The album, recorded in Mia Rocha’s hometown of Chicago with bandmates Joseph Farago (keys) and Emerson Hunton (percussion) was co-produced by Rocha and Michael Mac, who mixed and mastered 2017’s Gemini Moon EP. Despite this, Spirit Tamer leaves much of the full-band, psych-gaze aesthetic of its predecessor behind and pivots focus towards a sound that feels pared down yet luxuriant with sentiment and charm.
What Mia Joy seems most vested in evoking through her music is unfettered emotion. Instrumentals all fall neatly into place. Lush synth, reverb-doused guitar and taut percussive accents stew underneath vocals that range from brooding fractured whispers to strong upper-range vibrato. Add in Rocha’s often sparse but direct lyrics that meditate on soured relationships and the brutal discomfort that often accompanies change and you have a cure-all crafted to dull the most arduous of growing pains.
It’s on songs like “Heaven Forbid” that Rocha contemplates her internalized resistance to the transformations she perceives as taking place in real time. “Time moves past me without my consent / What if I forget?” She coos in an airy style that is faintly reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser from dream pop heavyweights Cocteau Twins.
In “See Us” she describes her inability to choose between being combative towards change and yearning for it as she makes a lofty appeal to skip town and start over. She goes on to posit, “I’m not my father, you’re not your mother / I know we can make it different for us.” As other-worldly as Rocha’s voice sounds, it is in these moments that she puts her humanity on display as she grapples with the fear of repeating the mistakes of someone that has once caused great pain or disappointment.
Rocha breaks through the density of her vulnerability on “HaHa” as she lets go of the urge to resist the sea change that threatens her and finally gives in to it. “I tried to keep my body in one piece / My skin, it sheds in my sleep / Ha Ha / Turns out the joke is on me.” It’s with this that she adds a healthy dose of levity to her ongoing inner conflict and admits that her opposition to the inevitable has proved to be in vain.
I would be remiss to not mention closing track “Last Night Together (Arthur),” a cover of the late avant-garde artist Arthur Russell. Though a distinct departure from Russell’s rendition, Rocha takes her final bow by showing off a shimmering, buttery vocal range in this haunting piano ballad. A perfect end cap to the album, the song deviates from the celestial aura of the preceding eleven songs and serves as a note-to-self for Rocha that underneath all of the doubt and trepidation that come with growing into your own, an invariable part of herself remains.
You might say Mia Joy is verdant but in this case, green is good. She grasps firmly onto all of the transient parts of youth —the excitement, the candor, the tenderness — and gives them a home to live and breathe inside fragments of journaled words and swirling ethereal soundscapes.
Essential Tracks: “Heaven Forbid,” “See Us,” “HaHa” and “Last Night Together (Arthur)”