The singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd, from Los Angeles, has her own connections to bossa nova. But she’s not into jazz harmony; she’s into the folk drone. “Gea” (City Zen), her lovely new record, combines the soft dynamics of classic bossa nova – its perfect sung diction, modest string-section arrangements and inner-directed charisma – with good old American transcendentalism. She strums a single guitar chord for long stretches of time, carefully singing tight riddles: “It’s an old world, old world/I devise a better way to be/Maybe not for you, but it may be for me/It’s a new world, new world.” Ben Ratliff/Sunday New York Times 2/17/08
ÂMia Doi Todd believes in the powers of creative expression and song and uses all the energy in her body to expel her music and artistic beliefs. Her seventh full-length, Gea, smolders with creativity, seeming as though drawings and paintings exploded into musical notes floating like fiery ash in a clear blue sky. Todd’s passion and vision is more pointed and exact than her music, which chants and wanders slowly through layers of drones and bongo drums to get out what she wants to say. With hollow vocals reminiscent of Enya or Jefferson Airplane, these ten songs seem to expand for miles, particularly “River of Life/ The Yes Song,” which is almost eleven minutes of Todd’s drawn out lull and moaning harmonium. For one who likes to meditate, this album hits the spot but also reaches out to a broader audience through its experimentation with a variety of instruments. (City Zen Records)Â Â Â –Lauren Piper/Sentimentalistmag.com 2/19/08
ÂOn her MySpace page-where you can find this demo version of a tune from her upcoming full-length-L.A.-based avant-folk chanteuse Mia Doi Todd classifies her music as “melodramatic popular song.” That’s gotta be Todd’s idea of a joke, as it’s difficult to think of a singer less given to melodrama than this former Yale student, whose voice wrings beauty from austerity in a way that recalls mid-period Joni Mitchell. Todd made an excellent album for Columbia’s now-defunct jazz division a few years ago on which she used major-label dough to hire Mitchell Froom to trick out her songs with high-end studio sonics. But “In The End” is folk without flash: just a woman and a guitar on a chair in a room. “Picture yourself in a new light,” she sings, and so she does.
Mia Doi Todd on “In The End”
You recorded Gea on ProTools in a small studio in Burbank, which surely represents a downscaling of sorts from your stint on Columbia. What might you have done differently if this album had been made for a major label?
Perhaps we could have recorded analog to tape. I had that opportunity on The Golden State, my Columbia record. I do prefer the warm sound of tape. Also, I was producing the new album myself, and we were on a tight schedule, so there was a lot to think about besides giving the best musical performances possible. In a big-budget setting, the artist might be more free of those concerns and able to concentrate on takes two through 15 rather than whether or not to rent the piano. We didn’t rent the piano. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for working under duress-you have to make clear decisions and move on quickly.
Is it easy to overstate the impact something like a budget can have on a recording?
Everything impacts the recordings in some way: the weather, what you order for lunch, definitely the people and place involved. We had a wonderful group of people working on Gea-great friends of mine-and we were striving to make a timeless record. Beauty can rise above circumstance. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson wrote amazing arrangements for my songs, and he gathered a very talented chamber orchestra of brass, woodwind and string players. Everyone was working on the record for the love of music and really gave their heart to it. That is priceless.
The version of “In The End” on Gea is more involved than this demo. Is one of them a more accurate reflection of the way you hear the song in your head?
I’m old-fashioned when it comes to songwriting: I find a guitar progression that suits me and hum along until the words fall into place. To me the song is finished when I find all the lyrics and perform it a few times. It can be a long while before the song is recorded and gets to dress up. So the simple version of “In The End” resembles how I hear the song in my head. Gradually, though, the arrangements become a part of the song and sound perfectly natural. – MIKAEL WOOD /PaperThinWalls.com February 11th, 2008
Mia Doi Todd’s seventh full-length, Gea borrows equal parts from the lo fi acoustic minimalism of the first half of her career (The Ewe and the Eye, Come Out of Your Mine and Zeroone) and the more dense and experimentally lavish songs of the latter half (The Garden State, Manzanita and La Ninja: Amor and other dreams of Manzanita). The nearly 11-minute opener, “River of Life / The Yes Song” spans a multitude of different readings – from the literal realization of love between partners to the philosophical awakening of one’s love and appreciation of Mother Earth – just as the entirety of Gea effortlessly alternates between a lover’s lament to political/environmental diatribe. The political undercurrent culminates in the astounding “In the End” which simultaneously takes aim at the U.S. government’s lackadaisical “attempt” to come to the aid of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the global concerns regarding the quickly-approaching death of Mother Nature due to the world’s ignorance of the significance of impending environmental issues. What better way to follow that dense lyrical attack than with the sublime hopefulness of “Old World New World”; just getting the concerns expressed throughout Gea off her chest and out into the open helped Todd discover this new utopian consciousness. What Todd creates on Gea is a peaceful space for everyone to meditate upon the meaning of life in order to unravel a greater understanding and discover their own new world. The tracks can be used as friendly advice to guide you through a personal relationship or as a tool to assist you to dive deeper into the collective consciousness of the world. Meditating on the organic vibes of peace and love, Gea exists as a nonviolent attack on the noise, war and destruction engulfing us today. Â
Don Simpson/Los Angeles Journal 2/14/08
She sounds EXACTLY like Sandy Denny.Bing Bong/Vice Feb.
ÂKnown for her sparse, evocative songs, Mia Doi Todd has recently taken a turn for fuller arrangements in her music. Her new album, Gea is the maturation of that direction. Opening with the haunting “River Of life/The Yes Song” Todd moves through the subdued melodies on the album, channeling her ethereal voice into songs that conjure images of ancient earth, untarnished landscapes and primordial forces in life fused with her singular experience of love and loneliness. Todd possesses a veritable talent as a singer/songwriter and the mystique of her low profile as an artist outside the mainstream only serves to heighten the joy of discovering her music. Gea is a perfect place to discover her talents, and provides a good launching pad for delving back into her barebones albums of the past. Joseph Ragusa/Under the Radar Winter 08
Â .Todd has finally mastered the studio. Far from amputating a potentially vestigial guitar from Todd’s voice, Ammon contact’s Carlos Nino assembles a dusty attic’s worth of orchestral supplements and uses each to arouse a vivacious pastoral collectivity amongst the instrumentation as producer. His production brush strokes give the album a similar feel to Joe Boyd’s work with Fairport Convention on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left.
Â Â Â Â Currents of Drake are abound on Gea. His spirit guides Todd’s playing sounds on several tracks, but such strumming is so timeless that it hardly sounds derivative. Opener River of Life/The Yes Song is an extended suite of Cello Song’s passive and sparse single-chord pacing backed by a droning harmonium and some earthy hand drumming. River of Life is so epochally gorgeous that it becomes a promise that would be hard for any album to fulfill. there’s great beauty in Todd’s pronouncements. The feeling of the completeness of life and the establishment of a new era of saying yes are topics far too large for even the most ambitious singer-songwriter or epic poet to tackle fully, but as an approximation Todd doesn’t do too bad. She’s talking about the universal and she’s a uniter not a divider.
ÂÂ Â Â Â Mia Doi Todd did the girl with a guitar thing for years, spiced her act up with the help of Mitchell Froom at Columbia Jazz and returned to the indies to dabble in genre experiments with the Beachwood Sparks and collaborate with Dntel. She is now about to release her seventh album Gea on City Zen Records
Â Â Â Â The rest of Gea follows this lyrical model of fluctuating between profound romanticisms and clichÃ© rockist or Taoist puzzles. Years after graduating Yale, Todd is still somewhat stuck in Hippie 101, but she maintains a distinguished curiosity that can at least rank ecumenical earnestness against populist prosaicism.
Â Â Â Â Â For instance, River of Life/ The Yes Song’s follow-up track Night of a Thousand Kisses has a title that seems culled from an ancient forgotten Rodgers and Hart standard. The potential for clichÃ© though is undercut by what is said to have transpired “On the Night of a Thousand Kiss.” “We looked into the void.” These two cuts, which appear side by side on Gea, are mix-tape ready for the year 2028 when Todd is discovered and reissued as that era’s Linda Perhacs.
Â Â Â Â She divides her time evenly between personal tracks and songs that reach out into the whole of the world, accounting for some of Gea’s occasional incongruities.hypnotic loops on Kokoro and the funereal strings of the depressing In the End, which (somewhat uncomfortably) compares a crashing relationship with Hurricane Katrina.
Â Â Â Â Classically trained as a child, Todd’s voice does not burrow too wide a nest on Gea nor give a restrictive authority over the other players. Instead, she wisely restrains herself to accompany the music as an instrument rather than a guiding presence. In that throat of hers, there’s a bit of Joni Mitchell, a touch of Chan Marshall and a spot of Natalie Merchant. It’s a truly distinctive voice which achieves more in subtlety than any American Idol brat could with abusive embellishment.
Â Â Â Â That voice is a terrific instrument to have in your arsenal, which is probably why she’s often be the go-to-girl for guest spots on various indie albums of the past few years (Folk Implosion, Saul Williams, Savath and Savalas, Dntel). Gea has all the creative potential of the earth to which she feels so linked . Tim Gabrielle/EdgePubliciations.com 1/20/08
Let the surface noise subside and fade away long enough so that you can hear the things that are really there, or were there all along, under the tumult. Only then will the subtle qualities of local songwriter Mia Doi Todd fully emerge, bludgeoning you not with noise and ego but instead tempting you with softness and light. Her upcoming CD, Gea (City Zen Records), kicks off with the epic duality of “River of Life/The Yes Song,” as Todd’s harmonium seethes and expands under her gently plucked acoustic guitar and soaring vocals for more than 10 minutes, building a slow, lulling momentum with her back-to-nature lyrical imagery. She’s playful about a lover on “Big Bad Wolf & Black Widow Spider,” then she couches her romantic disappointment amid the austere chords of “Kokoro.” . FallingJames/LA Weekly 12/5/07