Album: Mia Joy – Spirit Tamer review

by Philip Moss

A tangle of experimental pop – the lack of clarity that makes Spirit Tamer so difficult to pin down is what, at the same time, makes it so interesting

Spirit Tamer is not an immediate record. Like a cat pawing at a ball of wool, its songs come apart in strands – and, over time, its quiet abstractions grow into a cloak that feels comforting and warm.

But try to label the collection. Every time you think you have backed it into a corner, it appears over your shoulder in another guise. Yes, there are flashes of Cocteau Twins-alike brilliance. But now a musical artist who is also trained with painting and ceramics, the Chicago songwriter’s textural explorations are just one aspect that give Spirit Joy its uniqueness. For every ‘straight (ish) pop’ moment like See Us, there are other sides to the record that are wordless, formless, melody less, or all three: see the false start of the opener/title track that offers a palette cleanser before the record even begins; the guitar led one and half minute interlude of Phone Home; and the Liz Harris influenced loops of Candle Prayer.

And it’s is not just the song arrangements that are interesting, but their placing in the track listing. Her flirtations with experimentation often end before fully taking hold – and the momentum never really picks up. But there’s a strange beauty to this. In a world obsessed with immediacy, there’s an irony to the fact that half of the tracks don’t run above the two minute mark, but also aren’t immediate either. On first listen, they leave a subtle imprint on the skin. Yet, on repeat plays, they dig deep and engrave themselves into your arm.

A record to hold close – to dive into and immerse yourself within – the crystalline waters of Spirit Tamer may not be clear, but one of the most interesting new voices in alternative music awaits.

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