Mirah's come a long way since her first K Records release, You Think It's Like This, But It's Really Like This. That lovely, affecting work had songs of such and clarity and honesty that a listener could sit at home, wincing in embarrassment at such openness if delivered by someone who lacked Mirah's earnest and conviction. The pretty naked speech on that album is a stark comparison to the songwriting of Mirah's latest, (A)spera. On that album she analogizes pollination to oral sex, and lies in bed yearning to lay around naked in the high grass with a lover. On (A)spera she's never so direct, but the feeling is still there.
Although the mark of Mirah's heartfelt sincerity -- her greatest asset -- is still painted all over her music, her usual boldfaced openness seems muted. Maybe it's that this album doesn't have as many angry elements as her previous, proper solo records, or maybe it's just that her songwriting has matured, but that lack of directness leaves the listener with an ambiguous result. The feeling of Mirah's presence, the atmosphere generated by her music is greater here than on her earlier work, but she is not as endearing. This isn't something that should necessarily matter for an album, but it matters with Mirah.
The closest Mirah comes to her original, naked-lipped honesty is album-opener "Generosity." The call-and-response arrangement of Mirah's refusal ("I won't give more/ We just want more") comes closest to the simple pop leanings of her earlier work, even if the track receives ample support from a few violins. There's two tracks, "Shells" and "While We Have the Sun," that pair a taste of Mirah's dependably blunt delivery with gorgeous instrumentation to create separate, intensely pleasant clouds of audio.
Unfortunately, a few of the tracks make it sound as if Mirah's been dragged down by heady, cumbersome maturity. "The World Is Falling" plods with a dour face under an overcast sky, and never really finds the path. The horns and needless choir on "The Forest," feel needless, and give in to the worst habits of modern pop music. Though we can certainly hear her singing, her voice is lost on these tracks.
It impossible, at the last, to doubt how compelling Mirah and (A)spera are. Yes, it feels like she's lost some of the youthful pop and punch that she had almost a decade ago, but the reason why Mirah's sincerity feels like such a big deal is because her songs are like friends. Each one is so eager for to be listened to that there seems like a possiblity, however remote, of some listening back.