Beer and Pavement

Thao and Mirah Kill Rock Stars

Posted in GenderBender, Records by SM on May 26, 2011

Women in rock rarely get their due, unless it’s for a special issue of Rolling Stone[1]. It’s perceived they’re in the band to provide an aesthetic, visual and/or musical. And when they’re the primary artist, they’re rarely taken seriously.

Just this past weekend, a show was put on in honor of some of the best bands of the 80’s underground. Despite the decidedly male-dominated nature of that scene, several women took center stage, playing the part of the 80’s underground punk rocker. Unfortunately, according to Brooklyn Vegan, even these accomplished, talented women were subjected to catcalls.

Still, underneath the ignorance and sexism, women create some of the most dynamic music there is, comparable to their male counterparts. We often just have to give it the time and attention the music deserves[2], especially when two prolific women in (indie) rock team up as Thao and Mirah have.

I’m not sure why this is the issue on which I’ve chosen to focus. It could be that I recently finished the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids and the idea that a dynamic, creative rock star is virtually ignored in the rock ‘n roll canon because she happens to be female. It probably didn’t help her legacy[3] that the love of her life was a gay S&M artist. Still, Patti Smith doesn’t get the respect she deserves. She was/is uncompromising, hard to define. Much of the same can be said of Thao and Mirah[4].

Thao & Mirah is one those rare records that’s ambitious without being sprawling. It’s textured without being overdone. There’s some pretty thoughtful and creative work in there musically. Lyrically, it’s aggressive and witty. Thao and Mirah are two of the more unique voices in indie rock and those voices meld together perfectly.

This is not your typical rock record and – fair or not – these are not the typical rock stars. Will this be recognized as a rock record or something folkier? Well, it’s a rock record, almost avant garde at times. It’s percussion forward, demonstrating some real balls-to-the-walls attitude. It’s not the stereotypical female duo record by any means. And the album should be judged on these merits.

The songs are varied throughout. The first six or seven tracks move between styles, vocalists, effects, dynamics. “Eleven” is as much an attention-grabber as any opening track should be with its organically electronic beats a la tUnE-YarDS[5]. “Folks,” “Little Cup,” and “Teeth” are speedy, folky tracks that are more thanks to inventive vocal performances by both singers and some interesting and varied percussion. Mirah’s minimalist soul comes through in “Rubies and Rocks.”

The album’s best shot at a pop anthem exists in “Spaced Out Orbit” Ironically, this track’s poetic style most reminds me of Patti Smith’s writing. This suggests that mainstream pop stardom probably won’t happen with here…that is, until Lady Gaga decides to cover it[6].”How Dare You” is the duet for which baby dykes everywhere will scream. “Likeable Man” comes off hot with its driving rhythm and directives, but it’s certainly a feminist rant[7].

After the Frente!-like[8] “Hallelujah,” the record closes with the stomp “Squareneck.” What’s interesting is that this last song leaves the listener with the an impression this is more of a rock act than previously thought. However, Thao and Mirah are killing rock star myths with each track. I guess it makes sense the record came out on Kill Rock Stars[9].

Thao & Mirah is one of the more interesting collabs I’ve heard in a while. It’s been on repeat over the past few days and that’s saying something with the last couple of records I’ve received and reviewed. For this record, the women in (indie) rock should get their due. And it’s not just because it’s a good record by women; it’s just a good record.

Notes:
1And even after that, they follow it up with a scantily-clad singer on the next cover.
2I recognize that by calling attention to the gender issue that I’m no better than those who ignore women in rock by making gender a part of the appeal for the record I’m about to review. That said, I find it interesting the attention this record has received compared to some all-male projects with musicians of similar status.
3OK. She is in the hall of fame and generally those who really understand rock history recognize Smith’s importance and her influence on music and art. However, the general public doesn’t recognize Smith for anything, really.
4This is where I probably should just tell you about the music.
5WTF? Right? This ridiculousness might be the biggest reason I’ll never completely succumb to tUn…ah, fuck it…Tune-Yards’ wiles.
6I’m serious. I say Gaga as she seems like the most willing pop star to take on something like this. Maybe Beyonce’s sister who pretends to be alt, but probably not.
7“Rant” is not meant to be derogatory. Both artists seem to have some feminist threads throughout. This was the track that sorta got me hot, then I read the lyrics.
8Yes, I made a Frente! reference. It felt cheap and lazy, but it was exactly what I thought as soon as I played this track. I liked Frente! back in the day, but the song is strikingly out of place on this album. Luckily, the final track salvages the album.
9See what I did there? Honestly, I’ve had no time to finish this post with single-parenting and all that. So, this is what you get. The next paragraph is even worse. I just ran out of ideas.

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