Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sleepless Nights: Mia Doi Todd's Gea

This album review appears in the newly designed Wireless Bollinger.

The long term music project is a rarity in today’s furiously churning music industry. With the well defined hype buildup–explosion–backlash cycle established, an artist that’s survived for more than a couple years is often the exception rather than the rule. Generally, there are two paths for artists in this category: a strong, steady fanbase or one that’s more underground. Mia Doi Todd seems to be of the latter sort, hovering on the periphery instead of grabbing the limelight.

Gea is her seventh album, the latest in a career that’s spanned the major label Columbia and indie Plug Research. Many of her past collaborations, especially from the latter source, are electronic and experimental. She has sung on tracks by Dntel, Flying Lotus and Daedelus, curious company for a singer-songwriter. Unfortunately, such peers don’t seem to affect her work, which is decidedly earthy.

When listening to Gea, a contemporary point of reference is My Brightest Diamond. It’s not entirely fair to compare the fresh-faced Shara Worden with Todd, who has been at it for over a decade. However, the mournful, slightly operatic lilt is a common quality in both of their voices. (A more minor consideration would be their inclination towards genre-bending remix compilations; Worden releasing Tear It Down last year, while Todd produced La Ninja: Amor and other dreams of Manzanita in 2006.)

What differentiates Todd is her accompaniment, which gently pushes her towards the folk category. Although an ensemble of musicians are credited with appearances, including a woodwind and brass section, the music is hardly in the vein of triumphant chamber pop. Throughout the album, it never surpasses the gentle guitar strum and soft swell of bass. This restraint places one’s attention on Todd’s vocals, which are quiet lovely, but somewhat languid. As such, Gea is fine background music, adding a pleasant ambience to an environment when half-heard. But when one’s ears focus, the end result sounds somewhat insubstantial.

Todd has a penchant for stream of consciousness-style delivery, exemplified by opening dual song, "River of Life / The Yes Song." The instrumentation is stuck on a few notes, as Todd intones similarly repetitive lyrics. The rest of the album doesn’t differ much. While the lyrics are quite inventive when read, the execution leaves more to be desired. A foray into Spanish in "Esperar Es Caro" (to hope is expensive) is a welcome change of enunciation, but overall the album resembles wallpaper: interesting for only so long before fading into the background.

Ultimately, Gea is unlikely to sway more than the usual crop of critics and fans. There simply isn’t that much worth getting excited about. It’s a shame, because Todd’s collaborations suggest that there’s more to her than delicate introspection and this ultimately uninspired sound.


Mia Doi Todd opens for José González at Highline Ballroom on March 11th and Brooklyn Masonic Temple on March 12th.

MP3: Mia Doi Todd - River of Life / The Yes Song
MP3: Dntel - Rock My Boat (ft. Mia Doi Todd)
MySpace: Mia Doi Todd
Official Site: Mia Doi Todd

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kind of singer, put one of her songs in a mix & you think, yeah, that's a little different, & quite lovely. But she doesn't get nearly all she can from the opportunities she gives herself to change & grow.

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