An R&B nation? Australia? Once this would have induced laughter and some bad-tempered sniping from those of us who grew up wondering why the only time the local industry and radio thought R&B was tolerable was if it was at least 20 years old and had figured in an (overseas-created) ad or a (boomer) film soundtrack.
It wasn’t that we weren’t interested – ask Stephen Ferris and others how their DJ sets rich with R&B in the ‘80s and ‘90s soared on dancefloors – but it was hard to find and hear, and consequently our ability to make it was constrained by lack of experience (enthusiasm not being enough of a substitute), opportunities and outlets. Something similar happened with funk, which to my mind – sorry Melbourne and your healthy funk scene – we have yet to properly nail.
To a generation now having the music they want when they want it, this is weird history because not only are we getting there quickly, the acceleration having come in the past few years with a sense of the inevitable, but we’re doing it with styles and shapes as varied as the people involved.
And among that, Miiesha, with a voice that curves effortlessly, makes this change seem so natural.
A companion piece to the Smoke EP released some weeks ago, this Mirrors EP is something of an expansion pack, building on some of the starker emotional elements touched on in Smoke (and to a certain extent flagged on her excellent, more communal than personal debut, Nyaaringu). If Smoke showed the mark of absence (her grandmother) and Mirrors the mark of presence (the difficult relationship with her mother) these newer songs also lean into the idea of what progress can be made in coming out the other side of darkness. And they land with the force of the real.
While its predecessor began with the sombre but restrained ballad, Damaged (“Tell me that I’m damaged/If my wounds can’t fit your truth), Mirrors puts us in a subtly new place immediately with the slowly growing Everything that, even as Miiesha highlights the self-doubt that cripples change (“What if I’m nothing to myself?”), begins to rise in tempo and expectation.
The slide rhythm and solid pulse of War may feel like a restraining hand, the treated vocal and disembodied backing voices separating us from her – or is she separating from a struggle that never loosens its grip. But there’s a vibrancy in its electronic smoothness that serves as a link from Everything to the openly vulnerable Skin Deep, where the beats may be low impact but the resonance is undeniable by the time acoustic guitar picks its way through.
Similarly, that the EP closes with the brief (96 seconds, and gone), beat-free, guitar/voice breath of Ready, a song that feels like a beginning or a renewal, makes sense in sequence, coming after the closing-the-door release of Still Dream which moves from resistance to acceptance that this is how things are: evolving, revolving, unfinished.
Sydney Opera House June 3, as part of Vivid Live
Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, June 10
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, June 11