Mi and L'au | Review

The Stranger | Kurt B. Reighley

What Mi and L'au are selling is a thing of genuine beauty

Feb 22/06
Border Radio
Roots & Americana

Fashion models are generally terrible musicians. Have you ever heard Naomi Campbell's 1994 album, Babywoman? Let's just say her "novel," Swan, is Pulitzer-worthy in comparison. Certainly, there are exceptions. Twiggy issued some groovy '60s singles, and Milla Jovovich's The Divine Comedy was better than average singer-songwriter fare. But overall, the best thing about records made by models is the sleeve art.

Consequently, it comes as a surprise to learn that the singularly named Mi, one-half of recording duo Mi and L'au, used to earn her daily baguette by posing professionally. While working in Paris, the Finnish beauty met her future partner, a music-industry vet. (He is also a colleague of Devendra Banhart; the latter wrote "A Gentle Soul," on his Oh Me Oh My..., in homage to L'au.) Mi and L'au fell in love, and, deterred by the real-estate situation in the City of Lights, soon decamped to a cabin in the woods of Finland.

Fortunately, the pair is coming out of isolation to play some U.S. dates‹including this Thursday, February 16, at the Sunset‹in support of their 2005 self-titled debut (on Young God Records), a disc as striking and simple as Mi and L'au's good looks and peculiar yet humble monikers.

One quality models and musicians share these days is a willingness to appear naked. That might mean hitting the catwalk in nothing but a pair of couture shoes, or posing for Maxim wearing little more than wet sand and a clump of seaweed, or, worst of all, re-recording an already overexposed album in an "unplugged" incarnation. (Alanis Morissette, I'm looking at you.)  Miraculously, Mi and L'au takes that battered little adjective, naked, and makes it feel fresh and vulnerable anew.

Mi and L'au's sound is startling simple: the barest of acoustic guitars and sotto voce singing. Quiet? Hell yeah. Perhaps in their snowy wonderland, they must murmur to avoid starting avalanches; on record, the hushed dynamics seem natural, not affected. L'au recalls Nick Drake at his most introspective, while Mi makes Nico seem like an earthy blues shouter. When they harmonize, they sound like they're listening to each other as intently as love-struck teenagers. Occasionally, other timbres‹toy piano, cello by Julia Kent (Antony and the Johnsons)‹poke out of the mix, but ever so subtly; at times, listeners may need a minute to determine if the ambient noise on a track is coming from the stereo or from outside their

Yet within their very narrow parameters, Mi and L'au accomplish tremendous things. "They Marry" suggests a delirious, Thumbelina-sized chanteuse tiptoeing on a tightrope strung between Pachabel's Canon in D and Nino Rota's haunting carnival music for the films of Federico Fellini. If compact discs were actually made of the materials their song suggests, Mi and L'au would be a micro-thin wafer of spun sugar. Fortunately, the actual CD is a lot more durable‹and so are its contents. America's Next Top Model be damned. What Mi and L'au are selling is a thing of genuine beauty.