Personnel: John Chao (vocals, guitar, violin, accordion, keyboards, percussion, programming).
Audio Mixer: James Clarke.
The sophomore album from New York's Misha, 2016's All We Will Become, is a buoyant, densely layered mix of sounds that finds the onetime duo expanding into a full band. The brainchild of singer/multi-instrumentalist John Chao, Misha originally began as a duo with his then creative and romantic partner, Ashley Yao. However, after the couple broke up, Chao found himself rethinking the band's direction while also dealing with his emotions over the loss. Joining Chao this time out is a whole new group of collaborators, with vocalists Ronit Granot and Amy Vachal, drummer/programmer Dave Packles, and trumpeter David Dash. Chao, who was born in the United States but grew up in a diverse range of locales from Taiwan to New Orleans, has wide-ranging stylistic influences that find him weaving in bits of traditional Chinese instrumentation, synthy electronica, rustic Americana, giddy psychedelic flourishes, and hummable, often nursery rhyme-sounding melodies. Vocally, Chao has a slight, high-pitched voice that sounds like a twee version of the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne combined with a dash of Head on the Door-era Robert Smith. Impressively, he also played most of the instruments on the album. The result is a collection of highly uncategorizable pop that feels grounded in a D.I.Y. indie pop sensibility, but one with an expansive ear for orchestral instruments like violin and hand percussion. In fact, the opening track is an extended instrumental piece that deftly mixes Celtic and Asian sounds. Primarily, however, cuts like "We're Gonna Have It Out (Modern Love)" and "Optical Illusion of the Heart," with their percolating drumbeats, juicy basslines, and shimmering keyboards, bring to mind the '80s sounds of Tom Tom Club. Similarly, the off-kilter brass band singalong of "Elater" splits the difference between the Decemberists and the Pogues. Elsewhere, Chao takes a more streamlined, Giorgio Moroder-esque approach on the bittersweet '80s adult contemporary ballad "Limelight," and evinces the sweet new wave-inspired melodicism of Luna on the melodic "Everywhere & Everything." Ultimately, while All We Will Become was born out of the messy process of a breakup, the result is an album of astonishing musical clarity that sounds more transcendent than sad. ~ Matt Collar