1. The Path Is White Clouds
3. The White Is Past-Clouds
6. Feeding the Serpent from a Cup
Mirza is a band I discovered totally by accident. I was scanning the Darla Records homepage looking for another title, and the mini-review of Mirza just caught my eye, probably because of the mention of Ash Ra Tempel as an influence. Giving it a little more scrutiny, I came to the conclusion that it was something I just needed to have. In some cases like this I end up disappointed, but not this time.
Mirza makes very refreshing and exciting instrumental music, that ebbs and flows and always keeps you guessing. Steven R. Smith is the protagonist for this four-piece orchestra, although I couldn't begin to list all of the instruments and sound effects employed in the recording session (they're not given anyway). I recognized the name Kyle Statham in the liner notes (who assisted in recording and mastering), not because of his own Bay Area alternative band (with the charming name, Fuck) of which I later learned, but rather since he has recently worked with another area kraut rocky group, Mushroom. 'Funny Bunny' Kyle has good taste.
Iron Compass Flux is nearly an hour long, but with only 6 tracks, there's plenty of time for each piece to develop fully. Rather than any set song structure, Mirza prefers to explore one particular idea for a few minutes or so, and then just let it drop in favor of something new. But rarely do things change abruptly; often the merging of one section into the next happens so gradually, you aren't even aware of what is occurring until the change is already complete.
For what appear to be live studio recordings, Mirza shows a maturity and level of togetherness that is rarely seen. The opener, "The Path is White Clouds," runs through no less than six different phases, including Gottsching-style stream-of-consciousness guitar soloing over a base of cosmic drone. Pulsing synths and drifting ambient interludes provide the links between the unrestrained sections, which become quite tense and frantic at times. "Ember Lights" is heavy on incidentals, and sounds more like an X-Files soundtrack than anything else. "The White is Past-Clouds" is not really a reprise of the initial track, but is a wonderful loose jam of slightly dissonant guitar-drone, more cosmic soloing, and lively percussion. The true highlights on Flux are tracks 4 and 5, the title track and "Sousa," respectively. Again, each proceeds through a handful of completely disparate phases, utilizing all sorts of embellishing tactics: echoed guitars, bells, synths, and sounds that appear to be Sitar, accordion, piano, maracas and alto sax (but who knows what they really are?). "Sousa" is really like nothing I've ever heard before - it has a strong Eastern flavor, and has that disturbed, slightly psychotic sensation that I experience when listening to some Scandinavian/Nordic artists (like Circle for instance).
The wrap-up, "Feeding the Serpent from a Cup," I can only imagine as the experience of listening to a grandfather clock after dropping acid. There is nothing conventional about Iron Compass Flux, and neither did I find anything to be pretentious or contrived. The music is very expressive, dangerous, and implants shifting moods in the listener's consciousness. I'm not sure how effectively Mirza can transfer their music to the on-stage environment, but then again, I'd prefer to experience this music in solitude anyway. If you're a fan of The Spacious Mind, The Outskirts of Infinity, Sub Arachnoid Space, or any other irnprov style soundscape artist, you should find Mirza to your liking.
- KH, Aural Innovations