The Irrepressibles' Jamie McDermott describes “My Friend Jo” as having “an ounce of kitsch,” but the amount in Mirror Mirror could be measured in pounds. The group fashions orchestral pop full of pomp and circumstance, revealing them as kissing cousins to Antony and the Johnsons and the Wild Beasts, as well as direct descendants of Scott Walker's most decadent solo work. One of the most immediately impressive things about Mirror Mirror is how far it goes beyond typical “here’s where the strings come in” arrangements: McDermott and company take full advantage of being a “performance orchestra,” weaving a heady interplay of pizzicato strings, piano, and flute into “Anvil” and using fittingly stormy dynamic shifts on “Nuclear Skies.” McDermott's voice is the other key ingredient to Mirror Mirror's success; his powerful falsetto takes the music to flamboyant extremes, while his rich, world-weary baritone hints at the transgressive sexuality of Walker, David Bowie, and even Dr. Frank-N-Furter. While Mirror Mirror is obviously and proudly theatrical, there’s an underlying earnestness that keeps it from feeling too rarefied. The Irrepressibles use artifice to exalt deep and sometimes complicated emotions, and while songs such as “My Witness” border on being overwrought, more often than not the band’s mix of mischief and yearning has remarkable depth. McDermott warns a lover “Don’t treat me like the fool I’m not/We’ll miss this when it’s gone” on “Knife Song”’s cabaret-tinged frustration and sensuality; like the album’s other highlights, it moves from intimacy to high drama effortlessly. Much of Mirror Mirror deals with obsessive love and its aftermath, from the seductive “I’ll Maybe Let You” to the bravely romantic “Forget the Past” to “The Tide”’s dreamy ruminations. The Irrepressibles save the best for last, closing the album with “In This Shirt,” an epic that moves from the death to the rebirth of hope with soaring orchestration to match. Mirror Mirror reflects the near decade it took to make, as well as the Irrepressibles' knack for making their flights of fancy surprisingly accessible.
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