Mi & L’au
Good Morning Jokers •••
Borne! / Acuarela
Imagine a stranger without a name entering a city in an unknown country during the night. Autumn is everywhere around; the fallen leaves smell wet and the wind is soft but threatening to get stronger and sharper. Packed in a thick coat, our stranger walks through streets illuminated by cold artificial light; the few people around are passing by silently and the city seems to be sleeping in a frozen dream. Hoping to see something familiar, the stranger enters a dimly lit bar. On a stage at the back of the room, sparks of soft light fall on a beautiful blonde woman whispering sweet words into a mic as an inconspicuous man picks away gently at an acoustic guitar beside her. They look so far away from this bar in their minds, somewhere in their own world, and the tones arising from them are just an echo of that odd faraway space. Both have closed eyes, standing silent and smart, synchronised by something unseen but heard in every second of their songs. The stranger sits down in the corner beneath a fug of smoke, and as nothing is changing and stays static, they dive deeper and deeper into the sofa and finally fall asleep. Like everyone else around them.
Perhaps the eponymous jokers in this scenario are Mi & L’au themselves, as when their second album finally flows into its final bars and stops, no one will be awake to notice. But you know what they say: a good morning follows a good sleep. Our stranger’s city may be Helsinki, Paris or somewhere different, but Mi & L’au’s music drifts into the darkest corners. It’s hushed but unique – the product of two quite different mentalities meeting to make music that is stuck somewhere between their sensibilities. On one hand, there’s the elegance and individuality of L’au’s French roots, traceable in the smart, intimate and playful melodies; on the other, you have the the cool and calm reserve of Finnish Mi providing the essential contrast. Together, Mi & L’au harmonise la vie bohème with Finnish roughness, devolving the culture clash into soothing melodies and minimalist arrangements.
In opposition to these characteristics, Good Morning Jokers begins surprisingly warmly, perhaps even a little romantically, with ‘Up In The Building’. Mi & L’au are both singing the same bare melody, their loneliness and isolation reflected in the lyrics lamenting the absence of friends. This sense of solitude and melancholy is deepened in the following ‘The Pearl’, where a significant piano line based on claustrophobic dissonance moves through different harmonies, intensifying its eerie and frustrating mood. Shadowy and smooth, Mi’s voice provides the main draw as she conducts the song’s unpredictable changes. The mysterious and uneasy atmosphere is evolved even further in the standout duet ‘Dancing & Smiling’, which, thanks to its 3/4 rhythm, sounds like a posthumous waltz of dead solar winds. The song’s magic only reveals itself fully after the soft repetitive chorus of “They come and go / dancing and smiling, like a little child”, precisely at the moment where the solo is shared by warbling flute and a more dominant and dreamy sax, both backed by lush strings. Another highlight is the cute, saxophone-kissed ‘Bingo’, in which the duo flirt with post-war 1940s nostalgia.
These more optimistic moments ought to be savoured as Good Morning Jokers contains very few of them. But what really disappoints about the album is not that the subject matter is resolutely drab, it’s that there’s a significant number of songs that don’t try to find their own way, stultified by their own ordinariness. After the stunning ‘Dancing & Smiling’ there’s a noticeable vacuum of interesting and innovative ideas. The untrained voice of L’au dominates the confusing ‘Vampire’ with its limited range of tones; he lacks the ability to carry the chaotic musical ideas that fail to resolve and cause odd and unnatural stops in the melody. Not to mention the song’s overly weighty and abstract words; a boring dream is not made better by waking up to a passage declaring, “Sometimes I feel like a fish in a drowned body”. In other songs, Mi labours under timid arrangements; Mi & L’au need to learn that broken melodies played by cute guitar or weepy piano won’t always be rescued by her otherworldly whispers.
The lazy second half of the album is briefly interrupted by ‘Dance On My Skin’, a gracious lullaby for grown-ups; fragile glockenspiel and a soft trumpet are just the background essence of this sleepy stream-of-consciousness ballad. Such a vulnerable and catchy song should have signalled the end of the album, representing a significant farewell and a sign to meet again in beautiful dreams, but no, there are two more songs to go. And while you might expect the final track ‘Wave Goodbye’ to package the atmosphere and ideological concept of the whole album into a beautiful finale, the song isn’t even halfway to being a fitting conclusion. Its lack of ideas – either melodic or thematic – make it seem like a redundant swansong. Frustratingly, this inconsistency comes to define Good Morning Jokers in its entirety, for just as Mi & L’au’s music gels into a marvellous climax fulfilling all our expectations, the next song breaks the spell. It’s a tiring listen, but mildly enriching all the same.
UK release date: 15/09/09; www.myspace.com/miandlauspace
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