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Calling an album "mature" can be damning it with faint praise, but Mirah's luminous (A)spera embodies the best qualities of that word. While it might be subtler and gentler than most of her previous work, it also feels like a summation of everything that came before it. Advisory Committee was a gloriously audacious sprawl that showed exactly what Mirah was capable of -- which was a lot -- and C'mon Miracle was a reassuring shoulder to cry on, but (A)spera finds a delicate, sometimes tense balance between adventurousness and empathy. Above all, the album emphasizes just how remarkable Mirah's voice and words are: after more than a decade of recording, her voice is still light and girlish but with a knowing delivery; likewise, her lyrics are passionate yet clear-eyed. These dualities express (A)spera's emotional shades of shades of gray elegantly and eloquently. "Shells" explores the almost imperceptible line between holding and suffocating a loved one to Kane Mathis' lilting kora, while "Education" is an alt-country-tinged study in learning by leaving that hinges on the chorus "I'll never change/You'll never change." Yet, for an album steeped in complex moods, (A)spera is remarkably engaging, and a lot of that has to do with its creative, organically evolving sounds. (A)spera opens with two of its most striking moments. "Generosity"'s distorted drums and guitars, tremulous strings, and declaration of independence make it feel like a cousin to "Cold Cold Water," which began Advisory Committee with a similarly dramatic cloudburst. "The World Is Falling Apart," meanwhile, is deceptively understated, with barely there yet looming drums, droning synth bass, and cresting backing vocals setting the song on its voyage. Elsewhere, "The Forest"'s cautionary tale of greed delves into majestic tribal rock, "Country of the Future" serves up a tale of love and independence with carnival drums and sinuous strings, and an ethereal gamelan-inspired version of "While We Have the Sun" -- which originally appeared on Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project -- closes (A)spera on a meditative note. However, it's "The River" that really captures the album's unique complexity and directness: Mirah sounds like she's singing right in your ear, gently delivering bold-faced truths like "You don't want to hurt me/But you don't want to need me" as brass and woodwinds flow around her. This kind of sophisticated indie pop and singer/songwriter territory is all her own, and (A)spera holds almost as much wisdom as it does hope.

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