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Northern, by Mirador


Rarely does an album defy both its predecessor and its own copy so boldly. By this measure, Mirador’s Northern EP is our first puzzle of the new year.

We met them after the release of their Verdant EP (October 2010). The word mirador is Spanish for balcony, or belvedere, and indeed, Verdant commands a wide view from an enviable perch. As we wrote of “Dance of the Lantern People,” it was “our favorite track, what with its unrelenting and tribal, killing-me-softly drum beat, muffler/metronome synthesizer lick, stormcloud rhythm section.” “Surf” is pretty straight-up ambient, with a heartbeat drum lick, damp and oscillating production, although the Satch Boogie guitar is a surprise. The song “Cascadas” does exactly that.

The band recently dialed in about their follow-up EP Northern (January 2011), and its genesis: the great northern blizzards, and the daunting snowscapes that were the result. “What I like about it is how it turns your familiar surroundings into some kind of alien landscape, devoid of life. The silence is great too, nothing like it. It’s very peaceful, but at the same time it’s kind of scary. I think we maintain a kind of instinctive, primal fear of harsh or extreme environments, despite our mountain-man boots and NorthFace™ Jackets.”

Only the EP title and track titles are literal: “To Build a Fire” and “Search Party” in particular tell the story of “snowmageddon.” But the album — all instrumental — plays nothing like this, at least not directly. Two antechamber tracks — under five minutes combined — lead into “Imaginary Friends.” (Let’s all be frank, here: a cut with a name like that needs to bring it. And it’s brought.) Melody bells and the down-the-road percussion beat keep a safe distance from the thick, bedlam bass riff. By the 2:20 mark, you get it (the deranged synth line doesn’t hurt): this is not an album about long, slow, existential sauntering through an immaculate snowfield. This is an album about being snowed in, without electricity, nowhere to go. This is the story of cabin fever. Imaginary friends, indeed.

Sticking with our motif of candidness: “Finisterre” is noise. The adjective is never a criticism here at The Muse, nor is the noise the harsh, white, or industrial variety you’d expect. Less synthesizer and more thesis/antithesis, the track oddly, ironically recalls “A Warm Place” from Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral: not in the chaotic content, but in the unambiguous message. Both are instrumentals, and both set clear guideposts, marking where the narrator has lost it.

“Search Party” seems to close the EP with the sound of wind and radio static, but promptly abandons it with eerie music box tones, marching band synth, and a matte guitar feature. Stream it all right here:

Executive summary? Glad you asked: rarely does an album about nature’s breathtaking and lethal expanses sound so isolated and restrained, so unsprawling. The cold wind is palpable, to be sure, but from under a door, a through a window with a broken seal. Never does the listener stand unexposed in the elements, or sit too far from a warming fire. It’s a fascinating and challenging task, but well worth the effort.

Smoke signals:

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