Mirza - "Last Clouds"
(Ba Da Bing! 1995-98, 2001, bing-031)
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
This (tragically) posthumous CD release of leftovers and such from the San Francisco instrumental rock collective called Mirza is simply the best thing I've heard in a long time. Actually, the first four tracks had once appeared on an obscure 12" EP released by their own Autopia label in 1996, but this is their first airing in digital. The last seven tracks were very basic recordings (just on two or four tracks) from various sessions during much of the band's existence (1995-98). (No problems with the sound quality to report, though crispness is a non-issue given the style.) Now split, the main protagonist Steven R. Smith (who I now understand was primarily Mirza's drummer, although he doubled on guitar) and guitarist/keyboardist Glenn Donaldson have gone on to the band Thuja (with a CD on tUMULt Records). I'm not sure where the other two, Mark Williams and Brian Lucas (primarily) on guitar and bass, respectively, have gone.
Almost all of the stuff on 'Last Clouds' is great... "Nostalgia" rips right from the start with a succession of dynamic riff-laden passages that build in intensity. "Charity" similarly waits until well along before all the stops are released. "East" and "West" finish off the old EP tracks, both effective passive-aggressive works that don't really reveal what the directional tags are supposed to indicate. The first 'archival' piece "Acts/Volcano of Birds" is a more disjointed and less successful affair, but this is then followed up by the wonderful "Caspian Sea," which starts out quietly but anxiously and then blazes ahead with loud dissonant guitar streaks and deliberate drum-bashings. Here I envision Smith excitedly directing the band from behind the kit a la Christian Vander. It's a fully-formulated psychedelic onslaught in the end that none of the Japanese bands do quite as well IMHO...'cause it always remains musical and each player stays 'connected.' "Pomegranate" is the rare instance when the band keeps everything to a lower volume, but then even the lighter guitar plucking and droning organ tones have an unsettling edge to them. It's a cosmic tune that perhaps represents the space journey that isn't quite so safe. Dangers may lurk just ahead! We wrap up a full hour (plus) of disc time with the subdued and dreamy interlude "Hope, Part II" (where's Part I?) that is a good lead-in to the eerie "Cypress Trees," and finally the mesmerizing drone of the title track. This one gets pretty insane towards the end. Danger, Will Robinson!
Mirza had the great ability to be aggressive and unrestrained, without ever sounding 'noisy.' Away from the realms of post-rock, a label under which earlier (but really later) Mirza albums might qualify (on the periphery), 'Last Clouds' is more appropriately 'artful punk' I'd reckon. And no doubt that this is wildly psychedelic all the while. A couple years back, I gave a very strong recommendation to Mirza's 'Iron Compass Flux,' which was indeed a well-crafted piece of instrumental rock. Their CD debut ('Anadromous') was far more gentle by comparison, enough to qualify it for Darla's Bliss Out series. But 'Last Clouds' is the work that, while perhaps less multifaceted than 'I.C. Flux,' is definitely the one that I'll turn to most often in future years. Just a great mix of artistry and potency. I have Thuja's debut CD on order now, and look forward to what other sounds Mr. Smith et al. have up their sleeve...I have the utmost confidence that he will not disappoint. 'Last Clouds' will almost certainly appeal to those already introduced to the fine improvised psych-rock of (fellow Bay Area outfit) SubArachnoid Space, and other American acts like Speaker\Cranker, Escapade and Alien Planetscapes. 'Last Clouds' gets my highest recommendation.
Ba Da Bing! is at PO Box 204, Leonia, NJ 07605, and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. (That's what it says... if it's a typo, it ain't my mistake.)
Reviewed by Keith Henderson