Mia Doi Todd – La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita

Mia Doi Todd
La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita

Mia Doi Todd is an accomplished artist with five albums behind her. The first three featured her distinct voice and an acoustic guitar, the fourth took her established style and layered it up with some embellishments, then the fifth studio album, Manzanita, decided to deviate slightly and explore other genres. This is the basis for her latest effort, La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita, which features primarily remixes along with three new tracks.

I’m not a big fan of remixes and certainly not an entire album full of them, especially when there are repeats of the same song (“My Room is White” shows up three times). And when it comes to Todd, her voice is so strong that it is so fitting in stripped-down environments that it’s hard to imagine it featured within a more synthetic surrounding. One might question her vocal strength if it cannot stand up to some electronic beats, but it’s not about being able to hold her ground as it is about being washed over with bells, whistles, beeps, and bleeps. The often-heard act of overkill is what I always fear with remixed albums.

“What if We Do?” opens the album with a layered Bollywood musical style that adds instant depth to a song that one may never guess was a remix at all. Nobody’s interpretation of the Manzanita original is a fitting style for Todd’s voice, and the details within the song itself provide an exciting new view, almost like looking at a relationship through someone else’s eyes.

Ammoncontact’s remix for “Muscle, Bone & Blood” was enticing when the music began with an almost primitively sexy feel, but instead of integrating with the mood, it became an introduction to a song that didn’t go anywhere. The original is so raw and sparse that it pleads for an extra little something that this version hit on but then didn’t know where to take it, which ended in a complete disconnection.

With three versions of one of Manzanita’s best tracks, “My Room is White,” Flying Lotus manages to finish up the bunch with the very reason why I don’t often care for remixes. In this third look at what was originally a nice arrangment, the song is chopped up and forced to stagger through unoriginal beats. And sadly, the whole track carries on in this manner with little relief until the end.

One of the highlights of the album is Dntel’s interpretation of “Deep At Sea,” which takes the beautiful lilting vocals of the original and enhances it by giving it a completely different mood with a simple, pulsating beat that feels as if it was meant for this song, and one could hardly imagine these lyrics floating above any other musical backdrop.

Another shining moment is with the new track “Kokoro,” which features only Todd’s voice backed by a simple, hushed acoustic rhythm. The track reminds me of an old song from Nelly Furtado where she sang in her native tongue and it was so beautiful that I couldn’t imagine why she was wasting such an amazing vocal talent. “Kokoro” shows that Todd knows where her strengths are and that even though she may be exploring other areas, she will continue to base everything off her best asset: her voice.