The self-titled debut release by Mi and L’au is a cold record. It’s not that it’s distant or unfeeling, because it’s nothing if not pure emotion. It’s just that it’s actually downright frigid. Everything is stripped to the barest of essentials, leaving everything sparse and ghostly, a barely there specter of an album. The snowy cabin on the cover seems to depict the perfect imagery to match the duo’s haunting tunes. While they’re comforting and atmospherically pleasing, they convey a sense of isolation and one of graceful melancholy.
That very cabin may or may not be the locale where the recordings for this album took place. Mi, a Finnish former model, and L’au, a French instrumentalist, recorded this album in some sort of log structure in Finland, the landscape of which certainly played a part in this glacial recording. Much like Finnish folk contemporaries Lau Nau or Islaja, Mi and L’au take a simple, spare idea of folky, atmospheric compositions and pressurize them into something strikingly beautiful and unobstructed by ornamental indulgences. Instead, it’s a very simple and slow record that reveals its beauty simply by leaving it exposed.
The first track, “They Marry” is one of the most lushly layered on the album, and that’s something of an overstatement. While many feature little more than toy piano, acoustic guitar or maybe one other sort of string, this song is practically a symphony by comparison. “How” and “Philosopher,” however, pair Mi’s breathy vocals with L’au’s gently plucked acoustic guitar melodies. Bare to the point of bleak, they offer no indication of the comparatively lighthearted nature of “Bums,” which nears a major key, though remains skeletal in arrangement. “Older” even adds some extra strings, which give it a fuller sound, and it stands as one of the best on the album just for those little extra touches.
Young God head Michael Gira concedes that this album was “made with love.” And it certainly may have been, but it still feels so isolated and cold. It’s certainly, by no means, music to play on a date, but in its desolate, Zen-like nature, there’s something peaceful and pure.
Lau Nau – Kuutarha
Islaja – Palaa Aurinkoon
Múm – Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is Okay
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.