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Mira Calix - Skimskitta

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Artist: Mira Calix

Album: Skimskitta

Label: Warp

Review date: Apr. 30, 2003

Peripheral Vision

Skimskitta is the perfect onomatopoeia for Mira Calix’s latest full-length – the skimmm all smooth windy glides, the skittaskittas tiny frenzied rattles that dart through the sheets of wind and ambience. Mira Calix (Chantal Passamonte) is back with her trademark creep, bringing to the table an hour of delicately portentous electronics that are not so much haunting as haunted, each sonic element sneaking upon another and spooking it out.

Mira Calix’s work speaks of the fragility that lies at the near-invisible edges, which gets interpreted sometimes as a high paranoia that infuses her music. It’s as if her glances are always flickering to the sides, extraordinarily sensitive to the minutiae visible just out of the corners of the eyes. It’s these little scraps of sound at the fringes that she collects, snaps into pieces, ties together, each with an odd and intriguing texture. The particular combinations she scoops up is curious as well, a mix of organic debris and man-made refuse, but the end effect is a bit like a kid splaying all of her found rocks, cigarette butts, twigs, snail shells, shards of bottleglass on the smooth kitchen floor. Each object is lovely and possessed with its own mysterious history, but together, it’s sort of just a mess that could be accidentally swept into the dustbin. Taken together, the songs of Skimskitta seem not so much a coherent opus as a well-shaken burlap sack of sonic trickery. Some, like "Flicker’s" rainstick shimmer and "Do I Ever," are so brief that they seem like haphazardly tossed handfuls of crackling pebbles and percussive seeds. "Clement’s" deep bass rattle throbs thick as a boat engine in murky water.

Then, there are some tracks cradling an element that is simply gorgeous, but all too briefly explored or else cluttered by jostling, competing sounds. "Poussou’s" piano, anchored by a wheezy bass beat, is coated with a beautiful high sheen. And Mira Calix puts her unintelligibly ghostly moan to good use in the spooky, insectual throb of "Woody." A few of the longer pieces manage to sustain shape just long enough that their beautifully orchestrated webs become discernable through the slow thump, each strand shining and iridescent upon closer inspection. The fable of "The Wolf, the Sheep and the Door" features, at different moments, a ghostly choir, ever-advancing metal trapdoor teeth, and a sudden de-evolution into menacingly wet slurps and licks punctuated by clangs of danger. "Savanna" wades through swamps under the cover night, all snaps of twigs and mud squelches, nighttime crickets, frogs, and a pervasive float of fear. It’s this slight terror that Mira Calix weaves through each of her songs, glistening on the pretty "I May Be Over There (But My Heart Is Over Here)," with its deliberate piano and metallic surfaces running the length of each other, like knives being sharpened. Oddly enough it’s the track "Distracted" that, of all the songs on Skimskitta, seems the least so. If distractions are Mira Calix’s focus, in this one piece they’re pulled together into some beautiful coherence that hangs just right.

Mira Calix certainly has a stunning palette of sounds to choose from, and her admirably adventurous dabblings are sometimes set to stun. Her album highlights the peripheries, the edges of your main focus. After the hour of Skimskitta, though, you can’t help but feel her unearthed findings and sidewindings obscured the main show. And then you realize that that was the main show, and you’re not quite sure if you’re a little less disappointed, or a little more.

By Selena Hsu

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