Somewhere on the outer fringes of the neo-freak-indie-alt-folk scene (wow, four hyphens!) you’ll find a Finnish gal named Mi and a French guy named L’au who write songs. In Finland. In a cabin. In the woods. (Presumably that’s a photo of the place on the CD cover. Brrrr…)
This may remind you a little of the legendary (yet obscure) folk singer Vashti Bunyan, who wrote the music on her rediscovered classic Just Another Diamond Day while living in a commune in Scotland. (More than 35 years later, she recently released a second album, Lookaftering — and she now lives in Edinburgh instead of a hippie commune. Times change…)
While there are certainly comparisons to be made between these reclusive artists, the music created in Mi and L’au’s remote cabin is far removed from the idyllic and gentle world evoked by Vashti. Two people (even as photogenic as this duo) do not a commune make, and these songs appropriately possess a decidedly claustrophobic quality… you can almost feel the walls closing in on you after a while… and the wind howling through the rafters… and the candlelight flickering in the darkness… Um, when’s the next flight out of here?
I really wanted to like Mi and L’au, since I love the idea of two people writing songs together in a Nordic cabin in the middle of nowhere. And I do like this album… to an extent. It’s just that the pervasive mood of dread, darkness, and world-weariness is not what I expected (or wanted) to hear.
The other problem is that the post-production overdubbed instrumentation (added later on in “the wilds of Brooklyn”) often just gets in the way. Yes, there are some nice recorder melodies (Vashti’s influence again?) and some lovely string arrangements (though the repeated lyric “there’s a world in your belly” is not destined to be a classic.) Too often, however, toy pianos, zithers, brass, and electronics clutter up the mix. Again, not what I expected from two people who live “in complete isolation with the barest of essentials” — taking the same approach with their music would have been far more effective.
If you’re after a blissful acoustic escape from worldly troubles, you’re better off listening to Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day and Lookaftering. If you’re into the Devendra Banhart/Animal Collective scene and/or in the mood for a stark, wintry, brooding listen, you might want to seek out this debut album from Mi and L’au. And hopefully they’ll cheer up a bit and record a sunnier, more spacious second album soon (rather than 35 years from now!).