The five-man ensemble MIIRRORS was just poised to go widescreen when the pandemic shut down the city’s music scene. But in the ensuing few years, the band deftly improvised and maneuvered to keep working and to keep the project on the radar. Now their debut full-length is finally here, and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth the wait—let me reassure you: it would’ve been worth an even longer one.
The album was heralded a few weeks before its drop date by its first single, “Where Do We Go?,” an utterly infectious alt-pop tune that, intentionally or not, seems to comment on the whole pandemic-imposed diversion. After thirty seconds of meandering, indecisive feedback fuzz, a beat locks in and frontman (and co-founder) Brian McSweeney conjures—in a despairing half-wail, half-sigh—a litany of calamity scenarios: “When you rise to the times but you don’t know… what to want / When you’re pushing a boulder to the top / When it’s coming undone.” This spills right into the staccato earworm that is the chorus—a casually shrugged, “Where do we go? / I don’t know / It’s just another season.” In other words, just keep on keeping on—which is what MIIRRORS does exceptionally well.
“Where Do We Go” is probably going to remain active on my summer playlist, but the rest of the album is pretty great as well. The band members—who include Andre Miller, Patrick Riley and Dmitri Rakhuba—have all the exuberance of players who’ve had to hold back and now are ready to cut loose, but it’s co-founders McSweeney and drummer Shawn Rios who really shine. McSweeney’s voice is a marvel, purring intimately over a phrase, then launching into a stratospheric keening—as in the tune “Spasmatic,” where he sings, “Broken, the connection / When will you say it like a summary,” thrillingly jumping an octave between phrases. Rios is right there urging him on, with a blitzkrieg rhythm that sounds something like a swarm of locusts chasing elephants.
One of the album’s many highlights is actually a track released three years ago—an example of the deft COVID-era maneuverings I mentioned earlier. It’s a driving cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Gunshot Glitter,” which MIIRRORS turns into a three-act-play with McSweeney’s vocals at their most theatrically effective—as when he descends suddenly into a yearning reading of “I want to be your lover / Lipstick my name across your mirror / Blood red with flake gunshot glitter / And be one with all you disowned in your young life.”
That passage—like the lyrics to the entire song—is poetically several notches above anything else on the album. I mean, of course it is; it’s Jeff goddamn Buckley. All the same, the band’s originals do often deliver startlingly vivid lines—as in the album opener, “Parallax,” which begins:
Warming yourself by the fire
Hum with the sound of the wire
Come to the front of the line
No, that’s not blood on my teeth
Just come in here off the street
Into the place where we eat
Then, in the tune “Fields and Forests”—a terrific exercise in sustained wariness and anticipation, with devastating bursts of monotone harmony—there’s this: “You say one day I’m gonna know my name / Then I won’t be ashamed / But why would I be?”
Each of the album’s tracks begins, and many end, with its own distinct sonic texture, as a kind of mood-setter for what’s to come. To my mind, the most effective use of this device is in “Knockoff,” which begins with an instrumental cacophony before delving into a song about confusion and regret. In the ravishingly melodic chorus, McSweeney sings, “I feel something creeping / Gonna go back and see where I went wrong / I sold my joy for a reason / Gonna go back and see where I belong.” There’s another dissonant burst at the end, but instead of shrieking in alarm, it falls apart in indecision. It all plays out beautifully; but as well as it works on its own terms, it doesn’t convince as an expression of who MIIRRORS is. No one in this band has sold out anything; and as for where they belong—it’s right here, right now.
“Motion and Picture” is available for streaming and purchase on MIRRORS’s Bandcamp page.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena,” and his literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.