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There's been a bit of a retro vibe in the air recently, with acts like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and She & Him unselfconsciously evoking bygone eras and turning in the best records of their careers in the process. It is now the turn of The Mynabirds, where Laura Burhenn (ex of Washington DC duo Georgie James) comes over all soulful Sixties chanteuse, the results constituting a rich and focused debut album.
Comparisons have been drawn with the likes of Feist, latter-day Cat Power and Jenny Lewis, and it pretty much goes without saying that if you like any of those singers’ work you’re in for a treat with What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood. Certainly, aside from Burhenn’s warm, versatile voice, The Mynabirds sound nothing like Georgie James, who peddled a polite, agreeable kind of indie-pop. Burhenn’s mission statement for the record was ‘Neil Young doing Motown’ (indeed, the band take their name from a short-lived group where Neil Young actually did Motown), and by way of Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry and Buffy Sainte-Marie, it is one they’ve neatly accomplished here.
That said, to classify it mere pastiche would be a disservice. Like Sharon Jones, Joan Wasser and the rest, Burhenn is clearly in thrall to these vintage sounds and styles, but the care and attention to detail found on What We Lose in the Fire… boost it beyond any naysaying. That, and the strength of the songs: there are just ten, each as lovely as the other.
Richard Swift produced and played on the album, and is to be commended for his work – as with Damien Jurado’s Saint Bartlett, he’s coaxed a stirring performance from its central player, creating a full-bodied world in which Burhenn’s vocals flourish. Guests include Nate Walcott and Orenda Fink (of Bright Eyes and Azure Ray respectively), Burhenn’s mellifluous pipes the constant; never overwhelmed by the resplendent surrounds.
Singling out particular songs for praise is a difficult exercise, though the smoky shuffle ‘Give It Time’ builds from an unassuming introduction to high drama, crests of slide guitar hinting at Burhenn’s throaty, powerful denouement. ‘Let the Record Go’ bounds in on honky-tonk piano while ‘Numbers Don’t Lie’ sees Burhenn consider relationship politics over one of the most memorable choruses of the record (both are available as free downloads here, incidentally). ‘LA Rain’, ‘Right Place’ and ‘Wash It Out’ are similarly great – whether jilted or contemplative (or both), Burhenn’s knack for a hook is wonderfully consistent.
To continue in this vein would wear out my superlatives some, and really, it should be enough to note that over its 33 minutes What We Lose in the Fire… rarely falters. Rather, it revels in a soulful, brassy buzz that sounds great from the offset and even better on further listening: Swift’s production fantastic and Burhenn’s vocals genuinely spellbinding.