With so much young singer-songwriter talent blossoming in Los Angeles (Ferraby Lionheart, Elvis Perkins, Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark), Mia Doi Todd has become somewhat the elder stateswoman of the city’s indie-folk scene. And her sound has matured to make her worthy of that title. Following on the heels of 2005’s scattershot Manzanita, GEA is a mature work of singular vision.
Todd has taken a razor to her music, paring it down to what she does best: simple, hushed folk songs. Gone are Manzanita’s detours into hard rock, reggae, and Bacharach-esque instrumental pop and collaborations with the likes of Dead Meadow and Future Pigeon. Instead, Todd centers GEA on her simple guitar strumming, harmonium, percussionist Andres Renteria’s hand drums, bass guitar from Joshua Schwartz (a veteran of the Chicago indie scene), and light instrumentation by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. What results are ten songs that sound much the same, which would be a bad thing if that sound wasn’t so lush and gorgeous.
The album opens, harmonium glowing like a sunrise, with “River of Life/The Yes Song.” Todd intones and chants like the earth mother GEA is named after. She hints at the exotic, erotic flair she can imbue a song with on “Night of a Thousand Kisses,” then goes full bore into the realm of the physical on “Can I Borrow You?” The song’s title line is followed by “Till tomorrow afternoon/ We’ll find that feeling/ We’ll find a meaning.” “Big Bad Wolf & Black Widow Spider” is no fairy tale; it’s the story of a male and female baddie settling into an uneasy ease together.
Todd, who’s of part-Japanese background, shows her international pedigree on GEA. “Kokoro” is Japanese for "heart," and the song appropriately takes up matters of love. And “Esperar Es Caro,” a poem by Armando Suarez-Cobian set to music, channels the Spanish so predominate in Los Angeles.
With “Old World New World,” Todd closes GEA looking to the future in hope, singing “I devise a better way to be.” GEA, better than any album Todd has crafted to date, recalls most the late-career boho jazz inflections of the true elder stateswoman of the L.A. singer-songwriter scene: Joni Mitchell.