Mirza - "Iron Compass Flux" (Darla 1998, DRL 068)

From Aural Innovations #5 (January 1999)

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 Flux 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 krautrocky 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 Göttsching-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, SubArachnoid Space, or any other improv-style soundscape artist, you should find Mirza to your liking.

Contacts: Mirza - Autopia, P.O. Box 420541, San Francisco, CA 94142; Darla Records, 625 Scott St., San Francisco, CA 94117. You can also visit the Darla Records web site.

Reviewed by Keith Henderson

Mirza - "Iron Compass Flux" (Darla 1998, DRL 068)

Mirza plays all instrumental, exploratory psychedelia that at it's best is an inventive blend of industrial music and psych jamming, but can also tend to be droning and without direction. Of the six tracks on this nearly one hour CD, three fell into the later category and three bore what I considered to be a solid trademark sound for the band.

As the music began I heard the threat of yet another hour of endless drone. However, "The Path Is White Clouds" soon settled into a Doors-like psych jam. It had some good sounds and I liked the way the tempo gradually built into a semi-fury, but overall it didn't really excite me. "Feeding The Serpent From A Cup" was an interesting tune that sounded remarkably like a rawer version of the opening to Pink Floyd's "Time".

The stronger tunes were "Ember Lights", "Iron Compass Flux", and "Sousa". "Ember Lights" features industrial atmospherics weaving in and out of various synth patterns. I enjoyed the industrial beat club freakout with the heavily echoed bongos. The 14 minute title track is similar though more ethereal. In fact, I sensed a strong Ash Ra Tempel/Can influence as the lengthy tune developed. Here the drone is subtle and put to good use creating mechanical space soundscapes that conjure up all kinds of sci fi images. The last couple minutes see an easing of the pace with a spacey, somewhat minimalist piano finale. "Sousa" is a potent psych tune that jams along like some of the weaker tracks, but I felt like the journey was headed somewhere. Low-end pounding bass and drums set the beat, accompanied by an Eastern influenced acidic guitar and exploratory electronics. This was my favorite tune on the CD. Without question, Mirza is a band with possibilities for fans of jamming exploratory psychedelia.

For more information you can visit the Darla Records web site.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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