Mira Calix One On One

Originally from South Africa, Mira Calix (or Chantal Passamonte, take your pick) expresses “mal du pays,” a term coined by African expats in Europe to express the yearning for open spaces, brought on by a lack of sunlight. The theme throughout is the contrast between open spaces and closed systems. Don’t expect “African” tribal chants over pulsing beats, though. The polyrhythms here owe more to Autechre than to township jive. But no matter the time signature, she seems comfortable in all of them. One on One’s synth sounds could have come straight from a Fairlight computer — think Thomas Dolby or really cheesy ’80s Stevie Wonder — but done with much more care and attention to micro-tonalities. Sampled guitars and exactingly tuned static also pop up alongside her own processed vocals. Sparse, sometimes underdeveloped melodies introduce a subtle range of harmonies and textures. There are no obvious, danceable grooves, but meditations on pounding rhythm and sonics. Mira Calix has created a very intense and emotional album. Fortunately, the mood is never overly severe; the sun does shine through the melancholy. Praise is due to the cover art and web site. They are amazingly well suited to the music by suggesting an African sensibility without beating you over the head with clichéd imagery. (Warp)