At what point does a collaboration become a supergroup? For the 2010 edition of San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival, Thao Nguyen of Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
fame and Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn shared a stage and performed each other’s songs together. The pairing proved to be more than a fun diversion for both the artists and the crowd, and the two embarked on a tour together and collaborated in the studio on Thao & Mirah
. Both artists share that star quality that permits, or even necessitates, being known on a first-name basis, but it is the ways in which they are dissimilar that makes the Thao and Mirah
team-up an intriguing one. In contrast to the raw, boisterous sound and disarming frankness of Nguyen, Yom Tov Zeitlyn is more controlled, breathy, and abstract.
Opener “Eleven” exemplifies the best-case scenario of such an accord, as Nguyen and Yom Tov Zeitlyn are joined by friend and co-producer Merrill Garbus of tUnE-YarDs. Handclap effects fire with the rapid intensity of gunshots as the styles of Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Nguyen are juxtaposed with frenetic chaos, building an overwhelming tension. The level of rambunctious energy found on “Eleven” does not persist for the rest of Thao & Mirah, but the album remains a captivating exercise in contrasts.
Occasionally, both artists share vocal duties, such as on the call-and-response of “Eleven” and on the surprisingly danceable “How Dare You”. But even when one takes the lead, the influence of the other is always apparent. On “Teeth”, Nguyen’s signature songwriting is given a lush, layered undercurrent. The spirited “Rubies and Rocks” could have been another Thao staple, but instead Yom Tov Zeitlyn takes the lead, while a jazzy swing transforms the song into something completely different. Thao & Mirah is everything a collaborative album should be: Two artists use their divergent, but complementary, approaches to push each other out of their comfort zones and into new musical territory.