August 30, 2003

Nanang Tatang "Munki"

Bands going on 'hiatus' can often prove quite fertile. When members of the band have ideas that don't fit into their band's template, what better way to siphon off the overflowing creativity by calling a one-year truce to pursue their individual ideas? In fact, a little down-time might actually keep a band together. Bands like Superchunk, Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie have not been hurt by allowing a little time for a side project or two. Heck, some people, like Stephin Merritt and Robert Pollard, keep several going at once, just to keep things interesting. It's been a few years since Ida last released an album, but that doesn't mean that their members have been anything less than active. In the past few years, Elizabeth Mitchell has released two critically acclaimed children's records, and Daniel Littleton has released albums with Jenny Toomey (Liquorice) and Tara Jane O'Neil.

Nanang Tatang is their first collaborative project together outside of Ida, and it's a stunner. Muki was conceived during a hiatus from Ida, when Littleton and Mitchell moved from New York City and became parents. As such, Muki feels very natural--but let's not mistake 'natural' for 'rootsy.' Instead of Ida's atmospheric-folk/country, Muki focuses mainly on the atmosphere, and though many of the elements are exactly like Ida's most recent work, it sounds like something entirely different. If anything, Muki owes much to This Mortal Coil; folk songs surrounded by deep atmosphere, with electronic passages here and there, all working together to produce a dark, cloudy mood. When you consider the fact that Mitchell sounds stunningly like Heidi Berry, you could quickly conclude that Muki is one of the best albums 4AD never released.

It should also be pointed out that, in a weird kind of way, Muki is a children's record. Though there are no purple dinosaur-style singalongs on here, their daughter Storey provides 'heartbeat', and apparently is also sampled in places. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise; Mitchell recorded two children's albums, and the music is calm, serene, and tranquil; throw in baby's heartbeat, and you'll have an organic experience that will put even the fussiest baby to sleep. Muki fits nicely between Howie B's Music for Babies and Mickey Hart's Music To Be Born By.

As for Littleton and Mitchell, they are both in fine form. Elizabeth's voice is extremely strong--more so when she's singing quitely--and Dan's still got a masterful touch with musical accompaniment. With the help of producer genius Warn Defever, Littleton and Mitchell never renig on the promises made on Ida's previous records, nor do they do any damage to the hopes for Ida's future output. Getting exactly what you expected is sometimes the greatest gift an artist can make, and that is certainly the case for this loving, happy family. Don't try listening for 'songs'--no song really stands out as better (or worse) than any other; consider this one long, ambient piece with twelve little distractions.

Muki is never difficult listening; instead of being difficult and complex, it's complex in a most simple way. Of course, what else would you expect from the masterminds behind Ida? At the very least, Muki will certainly whet your appetite for the next Ida record. Muki is the perfect companion for rainy days, early mornings, or those nights when your little one won't get to sleep. Fix yourself a stiff drink--be it coffee, whiskey or formula--and let Muki relax you.

--Joseph Kyle

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