Mi and L’au If Beauty Is A Crime

[Important; 2012]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: neofolk, north-facing, modern classical, soundtrack, trypto-France
Others: Lau Nau, Colleen, Wonaldo, Nico, François de Roubaix

The Mi and L’au of If Beauty Is A Crime still sound true to their original self-titled album. It’s surprising, considering that they’ve completely replaced acoustic instruments with programmed sounds. In 2005, they made a distinct impression on the scene, which was helped partly by their romantic backstory and partly by their association with the credible, down-and-dirty Michael Gira and Young God records. The story of their origins has been told on every site about them since 2005, but it bears repeating once more (and briefly) that, after falling in love in Paris, Mira and Laurent holed up in a cabin in the Finnish forest to create a debut album that was as much concerned with space as it was with their fledgling intimacy. This was not a cloying sentimental ode to their love, but was patient in its tending of slow unfolding themes, as if the songs were coals in a hearth that needed only occasional kindling.

In spite of their mysterious origin-myth, Mi and L’au managed to be more than just a spook-folk outfit catering to 2005’s tastes for weird, pretty people. Their approach to composition hasn’t changed radically over the course of three albums, which suggests that their first retreat into a land of patient, blissful concentration was not an impulsive phase, but a shoring up of creative reserves for later works.

It’s is a surprise to find Eurobeat/techno straight out of The Knife on the title track, but as with many of Mi and L’au’s past compositions, it’s not necessarily a statement of intent. When the duo signed to Young God, Michael Gira suggested that they should be seen as different quantities from their folk peers, and the statement seems to have been borne out on work that is still sophisticated rather than quirky in a dated way. Their light steering of the process of composition and seeming love of sound for its own sake are not out of place in this era of instrumental electronic music, of sounds not sculpted into predefined molds but evolving naturally over time.

But apart from the slow-cooking approach, these albums are and always were soundtracks, as opposed to a songs or even instrumental compositions. Perhaps the following is just an easy hypothesis propped up against convenient biographical facts about Laurent’s background in soundtracks, and Mi and L’au’s discovery that a shared childhood experience of listening to François de Roubaix soundtracks was influencing their music. But the influence of François de Roubaix, and the atmosphere of 1960s French film soundtracks would explain the circular 4/4 themes and clockwork bells on “They Marry” (Mi and L’au) and “Tender Words” from If Beauty is A Crime, with its refrain, “360”: the degrees of a circle (to hammer home the point).

There are times when their careful study of mesmerizing themes often means that Mi and L’au become collectors and fail to push their creations out into the world, instead reiterating their discoveries of a beautiful string or horn line — now breakbeat, on “Warrior” — without resolving them satisfactorily. Soundtracks are designed to emerge like fragments within a larger body: the narrative of the film. Mi and L’au’s career has been like a film so far, in the sense that, though it’s been an impressive body of work, it seems at times that parts of their songs will always be submerged from view. Perhaps all that will remain visible is the most fascinating part of the song, like the string section that hoists a scene in a movie to a level of sublimity, then lowers itself again when no longer required to elevate the mood. This is not mood music, however; it is much more than that. But though beauty for its own sake is certainly not a crime, it is not always enough on this latest release.

Links: Mi and L'au - Important

Most Read