Alternative rock singer-songwriter and pianist Lan Miao has released a haunting and contemplative record with her latest EP The Keep. Lan grew up in Taiwan listening to Mandarin Pop. She has her roots in Western classical music theory which she started studying from age seven. When her family moved to LA in the 1990s, alternative rock in its heyday influenced her. She began composing and writing songs while dealing with life’s journey. The record is the culmination of twenty years of songwriting by Lan Miao. Parental relations and the associated emotional struggles and dilemmas lie at the heart of this record. With great heart and vulnerability, Lan is able to execute her musical expressions.
The Keep begins with Favorite Things. This is an evocative song that includes a string section. We also get to hear the erhu, a Chinese two-string violin, this gives a wailing weeping quality to the song’s climax. The second track Prayer begins with moody bell-like low-end piano lines creating anticipation. It then gets into a rock groove with apt drums. The song is a criticism of religious rites and the socio-emotional issues they cause. Lan’s vocals on this song create a morose sense of doom and moroseness. Steady drums fills greet us on the next track which is an alt-rock cover of the children’s song This Old Man. Here, observational vocals proceed to a climactic outro. Use of whispered vocal harmonies manages to form a sense of coming to terms with sobre reality.
From the high tempo energy we move to a slow track with Rainbow. This is a slow song and the singing is heartfelt with good use of synths. Pale Mother is in the format of a lullaby with harps consisting of most of the song’s arrangement. Lyrics however are in the context of the nightmares the child has over her mother. The album concludes with the title track The Keep. Vocals depict a sense of pain and retrospective reflection in the title track. This is coupled with evocative imagery and songwriting which is replete with sentiments. This is the only track without piano instead we have the organ making for a comforting song; the apt swan song for the record.
The composition and songwriting on The Keep express pains, and desires while representing vulnerable human emotions with musical narratives. Lan Miao’s music is reminiscent of artists like PJ Harvey while being influenced by acts like Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos. Mixing has been done by Lan and Jordon Silva while the mastering is by Scott Hull of Masterdisk. The sound production ensures that the feel of the album is kept austere and musical textural continuity is maintained in the record. With The Keep, we get deeply cathartic musical storytelling from Lan Miao which will evoke deep sentiments.