sound like a Volkswagen Touareg ad waiting to happen, the 100 percent-organic fruit of 21st-century bobo nesting, but that’s just the bitterness talking. Sometimes, as long as you don’t stick around for the pet names and furtive caresses, it’s comforting to be in the company of people who care about each other so deeply that they can’t help but assume you’ll care, too.

Jana Hunter
Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom
(Gnomonsong) Jana Hunter is the first artist to release an album on Gnomonsong, the new label founded by Devendra Banhart and Vetiver’s Andy Cabic. If Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, the eccentric Texan’s solo debut, is any indication, Gnomonsong is poised to let its freak-folk flag fly high. Recorded mostly on two- and four-tracks over the course of a decade, the 13 songs have the quality of field recordings, their lo-fi limitations (mic distortion, tape hiss, random flubs and fumbles) conferring a kind of grubby authenticity on what is, at its core, a rather intellectual enterprise. Like the bastard daughter of Chan Marshall and Tom Waits, Hunter splits the difference between heart and head, balancing oddball mantras (“Laughing and crying are the same thing/Tearing at something with claws you can’t see”) with artless confessionals (“I don’t feel safe/When I’m feeling down”). Weird though they might be, Hunter’s songs never seem self-conscious or precious, and her bluesy murmur makes even her most obscure lines radiant with meaning.

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