Mipso: Mipso

★★★★ [Rounder Records; Oct. 16]

Mipso’s 2018 LP, the expansive Edges Run, found the North Carolina quartet broadening its sonic palette. In interviews, the band members have talked about how the recording sessions almost broke them up. Thankfully, Mipso soldiered on, staking out a captivating new identity on its latest album with material that both charms and challenges. 

Mipso retains the lush instrumentation of its predecessor—assisted by longtime touring drummer Yan Westerlund and a handful of guests—while injecting some playfulness back into the proceedings. The woozy track “Let a Little Light In” embraces instrumental quirkiness by including a toy piano, pulling back a curtain of melancholy and nostalgia to take a clear look at childhood memories. 

This is a common thread throughout the album as the band’s four singers and songwriters—guitarist Joseph Terrell, fiddler Libby Rodenbough, mandolinist Jacob Sharp, and bassist Wood Robinson—struggle with existential questions through a lens that keeps them from becoming too heavy. Banjo-accented grooves back explorations of body image (“Your Body”) and mental health (“Help”), while “Hey, Coyote” and “Just Want to Be Loved” examine the security found in a home and a romantic relationship, respectively.

Taken together, Mipso’s final two tracks demonstrate the band’s versatility while also speaking to environmental concerns. “Shelter” finds each member taking a vocal turn for a verse, revealing four vastly different characters that each need physical or metaphorical shelter. Terrell’s foam-dampened acoustic guitar mimics the warmth of a plucked mbira over simple hand percussion, while Rodenbough’s ethereal fiddle flourishes.

Meanwhile, though he’s relocated to Utah, Robinson connects to his home state by voicing the economic and natural-disaster devastation faced by his Robeson County relatives. 

A jaunty waltz highlighted by the band’s trademark harmonies, “Wallpaper Baby” sounds like classic Mipso, though it belies more-serious subject matter: Rodenbough builds the refrain around the metaphor of a house collapsing—“Get over the wallpaper, baby/This house is coming down”—as a reminder of looming catastrophic climate change.

Since its formation, the members of Mipso have made their own forays: Robinson released a solo project, Wood Robinson’s New Formal, in 2016; Rodenbough released her terrific solo project earlier this year; and Terrell recently recorded a new project with his brother. But it’s clear on Mipso that these efforts haven’t come at the expense of the group. Indeed, this new album finds the quartet refining one another’s contributions, making it Mipso’s richest album yet.

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