Pop & Hiss

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Go see Holly Miranda at the Bootleg Theater tonight

March 12, 2010 |  4:24 pm


There’s a moment when you first see Holly Miranda perform live where you kind of can’t believe that voice is coming from that young woman. The slight, willowy singer  (who headlines the Bootleg Theater tonight) has such an overpowering soprano that, if she wanted to use it for such ends, it could probably shatter a whiskey glass right out of your hand.

Fortunately for those holding pricey drink orders, she instead uses that pulse-stopping range as one accent in a deeply strange but riveting vision of  chilly ambience, small-hours jazz and stoned downtown art-rock.  “The Magician’s Private Library” is unlike any singer-songwriter album you’re going to hear this year, and it should cement Miranda as one of indie music’s most unexpected and necessary new vocalists.

Miranda gets a lot of Cat Power references, but those comparisons seem more fashion-inspired than musical. She’s quite able with an acoustic guitar, and like Ms. Marshall of late she has an arranger’s affection for woozy soul horns and a just-woke-up vocal timbre. But those are just Miranda’s starting places. “Sweet Dreams” evokes the Ronettes passing around a bottle of cough syrup, with a synthetic, menacing male choir lurking in the background. “Every Time I Go To Sleep” is a torch song in miniature, driven by a sad-eyed Rhodes piano and computer-funk drum machines where Miranda comes off a little indignant about how hard she’s fallen for someone.

But it all comes back to that voice. She’s still figuring out the best way to deploy it. As a whole, “Library” has a wide omnivorousness that might benefit from an editor. But the far rarer talent – the one where she can knock you over with a feather the second she parts her lips – that, she has in spades. She's on tour with Tegan & Sara right now, but a small room is the space to see her. Otherwise, you might not believe that sound.

-- August Brown

Photo by Sebastian Mylnarski