The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: The Mynabirds – ‘Lovers Know’ (Saddle Creek)

Front cover of 'Lovers Know'

Front cover of ‘Lovers Know’

by Ed Biggs

When she was one half of the now-defunct indie duo Georgie James in the late noughties, and now under her new performance name of The Mynabirds, Washington D.C.-cum-Omaha native Laura Burhenn has built herself a reputation for passionate, literate and soulful music spanning many genres. Her 2012 album Generals was a spectacular piece of ’60s influenced chamber pop, infected with soul and feminist passion, casting its writer as a kind of Boadicean warrior in the emotional world. Since then, Burhenn has travelled the world, recording Lovers Know in New Zealand, South Africa and in several studios across the US while performing as a touring member of The Postal Service during their 2013 reunion.

That sense of dislocation bleeds through into Lovers Know, not only giving it the feel of a travelogue but also inspiring musical variation within. It also opens up a different side of Burhenn, allowing her to recast the strength of Generals in another light, one that values vulnerability and weakness over posturing. “When I love, I love with all my heart” Burhenn smoulders in the sumptuous opening track, which opens up into panoramic vistas of electronica, minimalist in its arrangement yet maximalist in its performance. This aesthetic, which sees her balance her technical know-how with sweeping, heartfelt songwriting, drives the album forwards for the majority of the album.

Communication (electronic, verbal and physical), the anxieties that come from misunderstandings and the knowledge that language is often restrictive as well as expressive, is a recurrent theme on Lovers Know. Burhenn chastises herself for allowing the thought “that semantics could break any rules” on ‘Semantics’, sounds nervous and hesitant on the seasick lurching of ‘Say Something’, and asks herself “am I real?” as she seeks to transcend her station on the wonderful highlight ‘Velveteen’. The whirring, buzzing electronics that make up ‘Shake Your Head Yes’ also underscore this theme. Lovers Know spans the categories of pop, indie and electronica with very little effort. ‘Believer’ is particularly dazzling, featuring skreeing, backward guitars generating an unsettling atmosphere throughout.

Burhenn’s technological nous never threatens to overwhelm the arrangements, as albums like this occasionally do, but where Lovers Know does let itself down is in the final third, where the arrangements are just a little too clinical and end up being sterile, such as on the overly simplistic ‘One Foot’ and ‘Omaha’. But it lacks dynamism towards the end, mistaking ambience for substance on the likes of ‘Hanged Man’ despite some undeniably striking lyrics like “August came on like a love song / like the way that she does”, it is nevertheless a solid effort. Burhenn isn’t exactly breaking new ground with Lovers Know, but there’s a universally resonant truth contained in her simple, honest delivery that makes it – and all great pop – worthwhile. (7/10)

Listen to Lovers Know here!


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