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Chicago's Mia Joy Tops Bandcamp Charts with Release of Debut Record 'Spirit Tamer'

Mia Joy has had music in her bones her entire life. Raised in a spiritual home to Musician and Poet parents, Mia Rocha has been singing since she was a baby (“My mom said I used to sing myself to sleep. I would fall asleep listening to my CD player” she recalls) and joined the Chicago Children’s Choir at a young age. Mia Joy’s brand of ethereal pop is equally indebted to 90s R&B Icons such as Sade and Selena as to the ethereal ambient compositions of Grouper. “I bought my loop pedal because it's the same loop pedal that Liz Harris of Grouper had. I just spent my college check on it.” Spirit Tamer, Mia Joy’s debut record out on Fire Talk on May 7th 2021, draws influences from both: emotive synth pop (“Haha”, “See Us”) and yearning meditative interludes that trace the peripheral edges between tracks. The album title comes from a poem Joy wrote long ago (“writing was my first love”), and the melding of her creative upbringing interweaves a sonic history that unfolds as Joy herself attempts to piece together the fractured pieces that shape growing up and growing into your own skin.

The artwork for lead single “Haha” prominently features a sword, and Joy explains that "the sword and my body is just a shield of protection. Spirit Tamer and the sword are a whole metaphor for protecting yourself and shielding yourself from outside forces.” Intricate layers form an atmospheric spell around Joy’s music, in juxtaposition to her insistent willingness to be vulnerable strikingly shining through each track, revealing through repeated listens. An audiophile in the purest sense of the word, Mia Rocha’s depth of knowledge and appreciation for the art form is palpable in her orchestrations, delicately placing intriguing sonic flourishes throughout her debut. Rocha sings about a burgeoning relationship on “See Us”, with it’s gauzy chimes intro and entrancing guitar strums bringing to the surface those initial sentiments of hope. “I could see a promising future with plenty of opportunities” she remarks, “filled with optimism of love and expansion that we could better our lives”. “See Us” effortlessly flows into “Saturn”, the song that Rocha believes is the first she ever wrote, which most succinctly combines her more ambient influences with it’s overlaid choral vocals and immaculately placed synths. The song is an important one to Rocha who says “I am a practicing astrologer and It is written in the voice of Saturn, the planet of restriction, isolation, responsibility, hard lessons. It mockingly asks me how it has affected my life, makes me question faith in humanity and inner loneliness. All running themes of the album.” But there’s also a sense of playfulness within Rocha’s songwriting. On “Freak”, one of the most straightforward songs on Spirit Tamer, Rocha cheekily pays homage to Korn (I’m not a freak on a leash / cause you burn me to set me free) while redefining the sentiment with her breakup-cum-empowerment ode, saying “I loved the imagery of that phrase, a freak on a leash as in feeling tied in a relationship you know is toxic but feeling bound to them - thus making you crazy or a “freak”. Once off the leash, the pain that was holding onto you, you can finally find your own way. I wanted to end it with a sense of reclaiming identity and independence and breaking free from the symbolic leash.”

Keeping in line with Rocha’s lifelong practice of astrology (her first EP was the aptly titled ‘Gemini Moon’), the instinctual tread of devotional harmonies and melancholic undertones transcribe the tender feeling that comes with trusting in your own intuition. There’s a deliberate juxtaposition in light and dark, and throughout the waxing and waning textures that shift like the phases of the moon, there is a clarion call for strength, and reckoning, throughout the passage of time. For the first time, Joy is inviting you inside her own universe, a call with intent that carries its own weight. “I wanted this album to be like a friend you’re going to in a hard time” Rocha says. Spirit Tamer is about the relationship we have with ourselves. The album is steeped in Rocha’s lived experience of mental health struggles, but instead of focusing on that struggle these songs signify strength, a strength forged in finding ones means to survive. The last track on Spirit Tamer is a cover of Arthur Russell’s “Our Last Night Together”, a bare-bones, piano-led hymn that’s a fitting soundtrack to the end of a long evening, and the journey yet to come. It’s music that holds a candle to whatever needs to heal, twelve tracks that are most precious in their intimacy, the sound of the light coming in.

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