Holly Miranda – The Magician’s Private Library

February 16, 2010

This is what I know about Holly Miranda: this is her first full-length album; the guy that produced her album, The Magician’s Private Library, also produced Scarlett Johannson’s mistaken foray into music; Kanye West thinks she’s the shit; she moved from Detroit to New York to assist her musical endeavours; and I can’t distinguish her from the other indie female singer-songwriters of now and the past ten years.

While The Magician’s Private Library is beautifully arranged, with layer upon layer of romantic and imaginative sound, I just generally can’t get a feel for it, I suspect due to over-saturation. It starts off strong with ‘Forest Green on Forest Green,’ with soaring strings, sexy sax and charming male-female harmonies. There are impenetrable layers of ethereal sound, often to curious response. ‘Joints’ opens with some brass business that is later repeated, merging with ghostly synths to make it feel like the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides: The Film Noir Version. This is not a bad thing. The final track, ‘Sleep on Fire’ has a faint polka feel to it, and is enjoyable, especially in its minimalist production and distinct sound from the other tracks. And there are sleigh bells, which I’m a sucker for, thank you very much Brian Wilson. My problem, however, was that often I didn’t realise a new track had begun, as the majority of the songs relied on electronic drum beats, at least five synths and some kind of crescendo centred around Miranda’s ‘oohs and aahs’. It seems the goal of this album was to insert lovely arrangements and melodies around Miranda’s voice, which far from sounding like nails on a chalkboard, I occasionally wished it did get all gnarly, just for originality’s sake.

As established, I found the album on the samey side, just as Miranda reminds me of a number of other female artists these days with sweet voices, beautiful sounds and the obligatory dark, questioning lyrics. I was into this genre a few years ago when I was 17 or 18 and conquering love or whatever, but now I feel like someone needs to take the idea in new or varied directions. It’s kind of like having jam on toast. Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, triple berry, it’s all a variation on the same theme and it makes me want Vegemite or even fucking marmalade. I’m not saying Miranda or any artist of her particular variety are crap, I’m just pointing out that time and the popularity now reserved for these indie chanteuses makes it harder to get into them specifically because I feel like I’ve heard it before. If cutesy girl indie is your thing, you’ll love this album. If not, don’t bother.