Mi and L'au | Review | Adam MacGregor

Mi's whispery delivery is intimate throughout, to the point where she might well be an inch from the listener's ear

Dusted Reviews
Album: Mi and L'au Review 
Feb. 26, 2006 

If there's a Young God Records "sound," it might be analogous to what one looks for in a high-quality acoustic guitar: earthy, rich, woody, resonant. Mi and L'au's debut album is all of this, but ensconced in a stately, very European air. Even the duo's back-story seems apocryphal in an old-world fairytale sense: Finnish model Mi meets French musician L'au in Paris; the two fall in love and forsake everything to retreat to a remote cabin in the woods of Finland to write and record their music in isolation. Whatever they did in that hermitage spawned an album's worth of songs spare and elegant, definitely removed from that of their acoustic-based neo-folk contemporaries, but never alienating. Despite the fact that these songs were written in the cold north, and that it includes its share of minor keys, tagging it as "dark folk" is misleading. Calling it "folk" in the traditional sense is just a little less misleading. Although lush and delicate acoustic guitar, strings, flute, and piano (played by Mi and L'au as well as contributors from Akron/Family, Antony and the Johnsons and others) constitute the album's instrumentation, some tunes still might sound a little jarring in their spartan-ness at first listen. But, from a form-follows-content approach, the instrumental simplicity of tracks like "Older" and "Nude" reflects their brief lyrical sketches on character and setting. The opening "They Marry" incorporates a swirling carnival/music box melody and piano flourishes. Mi's whispery delivery is intimate throughout, to the point where she might well be an inch from the listener's ear, breathy sibilance and all. She even clears her throat at the end of "Andy," a later tune also augmented by a meandering toy piano. L'au takes the lead vocal on "I've Been Watching You," which swings with a strange anti-blues quality. He's a singer in the Bacharach (as a vocalist, not as a composer) mold ­wavering, vulnerable in an endearing way. When coupled with the shimmering instrumental ambience of "World in your Belly," or the bare plucked acoustic guitar of "New Born Child," L'au's voice cuts a striking contrast. "Study" closes the album with solemn contemplation, to the sound of bubbling water, a wheezing accordion and strings that swell ominously behind a fingerpicked guitar figure. One of the first pearls offered in any finer first-semester writing course is that the best writers write about what they know. In this respect, it's admirable that Mi and L'au turned out an album of songs so unlike anything owing to American musical tradition, a prevailing sound in the current crop of stateside acoustic/folk artists. Kudos to them for not offering up merely a Continental's interpretation of blues or roots music.