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Mi and L'au | Live Review

www.nytimes.com/ |Laura Sinagra

the one whose singing hushed the club's chatter

Published: January 16, 2006


When it comes to a musical persona, "modern-day Adam and Eve" isn't a bad choice. If any duo can pull it off, it's the quiescent Mi and L'au. As their lore has it, the former model Mira Romantschuk, who is Finnish, and the French soundtrack musician Laurent Leclère fell in love in Paris a few years back, then moved to a woodland cabin outside Helsinki, where for four years they lived simply, writing spare songs that do more with space and silence than with notes and words.

Existing in the same universe as the neo-folker Devendra Banhart, whom Mr. Leclère befriended in the 1990's, they engage an idea of "North" in ways that connect them with the whispery Canadian singer Julie Doiron and even Sigur Ros of Iceland. But rather than Sigur Ros's grandiose snowy expanses, the landscape these two explore is the space between them, knowable yet unknowable in its dimensions.

On any given evening, Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side is thronged with beautiful people. But weaving through the Christmas-lighted Cake Shop on Friday, the pale and waifish Mi and the dark, beatific L'au looked like particularly exquisite works of art - tall and pipe-cleaner thin, pointy boots poking from jeans worn the way designers only dream they'll be. Sitting close on wooden chairs on the tiny stage with their identical blond acoustic guitars, they played 12 of the hundreds of songs they've amassed while living, as the soft-spoken L'au smilingly mumbled, "with the bears and salmon." Three were from their self-titled debut album released in the United States on Young God records. These they played without the sonic augmentation provided on the record by their label's owner, Michael Gira (former leader of the Swans), as well as by musicians from Akron/Family and others.

L'au, about whom Mr. Banhart wrote "Gentle Soul," makes up for his rather nondescript voice with his guitar facility. His assured low pulses and fingerpicked interludes keep things from slipping too far into conceptual ice-floe slowness. On songs like "Philosopher," which muses on the connection between walking and lucid thinking, the pair display their sense of humor. Potentially cloying lines like "I welcome you nude," from the esoteric but sensual waltz "Nude," are balanced by piquant ones, like the contingent request, "Wash your complaints."

Mi, who spoke six languages when she met L'au but added French for his sake, was the one whose singing hushed the club's chatter. As her long, honeysuckle hair fell forward over her Kelly-green blouse, her haunting tone infused "Robot" with a post-Edenic dread. In "Paranoid," she adopted the voice of an officious customs agent, asking, "What do you declare?" and "What is your crime?," answering back, as herself, "Paranoia." Her lovely, droning "Creation" compelled rapt attention even though few understood the Swedish lyrics comparing committed love to a silkworm's generative process. She performed the show's encore, "The Cat," while L'au sipped wine and relaxed to the left of the stage. The song, with its entreaty, "We must remember nature," no doubt prompted collective cosmopolitan fantasies
of getting back to the garden.
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