Myrmyr: Fire Star
Under The Spire

Myrmyr duo Marielle Jakobsons and Agnes Szelag have come a long way in a very short time. Having issued recordings separately (Szelag's No Summer or Winter appeared on Aphonia in 2008 and Jakobsons' darwinsbitch recording, Ore, appeared a year later on Digitalis) and together, the 2006 Mills College MFA graduates and now Oakland, California-based producers follow The Amber Sea, their Myrmyr debut album, with the fine sequel Fire Star. Recorded by The Norman Conquest on Shasta Mountain in April 2010, the album showcases the duo's considerable strengths in a neat, thirty-nine-minute package. Throughout the recording, sing-song folk melodies intertwine with plaintive string passages, and the coupling of acoustic sonorities and electronic treatments is handled gracefully.

Myrmyr's music is distinguished by being uncompromisingly experimental yet at the same time wholly accessible, and at no time does the group's music lose its clear sense of musicality and purpose. Nowhere is that more apparent than during “Hot Snow 1,” where strings, both plucked and bowed, and percussive sounds blend into a blurry collage suggestive of a blinding snowstorm, and the string-heavy second part, where the mood turns mournful and elegiac. Contrasts continue into a third part that's markedly light-hearted by comparison, what with claps, drums, vocals, and glockenspiel adding to the strings' rich folk melodies. It all adds up to a tripartite opener that's, in its own way, quietly epic and terrific, too.

Mood shifts also occur within a single setting, as is shown by the move from ruminative strings to nimble-footed glockenspiels and pizzicatti strings during “Fire Serpent's Tail”; here, too, evidence of the duo's Baltic roots come to the fore in the music's folk leanings, something that comes to even fuller flower in “Thunder Stars” when an aromatic drone of bells, voices, and harmonium is augmented with macabre string melodies. And lest anyone think Myrmyr's sound is mellow, “Golden Ashes” lays out a fiery noise drone that could pass for an excerpt from a Tony Conrad performance.

Though no instrumentation details are provided with the new release, one assumes that the two have brought a similarly rich range of sound sources to the new material as to their last, with violin, cello, voice, bass, piano, harp, melodica, glockenspiel, and guitar a sampling of the instruments featured on The Amber Sea. Perhaps the major difference between the two releases, however, is that whereas the earlier one incorporated contributions from from a number of Bay Area musicians, the new one appears to be created by Jakobsons and Szelag alone, and consequently Fire Star distills Myrmyr's electroacoustic sound down to its essence. If there's nothing quite so ambitious on Fire Star as The Amber Sea's fifteen-minute “The Sea Returns,” a so-called “conducted improvisation” that supplemented the duo with nine other musicians (though the three-part “Hot Snow” comes close, at least in terms of length), this remarkable new recording gains slightly in cohesiveness by being—at least, so it seems—the product of Myrmyr alone. It's a marvelously realized work, regardless of personnel details.

August 2011