The North Carolina new-old-folk quartet Mipso aims for an archaic string band sound with a matching set of timeless Americana personae, intending to betray little if any evidence of the modern world within the musical and thematic confines of their songs. They really miss the mark, and in a wonderful variety of ways. There is too much hippie and sublimated DMV in their grooves, too many jazz, tin pan alley, and modern acoustic pop moves in their chord changes, and they themselves seem somewhat unconvinced by the authenticity of their own weary wisdom and hill linguistics.
To which, I say good on you. If there is anything we don’t need any more of, it is unassailably airtight retro and studious period reconstructions by costumed young people, dissatisfied with the available modern identities and as intoxicated as their parents by that “old, weird America,” words that I bet Greil Marcus would take back right now, given the chance. Mipso may be bad at identity but they are pretty damn good at music and words. They play their woody axes with a lithe and light touch, they sing agreeably, they swing together, and their elegant, pop harmonic moves are welcome to these ears.
Mipso’s third and current release, Coming Down the Mountain is their first with drums. Otherwise the rules remain more or less the same. There are some concessions to modern production — a lone electric piano, by my count — and a bit of a relaxed willingness to let the 21st (or at least the second half of the 20th) century play into their lyrical purview in the form of a rented Toyota and a few other artifacts of the present. The effect is that of antiquing the now. They still seem stuck halfway on the road to the past, like a somewhat more serene (and musically savvy) version of Seattle’s The Head and the Heart. Luckily, their many fans aren’t asking them to be anything but their sweet and ultra-musical selves. No one really knows how to act anyway. It’s fine.
Mipso visits the Bearsville Theater on Sunday, April 23 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. For tickets and more information, see www.bearsvilletheater.com. The Bearsville Theater is located at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock.