As someone who grew up in a home where listening to secular music was strictly forbidden and where church was a near-daily ritual, the music Holly Miranda creates is ominously shrouded with dark atmospherics. Her initial role in music was as a member of The Jealous Girlfriends and there is a rather gripping story regarding how she met producer/musician Dave Sitek. But when your talent is an unrelenting presence of skill and beauty, even Miranda can nod to the rest of us with just how much of her music is waiting to be revealed.
A triumphant debut, The Magician’s Private Library is about the sounds that cloud all of our heads. You see, even if Miranda’s youth was a sheltered one where she had to sneak off into her rebellious sister’s room to find albums by Aretha Franklin and Nine Inch Nails, there was always a world of opportunity spinning in her head. And although she had to learn lessons the hard way – finding out at the young age of sixteen just how vicious the music industry is – there is something rigorously magnetic about her music.
A lush voice, she finds a way to fill each song with an excellent blend of nourishment and attention. Even when she’s dreaming away (“Sweet Dreams”) her voice is creatively dug deep into the music’s surface. Sometimes shining above the rest of the sounds, sometimes buried in the mix of instruments but always, the main attraction, Miranda’s best talent is her blissful vocal. And it doesn’t hurt that she has a producer in Sitek to maneuver every sound into something equally subtle and moving. Their coalition is never stronger as it is on “Waves[’]” burning manifestation of double-tracking vocals and hidden pageantry. Miranda’s voice lights the candle in a dark room with her dedication to love; snapshots of drums, guitar and shoegaze come and go before leaving her on her own to conquer it.
Her story on how she met Sitek and how they would trade demos, work together and continued to do so for a few good years before making the album, only supports the chemistry ebbing off it. Sitek’s prowess is one thing but on top of that, he knows the artist he is working with and has her science figured out. Whether Miranda needs a horn, a background singer, or even just more reverb, Sitek’s choices are realized into brilliant fruition. And as such, Miranda is so comfortable that she comes off sounding assured and poised; you’d never guess it was the voice of a rookie behind the mic.
While the album’s message can be attributed to a numerous amount of speculation, there is an immediate attention to the difference between real life and dreams. The subject matter can be just as easily dissected but in the end, it’s the album’s ability at swaying those emotions into something tangible that really bring out its strengths. “Slow Burn Treason” is a just that, a traitor’s recourse and the victim’s hurt after the betrayal. Just like a dream can leave you questioning its purpose and above all, its reasoning, hearing Miranda sing, “But who’s gonna feed you, who’s gonna lead you, who’s gonna want you, who’s gonna hold you, who’s gonna love you, who’s gonna tease you, who?” is a deliriously saddened exaltation.
The guests that appear (Kyp Malone’s vocals on the aforementioned track are especially superb) lend a selfless hand but there is no denying just how much Miranda and Sitek feed off each other. The Magician’s Private Library is Miranda’s personal baby but Sitek is the godfather, scavenging through all of the reading material. It’s a sincerely open recording and a true testament to what the human spirit is capable of – even when the odds are against it.
“Waves” by Holly Miranda