Issue #14: Holly Miranda by Holly Miranda

May 2, 2016

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Holly Miranda by Holly Miranda
Released On May 19, 2015
Released By Dangerbird Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Jeremy Shatan

Back in the ’80s, I talked about The Replacements until I was blue in the face, fully convinced that some kind of global success was just around the corner for them. In retrospect I can see now that they were always due to be a cult act, what with the whipsaw shifts between balladry and buffoonery in their songs, and a live show that was either amazing or amazingly awful. While it has been gratifying to see their cult grow in recent years, I can accept their role as a seminal influence on all that followed.

Not so for Holly Miranda. I’ve been singing the praises of this remarkable singer and songwriter since 2009 and I ain’t giving up anytime soon. There’s no reason that I can see that she shouldn’t be spoken of in the same breath as Neko Case, Tegan & Sara, Torres, and other much ballyhooed artists with whom she shares some musical DNA. So I’m using the bully pulpit of OYR to gain her some more listeners and hopefully inject her further into the national conversation about music.

First off, Holly is a genius interpreter of other people’s songs, from Etta James to Swans to Drake. On Holly Miranda, her second “real” album, she has also cracked the code of great songwriting, tapping into a lineage that includes Nick Drake, John Lennon, and Leiber & Stoller. So the songs have a classic feel and she sings the hell out of them — while playing most of the instruments, I might add. This was my #1 album of 2015 and it just boggles my mind that her name isn’t on the tip of every tongue that loves good rock and pop music.

The real thing that distinguishes her is that every single song is connected to a white-hot emotional core. Whether the joyful infatuation of “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” or the deep love of “Until Now,” there is no question that she has lived it all. And maybe that’s too much for some people. But I say open your ears — and your heart — to Holly. Her music will enrich your life. And if you have a chance to see her live, you will find her to be a generous, connected performer who commands the stage with grace, humor, and power. Head over to her website — an opportunity to see her may be closer than you think.

I hope I’ve made some new fans for Holly among my fellow OYR writers — read on to find out!

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

As earnest a songwriter as they come. As musically deep an artist as they come. As aurally uncanny as they come.

Is it better to draw people into your music with a song that is not indicative of your body of work as a whole, or is it preferable to have maybe fewer fans but albums that exhibit an overall more consistent sound? I ask as someone who put Holly Miranda’s “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” on running mixes last year, but felt disappointed with her self-titled record after I listened to it. I was expecting Sky Ferreira and I got…rock? I came into this (re)listen with preconceived notions and they initially clouded my reaction. I skipped through the tracks, bored. I waited a while before checking out the album again and I am so embarrassed about my original response. Miranda writes fantastic songs that remind me of things I already love, in a really good way. Her gorgeous, sultry voice sounds like California springtime (I was so pleased to discover she wrote the album in Joshua Tree). I slowly got wrapped up in the beauty and wonder of it all. By the time “Desert Call,” a sprawling, fascinating, six-and-a-half minute opus with a fucking saxophone solo, ends with Miranda singing, “hallelujah, I’m free,” I was totally feeling it. As far as my first question goes…I still don’t have an answer. The way people listen to and interact with music is so different today than what I’m used to or even what we’re doing with Off Your Radar. I can say without a doubt that sometimes giving an album another chance can lead to a rewarding new relationship with it.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

I know this one! With the the obvious exception of Britney, this is the first time I was actually familiar with an OYR album before we’ve covered it. It’s a slippery little work that is familiar while also shaking off easy classification. I normally try to shy away from talking about the easy target, but damn, “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” is so bleeding good. “We can fuck in the sun and dance til dawn” is so anthem of my summer sixteen that I’m deeply considering writing it on my graduation cap. The fuzzed out vocals take you straight to the coast while its laid back strumming roots you straight in the heartland. The whole album plays like this weekend, like a weekend drive with pleasant little surprises around the curves. Like the way that “Whatever You Want” attaches its lost love narrative to a stuttering little synth underpinning. With lyrics like “he’s not gonna love you like I do,” it’s also interesting how beautifully, refreshingly queer the project is. And that’s before you even take into account the stunning, closeted-teen ballad “Pelican Rapids.” Brilliantly written front to back, the album delves deep into the personal to find something universal. And it matches every bit of lyrical genius vocals and the aforementioned sonic surprises (sax solos! 60’s girl group refrains!). And it wraps itself around your listening environment, sounding like a far different project on a rainy day in bed than it does it on a sun soaked afternoon. Luckily it doesn’t seem like we’re gonna have to wait 5 years in between albums this time around. In the interim, check out her relaxed, sexy as hell cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”

Josh Buck (@altq42)
Devout Pop Music Purist

I usually try to do these write-ups armed only with my prior knowledge of the artist, but every once in a while someone comes along and knocks me sideways to the point that I just have to look them up. Holly Miranda is one of those. A singer-songwriter with a facility for incredible pop melodies, and an irreverent knack for lyrical raunchiness? Jeez, who is this woman? Well, it turns out, I’ve missed a decade-plus career so far, as 2015’s Holly Miranda is not even her debut but her third solo album, in addition to two she recorded as a member of The Jealous Girlfriends. It’s great, too! That raunchiness I mentioned is on flagrant display in “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl,” in which she repeatedly sings “We could fuck in the sun and dance til dawn” (boy did I relate to this song, by the way — bittersweet thoughts of a certain boy running through my head and everything). “Desert Call“‘s aching torchsong blues, “Come On“‘s minimal piano dance rhythms, and the sad beauty of “Heavy Heart” all showcase different sides of Miranda’s pop genius, and all have immediately scored a place in my heart. This album has significant variety and moves through quite a few different moods across its 11 tracks, but still works as a very unified listen and puts across Miranda’s personality-filled talent quite well. If the rest of her work is anywhere near this good, I’m going to have a fun time exploring all of it! But one thing I know for sure is that this album is a great place to start. Let’s dive in.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

In an age where female singer songwriters seem to be all the rage for knowledgeable music fans, I can’t quite fathom why Holly Miranda isn’t a big deal to the world at large. Miranda’s eponymous album is yet another album in this project that I had no idea to what to expect when I hit play on the first track “Mark My Words.” Immediately there is a pleasant warmth inviting you into the album, by the end of the song I was hooked, it’s something I’d want to sit back and relax to on a late summer’s day in the garden. The album floats along with a dreamy quality and an ethereal nature that lift lyrics of a very intimate nature to achingly beautiful crescendos at times. None more so than in “Heavy Heart” where there is a raw wounded quality in the words “And it’s not until we’re faced with death / We truly understand”. There is a deep personal investment in every track and the words seem to come from a very real place within Miranda. Other highlights include “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” that has an punky spirit about it dressed in a fun noughties indie sound. “We could fuck in the sun and dance till dawn and all I want is to be your girl”. Possibly my favourite track on the record though is the anthemic “Desert Call” with the best vocals on the record, with a jazz vibe from a nice saxophone solo which is just another string to the bow of a fantastic album.

Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia

In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s what they — “they” being subject of some debate — say about March. Until I started writing this blurb, I was under the impression that the proverb was about the whole season of spring, and even though it’s not, I feel like the shoe fits (just to throw another metaphor in the mix). One especially bad storm early this spring made me think that global warming’s wrath was specifically bearing down on Richmond, and I was scared as hell when it rolled through. I’m not necessarily scared when Holly Miranda’s album starts, but big-sounding moments in the first few songs, “Mark My Words” and “Everlasting” especially, call to mind another singer who inspires awe and who may very well be the vocal embodiment of Storm from the X-Men: Florence Welch. The baritone sax and Kyp Malone backing vocals certainly contribute to this whole force-of-nature vibe. Contrast that start with the two final tracks, “Until Now” and “Hymnal.” Both are quiet, thriving on the nuance with which Miranda can lace her lyrics. And “Hymnal” clocks in under a minute and half, so it’s almost like the album slides out of the room while nobody’s looking. I love that we’re taking a look back at Holly Miranda’s self-titled album at this time of year — fittingly, around a year after it was released — because I’ll probably always associate it with spring now. And, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll go on pretending the whole lion/lamb thing isn’t exclusive to March.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Click here to watch the bizarre carnival video for “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl.”

How do you make the video as unforgettable as the song? Gender fluid carnies of course!

This eponymous album has an icy patina and frosty haze hanging over each tale of desire and delight that gives pop songs of perfect parity a healthy bite, like a fine dry wine. There is a distance, an other-roomness in these gauzy memories, keeping the teeth of triteness at bay. The standout opener “Mark My Words” finds Miranda, like a more soulful Emily Haines, sauntering into a chilly Explosions In The Sky colored landscape at twilight. Just as day breaks, she serves up “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” with M. Ward folk pop feels, teetering on preciousness but quickly absolved by the deftly placed “fuck in the sun” line. There are recurrent flashes of horns on Holly Miranda that add a forceful honk and fine counterpoint of flame to the chilly chamber. The air is crisp, as confirmed myriad whip-smart beats emanating from drum machines, whether the skittering shifting on “Whatever You Want” or the bit of Radio Dept. conjured on “Pelican Rapids.” There are shimmery strings of lights across a dark room, where squinting glances and peering intrigue divine the fate of intersecting hearts on “Desert Call,” while prickly Jesus And Mary Chain style guitar lines provide a shivery curtain. The program finishes out with piano and acoustic ballads, culminating with the harrowing “Hymnal,” a stark sonata with Miranda echoing in a forsaken parlor. But the album is exquisite in its cheerless pulchritude. So sit back and let this melancholy draught tingle your heart’s tongue.

Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz

I’ve been super busy this week, so rather than my usual routine of listening to this week’s OYR record several times before I sit down to write, I’ve had one chance to listen to Holly Miranda’s self-titled album. What luck then that Holly Miranda provides the perfect backdrop for a chilled bank holiday Sunday. As soon as I put on Holly Miranda and “Mark My Words” began, I knew I would enjoy this album. I’m a big fan of female singer-songwriters, Regina Spektor being one of my favourite artists, and Miranda took a hold of me from the first note. This is a slow, melodic record that’s very relaxing and Miranda has this soothing, fragile quality to her vocals, and it adds an intimate quality to each song. The MVP track on the album for me was “Whatever You Want,” one of the more up tempo tracks on the record, and one that reminded me a lot of Tegan And Sara. It’s a quality of the record that it seems devoid of cynicism and Miranda sounds confident in her song writing. Whilst other albums I’ve listened to for OYR have taken a few listens for me to get into, Holly Miranda took one listen. This is a well-produced, quality record that is a great listen for those days when all you want is to sit back and relax.

James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist

The more time I spend with this record the more I like it. There’s a good variety of sounds and a nice mix of electronic and acoustic textures. “Mark My Words” layers on guitars, sleigh bells, sax, and vocals before dropping the first beat, nearly two minutes into the record. Just as you get into the groove she pulls back though. It’s a great setup for the single, “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl.” Holly keeps her hooks in your ears, and heart, with “Everlasting” and the danceable “Whatever You Want” before my favorite track, “Come On” wraps up side one. The second half is way more dreamy. “Desert Call” is the highlight, probably because I too am obsessed with the siren call of Joshua Tree. It makes sense that she would be into Sparklehorse and Morphine, as the little production details on her self-titled record paired with the slight melancholy tone of her voice, certainly echo Mark Linkous’ work. Other than the obvious sax, I think its tone and sultry feel of the second half of this record where the Morphine reference makes the most sense to me. I’m definitely looking forward to her covers EP, due out next week.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

The secret weapon of this album, as anyone who has listened to it can tell you, is the saxophone. The album has so much great stuff going for it that it might be difficult to figure out that that’s what is setting the tone so far apart from other female singer-songwriters. The listener first encounters this amazing performance by saxophonist Maria Elsen at about 1:20 of the first song, “Mark My Words.” When I first heard it, I thought it was a deep male vocal and then it morphed across my ears into something admittedly unexpected. So once you’ve savored Ms. Elsen’s performance on that first track, head over to Track 3, “Everlasting,” which features both the sax and a deep male voice (the credits say that Kyp Malone from TV On The Radio did vocals on the album, so that would be my prime suspect). And after you think you have an idea of what this whole sax thing is going to be about, skip down to “Desert Call” and realize that a well-placed horn actually can set a smoldering track ablaze. Once you’ve regained consciousness, you should cool down by listening to what turned out to be my favorite track: the simple, sax-less “Until Now.”

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

The record nearly thrives on its smokescreen production, but it’s still just as astonishing when it begins to dissipate.

From the opening notes of that guitar arpeggio in “Mark My Words,” Holly Miranda’s self-titled album felt instantly familiar, and I pretty much knew then and there that I’d like everything that followed. But the record also surprised me with its myriad of sounds and influences that Miranda wrangles into a strange sort of cohesion through what seems like sheer force of will. Right from the get-go, we move from the folk/indie-rock feel of “Mark My Words” to the throwback pop of “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” and “Everlasting,” and then “Whatever You Want” opens with drum machines?!? The sonic whiplash should be too much, but Miranda’s strong voice and point of view keeps it all together. The back half of the record opens up even further — album highlights like “Desert Call,” with sultry guitar lines and a soulful bari sax solo, and country-tinged “Until Now,” with finger-picked acoustic guitar and sliding electric guitars, really show Miranda’s skill at taking a style and making it hers. After the slick production of all these great songs, “Hymnal” is a refreshing closer. Just over a minute of Miranda sitting at a piano singing beautifully, clearly mic’d from a distance without studio polish, with a dusting of ambient guitar drones finishing it off. It’s simple and perfect, and perhaps my favorite thing here.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

As a single man fully entrenched in rap-life, Holly Miranda is the prototypical album I would never normally listen to. Somber. Emotional. Slow. Heavy. It’s every newly single chick’s rom-com breakup record. In the TV universe, this is the album that Phoebe and Rachel blast while pounding box merlot, devouring Cherry Garcia by the tearful; I mean, spoonful. Just look at the song titles: “Mark My Words, Whatever You Want, The Only One, “Heavy Heart.” I say all of that just to give context to how foreign this album is to my normal musical intake. The album definitely has its moments. I was really struck by “Come On,” perhaps the album’s lyrical epicenter. Miranda is definitely shooting for the heart here: “I’ve been waiting so long for you to ruin me / I’ve been waiting for a blue moon to cover me.” The airy synth patches and programmed drums of “Pelican Rapids” had me almost thinking it was another leaked reference track for Drake. Without a doubt, my favorite moment on the record is the surprising turn of “Desert Call,” employing a very Stax-esque Memphis horn arrangement on the chorus, giving this ballad a 1950s feel out of nowhere. Somewhere, Winona Ryder is on her second pint of Haagen-Dazs as “Everlasting” plays softly in the background.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

If there’s one thing I can take away from Holly Miranda’s self-titled album is that her music is very simple yet at the same time is very complex. Holly Miranda makes it very hard to pin her to a certain style of music as she goes from a simple musician with a guitar vibe to quickly amping it up into a frenzy of music that’s operatic in scope. I got chills during the buildup in “Everlasting” and “Come On” kept my attention from waning. By the time she gets to “Desert Call,” Holly Miranda pulls my heart out and shows me how sad everything is. I could see any of her songs playing during an emotional scene of a CW show. A wonderful find, Holly Miranda deserved multiple listens

Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler

I was unfamiliar with Holly Miranda before listening to her 2015 eponymous solo release and after several listens, it may just be one of my favorites that I’ve uncovered since writing for Off Your Radar. In yet another example of an artist rediscovering themselves by venturing to Joshua Tree, Miranda crafts a handful of songs that left me feeling equally inspired. “Everlasting” offers a familiar proclamation. A love that sees no end in sight, but there is an intrinsic cinematic quality that attaches itself to the proceedings. A charm and a patience that would forever accompany any love worth declaring as everlasting. On the other end of the spectrum, Miranda reflects on the entire universe and how to tend to the realities facing all of our mortalities. How do you begin to train your eyes to attach value to everything we behold throughout our lives? What will it take to get to a point where you can go beyond yourself and realize that what is in front of us is all we get? Miranda faces these quandaries with a tempered logic that admits that the answers might be hard to find, but perhaps loving things that surround you with a heavy heart is much easier than anyone realizes. It’s a bit of a shock to realize that each of her albums have a distance of close to five years between them. On this third album, there were stories of how Miranda faced a pretty crippling case of writer’s block. That definitely explains the time span, but I think there is something far greater at play. This self-titled release seems to be Miranda at her most self-aware and by engaging those ideas, it’s why this may be her strongest release. This release left me with a lingering desire to have Miranda’s music occupy my listening habits for days to come. It’s moments like that for which I am thankful to be a part of the OYR crew and grateful for being exposed to the music of Holly Miranda.

Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles

As much as I love everyone’s different takes on the records we cover here each week, I always get overly excited when the vast majority seem to be in agreement that one specific song is just awe-inspiring. We’ve seen it a few times here and there — Week 7 for Sean Lennon’s “Photosynthesis” and Week 9 for Lightspeed Champion’s “Midnight Surprise” instantly spring to mind — and it’s just fascinating to have all these writers from different background (rap, punk, pop) converge on a single track whose quality is just too immense to ignore. “Desert Call” on Holly Miranda is yet another one I think we can all agree is just too much of a musical powerhouse to not mention, even if it’s not your favorite track. Even without that extended coda overflowing with sonic brilliance, it’s still a force to be reckoned with as Miranda makes an innocuous composition as lavishly grand and aurally stunning as possible. What’s interesting about this record on a whole though is that it’s not anchored by “Desert Call”‘s ambition or weight; without it, it still stands firmly on its own, still noticeably standing out of the field that is recent female singer-songwriters. The one-two punch of “Mark My Words” and “All I Want Is To Be Your Girl” is a fantastic opener, and really reminds me of a similar approach Allison Weiss did on last year’s New Love with “The Sound” and “Who We Are“, except Miranda’s vision is much more realized and even more explosive. The ’80s rocker “Whatever You Want” does wonders for opening up the listener for what’s to come with a song that feels out of left-field at first, but by the end, seems like one of her more grounded offerings. I was blown away by the singalong “Come On,” especially for she politely skirts away from cheesy pop inclinations, and it speaks volumes for Miranda’s talent that she would close the album out in a sparse manner with “Until Now” and “Hymnal,” the latter of which especially proving the vast production techniques on the album are ultimately unnecessary. What a record. What an artist.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Shadows Collide With People by John Frusciante
Chosen By Doug Nunnally

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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