BEST NEW INDIE: MIJA - DEAD FLOWERS & CIGARETTES
Ex-OWSLA member Mija updates moody, minimal nightside electronica for the 21st Century.
For a brief moment in the late '90s, existential, dramatic, nocturnal beats fronted by melancholic (usually) frontwomen was actually the mainstream. Bands like Portishead, Massive Attack, Morcheeba, and Goldfrapp combined smooth, syncopated jazzy beats with atmospheric electronics - somewhere between the futuristic rush of cutting-edge drum 'n bass and the retrodelic sci-fi Dr. Who soundtracks - weighted down with inky-black stories of love, less, rejection, and obsession.
It was a strange moment that hasn't really been seen/heard again, apart from maybe the first breaking waves of Dubstep when mainstream EDM again went pitch black for a moment. It was nowhere near as goth, as romantic, or as classy as '90s trip-hop. If electronic music were horror movies, Dubstep would be Poltergeist or House Of 1000 Corpses while trip-hop would be a Roger Corman adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, all decrepit manors and decadent royalty, lovingly cast in black and white.
Maybe it was too good, too tasty, but trip-hop's time in the moonlight was tragically short-lived. It didn't take long for it to become a parody of itself, canned "jazz beats" under some nuevo-bossa lounge. What was once emotional and revolutionary became, yet again, just one more lifestyle accessory.
This is part of what makes "Dead Flowers & Cigarettes" so thrilling, such a refreshing blast of rarefied, refrigerated. Here, in a slim four-and-a-half minutes, Phoenix's Mija offers a legitimate hope of a resurgence of nightside electronic pop.
"Dead Flowers & Cigarettes" kicks with a minimal dancehall beat and the whispered refrain "You're the saddest girl I know." The requisite jazzy, syncopated shuffle creeps in with some vampiric organ, but the cobwebs part slightly with a throbbing, club-ready 4/4 thump. Mija tells a story of obsession and regret, told through the lens of wilting roses and cigarette butts. It might be a Tumblr cliche, if not for the deadly production, the genuine funereal aura around Mija's spoken word vocals.
MIJA - DEAD FLOWERS & CIGARETTES
"Dead Flowers & Cigarettes" benefits greatly from some of this century's electronic music trends - namely, incorporating analog electronic instruments and handmade production. You can feel the hands on the dials of Mija's drum machines and synthesizers, as the tempos flutter and crawl all over the place. It might make for a more convoluted dancefloor experience, but it's worth it for the emotional gravitas it brings. You'll feel yourself falling to the floor like so many dead rose petals as the drum machines bottom out, like snails crawling across a decaying garden.
"Dead Flowers & Cigarettes" would be the "b-side" of Mija's new Just Enough EP, if these tracks had any existence in physical space. It's the most recent in a slurry of singles released on her own never_b_alone.mp3 imprint, where she's been busily carving out top-shelf, artful electronica since 2017.
May this be the sign that trip-hop is finally ready for its comeback? We've sort of missed out on the 20 year retrospectives of genre classics like Portishead's Portishead and Massive Attack's Mezzanine, due to an insane, tumultuous political climate. Honestly, we need some moody, menacing electronic music now more than ever. We Are: The Guard are calling on all producers, all singers, all songwriters. Give us something to dance in the shadows while this world is on fire.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.