Mira Calix: absent origin (digital, Warp Records, November 2021)

Ooh, a new Mira Calix! I loved her Warp albums from the early noughties (One On One, Skimskitta, 3 Commissions) which were all pretty hard to categorize — a mix of glitchy electronics, naive piano before that was really a thing, field recordings, and bog knows what else — but all strangely beautiful, and quite catchy in a sneaky way. She seems to have kept a pretty low profile for the past fifteen years, mostly doing site-specific installation type stuff, and I admit I’d kind of lost track of her.

Well, she’s back, and this is absolutely stunning. The opening number, a mark of resistance, is a real statement of intent, weaving together various samples of women talking about female power, initially over an abstract assemblage of clicks and hums, but by the end with a really thumping drumbeat. It’s strong, it’s got a righteous anger, and it’s really quite funky. There’s a wide variety of stuff on this record — just check out nkosezane, which includes, among other things, what I think might be a non-professional South African choir, and the kind of classical soprano and jazz-inflected abstractions you’d expect to find on ECM — but the whole thing is pulled together by a driving energy. There are a lot of vocal samples, in particular centring the female voice: I think it’s track 5 before we hear a man, and I guess the fact that this feels remotely noteworthy is kind of the point. Oh, and I love the near-quotation from, of all things, the 1986 muppets-plus-David-Bowie’s-area-fest Labyrinth where the alteration of a single word changes a silly rhyme into something strikingly subversive: “You remind me of a woman / What woman? / The woman with the power…”

This is Mira Calix’s most obviously political record (as well as the feminism, it touches on BLM, human rights, creeping authoritarianism dressed up as populism, and Being Angry About Brexit). It’s also her most sonically full-on. But, crucially, it’s also a great deal of fun, everything cut up and assembled with an insight and a lightness of touch. I don’t suppose there were many people saying “You know what 2021 really needs? A Mira Calix protest record”… but I cannot overstate how happy it makes me that we have one.

I bought this on Bandcamp.

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