Best of 2020: 23. Mirry ‘Mirry’

Whenever I commit to doing one of these countdowns on here, there are always a couple of albums which sneak in at the last moment. Several will be too late even for my shape-shifting list this year, but will get a special mention soon. However, ‘Mirry’ was sent to me in November by one of the team behind the independent record shop vinyl initiative Dinked, Rupert Morrison. He was, understandably, very excited about a title they were preparing to announce and which actually only came out on Friday. A full release will follow in February of 2021, but this early edition comes with alternative artwork and is on smoke-effect clear vinyl. As you can imagine, that last detail was hardly the one to clinch the deal.

mirry standard

What had me hooked was the music and the story of its creation. It is built upon the recordings of Mirabel Lomer, who was born at the turn of the twentieth century and spent much of her adult life as a carer, firstly to her elderly parents and then another couple in Wiltshire. Having grown up in a strict household where she was forbidden from playing music, she had secretly composed a selection of pieces for piano and they were captured on cassette by her brother. Thirty years ago, Lomer having passed during the preceding decade, musician Tom Fraser made a discovery during the house clearance that followed his grandfather’s death that would form the basis of this album. A scratched and battered Transco master disc had been tossed aside but Fraser tucked it in a box and put it to one side.

The time afforded by lockdown meant the disc was discovered once more and Fraser’s Great Aunt Mirry’s archived but unknown work was suddenly alive again. Using it as the basis for these pieces, he has collaborated with Simon Tong to produce some startling, lyrical and vivid soundscapes. Fans of Gavin Bryars and Virginia Astley should drop everything and get hold of a copy right now.

Perhaps most striking is the sense of decay. Notes drifting into the inky blackness, crackle from the abandoned disc, fragments of broken sound as generations are spanned in the studio. ‘Study In F’ is especially textured, at times evoking the burbling atmospherics of Nils Frahm’s stunning ‘Spaces’ set. Distorted beats play off against reverb-drenched, sparingly-sampled piano notes in one of the most modern sounding pieces here.

By contrast, album opener ‘Anthem’ begins with a section of the original recording all bathed in its contemporary hiss before a percussive scaffold emerges to elevate it in a suitably stately manner. One of the great achievements here is using the found sounds and inherent noise of the recording as such coherent textures. This isn’t like those moments when a producer who’s phoning it in opts for a bit of vinyl crackle at the start of a track in a misguided quest for authenticity. The noise is Mirry’s life, the moments when that disc got played and those performances were decoded as an analogue signal that reflected her own creativity back at her. It’s as central to the pieces as the birdsong on Astley’s absolute classic ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’.

These pieces are quite remarkably coherent considering the distance in time, experience and instincts at play. ‘Consolation’ somehow sounds like a celebration of a life in under four minutes. Stately organ swells offer a sense of sombre service while playful claps position a lightness of spirit at the heart of proceedings. The creative urge kept so hidden by someone committed to the support of others is here honoured and evolved by musicians keen to bestow some care on the carer. I won’t spoil the end of ‘Anthem Reprise’ for you, but brace yourself.

Closer ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’ is a shimmering finale, an ascension of melody and deftness of touch that leaves these melodies as living things released from long-forgotten grooves. I’ve a feeling I’ll wish I had put this higher up the list when it reaches its conclusion, but even at this early stage of my relationship with ‘Mirry’ it’s clear that it is one to treasure.

Buy ‘Mirry’ from Drift

Best Of 2020: 24. Keeley Forsyth ‘Debris’

Pretty much anything from prior to March doesn’t feel like it happened in 2020. It is almost as if the overwhelming sense of the inevitable that descended in the middle of that month was a hard reset on the year and it just rebooted in some sort of actually-not-all-that-safe mode. Looking back on those initial weeks, it’s noticeable how a number of releases from the first quarter have been re-cast by what followed. 


I remember my first listen to ‘Debris’, early one Saturday morning in late January. It was prompted by the pretty emphatically positive notices it was receiving from trustworthy types on Twitter and I had missed any PR build up. The biographical details supplied with its release – most striking was the use of music as a form of communication following a period of serious, incapacitating illness – added to the sense that this might be something special, something different. Reviews and features referenced late-period Scott Walker and the mesmeric Aldous Harding. Fine points of reference but there is different, more sparse production at play here that makes for a sharply compelling listen.

Forsyth’s voice is unlike any other I can recall. At times, especially on the title track which opens the record, it almost sounds like a string instrument at play. It is front and centre of this album and the accompaniment is minimal, with harmonium, cello and deft synths offering occasional embellishment to guitar and piano. ‘Look To Yourself’ possesses a hypnotic and metronomic quality, evoking the sense of a timeless folk track, and its refrain “we are only human” has felt rather fitting as the months have worn on. 

Centrepiece ‘Lost’ is a brave and visceral inclusion, starting with the lyrics: “Is this what madness feels like? The smooth space after all boundaries have been dissolved. Where there is wind, high wind, but no tall trees for it to grapple with.” The lines are initially sung-spoken at breathy speed before opening up, with a whirling wash of sound anchored by the indefatigable harmonium almost pushing up against the vocals. It is truly incredible. Even after dozens and dozens of listens, I don’t think I’m even faintly close to fully experiencing everything it has to offer. 

No words I can write here will adequately conjure what you will experience by hearing this album. For some, it will be too raw, too stark, too other to fit with their musical palette but, where it clicks, I suspect it will stay. I don’t play it that regularly, as it does seem to pull events and emotions into its orbit without too much effort, but it hasn’t retreated too snuggly into the racks just yet. And I feel I should conclude with a word on that concise but faultless title. For the writer, for the performer, for the listener – this is all about the bits that are left behind. 

Buy ‘Debris’ from Sister Ray