Fairy Tale Songstress: Holly Miranda, 'The Magician's Private Library'

February 17, 2010

HOLLY MIRANDA STARTED in the rock outfit The Jealous Girlfriends, but as a solo artist she’s truly a rising star. Just in the past year, the New Yorker toured with no less than The XX, The Friendly Fires, A.A. Bondy, Vampire Weekend and The Antlers, and now she’s pairing up with Tegan and Sara. And it’s for good reason the label is working her hard on tour: her new solo album sees her striking out on her own musical explorations, and with compelling results.

On “The Magician’s Private Library,” there’s only a trace of the drum-based rock that permeated her other band’s indie pop. Miranda’s near-perfect voice and sense of complex dream-synth (many years in the making, though just now coming to widespread fruition) can be compared to many other female artists, from Feist to Cat Power to St. Vincent to Imogen Heap, but Miranda is in a league of her own when it comes to setting the elaborate stage for a multi-layered fairy tale in song form.

The highlight of the album comes early with the singsong “Forest Green Oh Forest Green,” a visit to a lush fairy land filled with demonic ogres as well as gorgeous princesses. “Waves” is also a track that will bring Miranda some much-deserved attention, as it does the best job of showing off her rich, colorful voice. But she and producer Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio are at their best when they wander to those faraway lands instead of residing in generic close-to-home instrumentation.

Low points include “Canvas,” which relies too heavily on restrained production and jars you out of the magical realm for a brief moment. One thing “The Magician’s Private Library” does well, however, is act as a cohesive album. The singsong threads from early on are picked up again in the soporific but lovely “Everytime I Go To Sleep,” for instance, and while there aren’t any serious attention-getting moments after “Forest Green,” the craftsmanship of the album is laudable. The soundscape uses horns, strings and flute to wondrous effect throughout, successfully invoking a classical atmosphere but tinging it with a modern disquietude.

Brooding and textured, “The Magician’s Private Library” is a rather collaborative project, with Sitek using Miranda’s voice as inspiration in painting his own dreamy musical pictures, but it’s a move that can only help Miranda’s rapidly increasing reputation. The album is the world’s first real glimpse at what she’s capable of, and it surely won’t be the last.

» Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW; with Teagan & Sara; Wed. Feb. 17, 8 p.m., $35; 202-783-4000. (Metro Center)

Written by Express contributor Afton Lorraine Woodward

Photo by Sebastian Mlynarski

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Stephen M. Deusner · February 17, 2010