The first thing is to make a distinction: Misha’s songs are delicate but not precious. They make no claim to anything rarefied, but cling to and reassemble elements prevalent in a fairly broad spectrum of musical styles. In doing so, they manage to sound as indebted to classical pop demigods as to innovators in electronic music and beat-making. This collage aesthetic, along with the inherent trepidation of John Yao’s vocals, imbue the band’s work with an air of frail beauty. But despite their pluralistic approach they manage to sound cohesive and Teardrop Sweetheart is populated for the most part by simple, engaging and enigmatic pop songs.
For the most part, Misha write about love lost and won. Their take on the material is measured, never allowing the emotion to seem sloppy or uncomfortably effusive. They tend to approach from the periphery, providing slanted perspectives of scenes and situations, which could seem hackneyed if observed head on or treated with less delicacy. “Scars,” the opening track on Teardrop Sweetheart, is an apt example, relying on snapshot images revealed in clipped phrases and a beat reigned in just enough to keep its sentiment bottled-up. It is a song about anticipation and succeeds in mimicking its subject.
That Misha ended up on the German label Tomlab, with its increasingly eclectic roster of electronic and indie acts, is no surprise. They also bear a passing resemblance to Morr Music bands like Notwist and Lali Puna, though they have a greater affinity for outright pop hooks than either of them. But it is hard to listen to the down-tempo melancholy of “The Book (of Glaciers)” without sensing a darkly continental element. Set to a lethargically thumping beat, and layered with concise shimmers of reverb, it is something of an electro epic in miniature. The tightly compressed beats, fixed on a stuttering vocal sample, of “Losing,” cast them in a lighter, more spacious arena. It is saturated with a boyish sweetness, somehow emphasized by the playfulness of the beat and the wistful arrangement. The lyrics are both direct and suggestive: “I’ve been losing my friends to Francis/ I’ve been losing my heart to you.” Simply and with aplomb it seems to play on the double-nature of loss; loss as a positive necessity and something which we strive against.
“Weatherbees,” “Summersend” and “Crystal in Love” (tracks four through six) seem to me the heart of Teardrop Sweetheart. With Ashley Yao’s sunny production wrapped tightly around Chao’s awkwardly earnest vocals, “Weatherbees” builds slowly toward its single, ineluctable chorus. You feel it coming the whole time. It has to be there. And when it arrives the pressure is tangible, Chao’s voice striving to escape the confines of the track, being pulled back again and again. “Summersend” is simply beautiful, dressed drowsily in gossamer, perfectly measured vocal hooks repeated again and again. “If you loved someone you’d wait for him too” slips into “C’mon baby tell me what you miss about me.” The two lines, though separated, ache for one another.
“Crystal in Love” starts off sounding a little Beatlesque, like some lost gem unearthed from the sixties. Then it hits the chorus. Yao sings in a timorous falsetto, utterly without bravado, and the song shifts into a driving, rhythmic juggernaut, a thin wisp of string floating somewhere beneath the surface. The final buildup and crescendo reaches for a place halfway between The Ronettes and The Supremes, and against the odds, it gets there.
On first disengaged listen, the songs on Teardrop Sweetheart can seem slight, almost excessively featherweight. They threaten to float away. There may be nothing holding them to the ground. But if given attention, they reveal a substance both original and spellbinding. A bundle of balloons they may be, blown about by soft breezes, but clumped together and tied tightly to the earth beneath them.
Lali Puna – Faking the Books
Saint Etienne – Good Humor
Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth