These Holly Miranda albums take time. After the 2004 debut release that she hawked at shows, the by-then former Jealous Girlfriend released a proper solo bow in 2010. That didn’t even have a quick turnaround time from studio to record store, with it sitting idly on the shelf until Miranda signed with XL Recordings in 2010. That pairing of artist and label wasn’t meant to last, though, and Miranda started working on her next album on her own, eventually connecting with Dangerbird Records. The result is technically her third album, and yet it bears her own name. Like all self-titled releases that come later in a career, it begs examination as to why that choice was made. Is it the result of a lack of ideas, or, as with the most recent St. Vincent full-length, does it imply that this is the performer’s most clear statement of artistic self yet?
In the case of Holly Miranda, it seems the performer is signaling that a rewarding creative reboot is underway. There are statements throughout the album of a vigor so renewed that it feels like a freshly formed identity is shimmering into place, that a stronger sense of self is not only being expressed but has recently been discovered. As she sings on the ruminative “Until Now,” “I never even tried to run fast until now/ There’s been no comfort in this sound until now.” And it’s not hard to fathom why the sound of this music might be comforting, to her and to anyone who might listen in. The lush pop construction is like a blanket fresh from the dryer, a little too irresistible to get wrapped up in.
All that soft sonic richness can sometimes be a little too plush, bogging a song down in its own elegance. “Everlasting” is almost too tender, and “Pelican Rapids” pushes dreaminess into the realm of sleepiness. Like many artists who traffic in this sort of sound, Miranda is most interesting when she throws some flinty surprises into the mix, as on the fantastic single “All I Want Is to Be Your Girl.” It’s immediately sugary-sweet with just a tinge of that distorted sixties girl group pop that sometimes feels inescapable in the modern indie-pop world, and then it delivers the curveball with the attention-getting opening lines “The days are shorter but the nights are long/ We could fuck in the sun and dance til dawn.” Wonderfully, there’s no sense of provocation to the lyric, no Phair-ian baiting for attention. It’s as tender and kind-hearted as anything that might show up on a She & Him record, and it works all the better for it.
Across the album, Miranda shows the range that can exist within her style. “Whatever You Want” is a more successful version of that take on nineteen-eighties pop if disco had never died that Rilo Kiley tried a few years back, and “Desert Call” is a seductive shuffle of a song with a powerful vocal, the sort of thing that could have been the emotional centerpiece of a old Linda Ronstadt album, which I mean as a mighty compliment. I even get charged up by some of the nifty flourishes, such as the little echoes of lines on “Come On” (“Not scared, not scared”). None of this material necessarily is so profound or brilliantly artful that the need for a gradual pace of creation can be found within the tracks, but it’s also strong enough that it helps make an argument for the virtuousness of patience. After all, music this good is welcome any time.