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Miranda Sex Garden

Prog Folk

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars From the 90's alternative rock scene comes one of the stranger outfit called Miranda Sex Gardens with a majority of female members and being anything but a girls group (Banarama or Bangles) or even a basic-RnR group (ala Runaways or Four Non Blondes). These musicians developed a very potent music rather indefinable, but with incredible powers of fantasy inducing. Their music is anything but ordinary and although not progressive in the strict sense, it is certainly so by association. Back in those days (early 90's), few of these groups could be considered adventurous so Miranda Sex Garden was sticking out like a sore thumb in the musical landscape. But around that time happened the start of the second prog boom where the US label Magna Carta was creating a lot of hope and ther famous Swedish trilogy of Anglalandberkdoten arrived, so I must say that I ignored MSG (not to be confused with the awful Michael Schenker Group), much to my dismay more than a decade later.

Enough "Mea Culpa", and let's get on with this quintet of which at least three female members (depending on the album - none babelicious but all rather cute and cuddly) are choosing the sober presentation and vastly talented by introverted music rather than flaunting or strutting their bodies to cameras. Yes, MSG is all about climates and ambiances and rather unusual instrumentation for the times (this was the Grunge years). Picture a sort of alternative rock hovering between Kate Bush (voices and music development), All About Eve (that early Gothic Rock feel), early Radiohead (just starting around the time), and the awesome Dead Can Dance (for the pre-classical music influences) and you might just start to understand how this band was actually fairly original back then. And if I speak of Goth rock and pre-classical music, it is necessary for me to make a precision: we are not talking of gothic classical period influences here, but more of the wave of an acoustically-driven Goth Rock (this was just the start of the movement) with strong classical instrumentation/arrangements. A real strange thing progheads did not pick up this group and widely include it in their fave groups. Because if MSG is still not thought as a progressive group, I can assure you that it is scandalous that progheads still have not picked on them: they are progressive as hell. The extended use of strings is just one of the many hints. But calling this group gothic period classical is an unwanted and misleading shortcut: somehow their classical music influence are much closer to an elitist folk music, not really medieval either, sometimes reaching String Driven Thing or early ELO.

If this album does not reveal MSG at the top of their game, one can already get a glimpse of things to come with Bring Down The Sky and the amazing 8-min+ Inferno. The album ends strangely and unexpectedly enough on a cover of the jazz standard My Funny Valentine, which is certainly not helping the average quality of the album: completely off base and easily the worse track on the album.

While hardly a masterpiece of prog, this little baby could be a very treasured little gem providing you with many thrills. I would consider MSG more as a chief or reference group of the close relative Gothic Rock (in the sense that the Heavy Metal scene is also in the same family as Prog Rock is) and is likely to please the vast majority of progheads. And clearly MSG and DCD are responsible of many of the newer gothic prog bands' major inspiration as Devil Doll is.

Report this review (#93431)
Posted Thursday, October 5, 2006 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars No one was more surprised than me when Miranda Sex Garden began to be referred to in the same sentence as the term progressive rock. Not my recollection for sure, but looking back now after more than fifteen years I guess it sort of makes sense.

Back in the early nineties there seemed to be an awful lot of these lipstick goth bands coming out of the woodwork. Miranda Sex Garden were one of the more unusual ones simply because they actually had some talent and seemed to be interested in evolving that talent and their image on a regular basis, at least for the first few years. This was their second studio album, and the one that really started them down the road of musical experimentation after a rather dull a cappella debut release.

My vague memories of the band are mostly around the sultry and rotating wave of females who made up most of the group’s membership. Also, the strings were a bit unusual at a time when most females in bands either stuck to fronting on vocals or played pedestrian keyboard riffs. These girls actually had some skills on their violins, violas and keyboards.

The themes and titles of most of these tracks are centered on that weird yet seductive world of cinematic horror that was also present in most of their live performances and occasional videos. The persistent feedback drones and malevolent chanting became a trademark that would pretty much mark the band throughout their existence. It was a role they played quite well, and the music had a tendency to get you into a trance at clubs or at home on dark weekend evenings.

The one track on this album that I could do without is “Open Eyes” simply because it seems to go on forever and has annoyingly repetitive lyrics that remind me of the stereotypical loud American who thinks he can make any non-English speaker understand him by simply repeating the same phrase over and over in an increasingly louder tone. We get the message already ladies – it just isn’t a very interesting one.

Otherwise this is a good album, not great and not really memorable but good enough at the time in which it was released. Better than two stars because I think there are people who will still find the band interesting even outside the context of nostalgia. But not more than three stars simply because the sound doesn’t age all that well, and I don’t find myself playing their music all that often and you probably won’t either. Recommended for goth types who don’t take themselves too seriously and prefer stick-on tattoos to real ones.


Report this review (#166411)
Posted Friday, April 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars Following with MIRANDA SEX GARDEN'S career, it's time to review their second album "SUSPIRIA"; a record that marks a radical change, because they leave the beautiful classical madrigals for Rock music, don't know if full Prog, Gothic, Industrial or a complex blend of the three, but surely a very original sound in the 90's.

Despite what some respected reviewers believe, it's more than evident for me that we are before a band that has it's roots in Gothic music from the Late Medieval Period, the complex organ performances in "Open Eyes" for example, present clear reminiscences of the "Notre Dame Period" (1300's) and the vocals in tracks as "Ardera Sempre" are clearly oriented towards Folk music of the 1400's, so yes, I do believe they play Gothic rather than Goth (Also known as Victorian Gothic revival).

Even though "Suspiria" is much more melodic and less aggressive than their later albums, we can witness the seeds of their peculiar Industrial - Post Rock - Alternative - Prog sound, combining the melodies with tough passage in which the dissonances are delightful.

The album starts with "Ardera Sempre" (Forever Burn) a track that begins with a long, experimental and mysterious introduction that combines, sounds and haunting echoes, but this lead to a very fast and fluid passage where the voices of Katharine Blake, Donna McKevitt and Kelly McClusker take us to a point where the Pagan and sacred seem to hold hands, the frenetic instrumentation, just completes the scene.

From the start that aggressive Industrial sound is present and helps to make the song flow `perfectly from start to end, incredibly beautiful song.

"Open Eyes" is opened by a Gothic organ that decreases in intensity to allow the voice to cover the scenes as a dense mist covers the land in a winter morning. This time the chorus are much more elaborate and melancholic, may seem a bit repetitive, but that's the effect the band pretends to create, a perpetual circle, pay special attention to the fantastic violin passages that can be heard softly in the back. As good as the previous track.

"Sunshine" is something special, because they seem to open the gates and set the beast free, until this point they seemed repressed, like trying not to show us all their weapons, but now they let themselves go and the heavy artillery free, excellent drumming, the vocals are extremely complex and elaborate, the orchestral instruments play softly while guitar and keyboards pass over everything. Frenetic from start to end.

"Distance" is opened by a melancholic and paused piano, in the background an almost haunting voice adds the touch of mystery required, then a second voice enters to the chorus and a third one singing three different lyrics and or sounds, when one is soft and high, the other is loud and low covering all the musical spectrum. Again strong arrangements.

Play has just everything, for several minutes flows gently in a tense calm guided by the beautiful voice of Katherine, until they explode in a burst of sounds, howls, noises that create a wonderful chaos, now they seem closer to what is known as Darkwave, but much more elaborate and experimental.

"In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)" has a short and claustrophobic violin intro that leads to a vocal passage where Katherine dares to take risks and be different, even more radical when the other two vocalists join her in a terrifying lament that tries to turn into a sweet melody but is brought back to the dark side, it's clear that the Purcell School of Music has done a great job with this girls being that they have absolute control of everything they do, doesn't matter if they are respectful or irreverent, the sound is always perfect.

"Bring Down the Sky" marks another radical change, if all the previous tracks had a Medieval Religious/Pagan touch, this one is hard to be defined, now the Rock component is more evident, the tense drum section prepares the audience for an explosion that seems to be there but never blows, leading instead to a `passive instrumental break that seems like the eye of the storm because after a few minutes of tense calm, the repetitive guitar enters in the scene with it's constant sound that goes in crescendo with a terrifying violin in the background,preparing us for a new explosion that again never happens but instead leads to a very fluid passage where the whole band and voices present us an extremely beautiful section, if this guys know something, is to play with the audience.

"Feed" is a lesson to those bands that focused in Celtic music but fell in the tedious monotony of New Age, MIRANDA SEX GARDEN never tries to relax us, they threaten our senses, jumping from calm melodic passages with sweet voices to dissonant vocal arrangements and contradictory instrumentation, it's a shame many other talented vocalists didn't dared to be different as this girls and guys.

"Inferno" is the central piece of the album, the tension MIRANDA SEX GARDEN creates from the start with that constant violin is just breathtaking, the keyboards add more drama to the scene while the sound effects create moments of horror, what a perfect infernal atmosphere has been achieved here.

And when the moment comes the drums blow with desperation and strength to allow the guitar in an unusual style to join the feast, but again they change and the violin takes the lead with a spooky melody which again leads to another explosive passage where all the instruments jump inside in a complex cacophony more common in Avant bands than in folk one, superb song.

After the previous tension, some change is required and "Willie Biddle And His Waltzing Maggot" provides a it, first with a strange collection of sounds that could be described as a magical traveling fair that changes into an angelical chorus to come back to the chaotic sound, still I'm trying to understand this.

The album is closed with "My Funny Valentine", some sort of Cabaret Jazz music that gives the relief necessary after the festival of sounds and effects that the band has provided for almost an hour. The vocals are amazing, not the most complex track, but has it purpose and fulfills it, special mention to the accurate drumming that helps to create the scenario.

Even when I love this album and would love to give a perfect rating, I believe has a few weaker moments that don't allow to call it a flawless masterpiece, but is very close to that status, 4 solid stars that should be 4.5.

Only for those Prog listeners who are ready to take risks.

Report this review (#216635)
Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Not quite reaching the intricate and original style of the following Fairytales of Slavery, Miranda Sex Garden's sound on Suspiria is reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees mellowing out and doing torch songs (with adeptly chosen covers like In Heaven from David Lynch's Eraserhead and the old standard My Funny Valentine teasing out that concept nicely). Weaving between gothic rock, shoegaze, ethereal wave and dream pop, the album flirts with all of those styles without entirely settling down with one, making this a diverse blend of alternative rock styles whose experimental approach has made it an intriguing piece worth exploring even this long after the fact. Though on balance I still think Fairytales of Slavery is a superior album, I can see why the experiments here were needed in order to get there.
Report this review (#1687236)
Posted Tuesday, January 31, 2017 | Review Permalink

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