|Mild High Club — Skiptracing (August 19, 2016)|
Mild High Club — Skiptracing (August 19, 2016)
Λ Stones Throw signees start with a killer buzz but then fade through repetition. © Photo credit: Isaac Sterling
Location: Chicago, IL / Los Angeles, CA
Album release: August 19, 2016
Record Label: Stones Throw
Genre: Indie Pop, Lo~Fi, Neo Psychedelia
01 Skiptracing 3:40
02 Homage 2:58
03 Cary Me Back 3:53
04 Tesselation 2:33
05 Head Out 2:28
06 Kokopelli 2:56
07 Whodunit? 2:09
08 Chasing My Tail 4:07
09 Ceiling Zero 0:37
10 Chapel Perilous 4:33
11 Skiptracing (Reprise) 0:33
Λ Mild High Club is the musical brainchild of Alexander Brettin, who grew up playing flute in the school band and majoring in jazz studies in Chicago. In 2012, a visit to LA allowed him to connect with the Stones Throw crew. Within a year, after passing the early demos of what would become his debut album Timeline onto Peanut Butter Wolf, Brettin made the move out west. Brettimn describes the album’s story arc is that of a € private investigator attempting to trace the steps of the sound and the spirit of American music. And in investigating the spirit of American music, Mild High Club re–imagine AM radio hits as blasting in from a parallel universe, the sound of early 70s LA in a smog of sativa. If Todd Rundgren was the primary touchstone for debut album Timeline, Brettin and band now look to the wry wit of Steely Dan, gazing deep into the dark underbelly of sun–bright LA and coming away with catchy songs underpinned by slippery jazz phrasings. Having supported Timeline with extensive headline touring, as well as a number of dates supporting Wire, Mild High Club will embark on another headline tour of Europe in late 2016.
By Benjamin Scheim, AUGUST 23 2016 / Score: 6.9
Λ Mild High Club is the solo act of Alex Brettin, a tourmate and disciple of Mac DeMarco’s sunny sound. On his sophomore album, Brettin finds a voice more distinctly his own.
Λ It seems reasonable now to look back on late 2012 as the Time of Mac. That fall, independent music fans en masse embraced the twinkly delights of scrub hero Mac DeMarco’s 2, opening the door for legions of low–key fiends ready to peddle their slinky, ’70s AM radio–inspired songs. Folks like Travis Bretzer, Alex Calder, and Connan Mockasin have all owed some debt to DeMarco for his role in making their music more visible and palatable. (Godfather credit goes to Ariel Pink as well.) And they won’t be the last to fall under the banner of “Brought to you by Mac.” Up next are his tourmates Mild High Club, the solo act of Alex Brettin, who is already following up last fall’s pleasant but slight debut Timeline with the significantly improved sophomore LP, Skiptracing.
Λ Timeline saw a technically–gifted artist trying his hand at new spins on various staples of the late ‘60s and early ’70s: Todd Rundgren, the Zombies, Jim Croce, T. Rex. But while Brettin’s ability to imitate was impressive, his vocals and personality felt muted. The results were more derivative than exciting. On the surface, Skiptracing treads much of the same nostalgic ground, with a specific focus on the tropes of sunny “Lost Weekend” era L.A. But while Brettin’s first record seemed to run through depictions of those influences like cards in a rolodex, he’s now synthesizing them together into an identity more uniquely his own. On Skiptracing, a more confident artist emerges with a fuller vision and voice.
Λ The album frontloads Brettin’s best results: the first three tracks function as a heavenly, psychedelic triptych. The eponymous opener has a slinky beat and bass line that sets the chill tone nicely. It’s embellished by periodic cowbell percussion that feels cheesy and lovely at once, and a beautiful slide guitar solo that George Harrison would appreciate. “Skiptracing” slides directly into “Homage,” which begins with some plinky DeMarco–style guitar and a baroque harpsichord before a lush, sunburst chorus emerges. “Homage” tumbles into “Cary Me Back,” which uses a circulating melody and cymbal hits to summon a bit of the “‘Til I Die” ache from the Beach Boys’ own early ’70s L.A. masterpiece, Surf’s Up.
Λ The overflowing musicality of these three tracks highlights an important point: while Mild High Club and Mac DeMarco share warm aesthetics and shit–eating “What Me Worry” grins, one place where the comparisons fall flat is the former’s interest in sound and production. This suite of tunes plays like a mini trashcan pop symphony; Brettin does an interesting job crafting elaborately layered songs that still have a sort of four–track sound. When Brettin reaches in this way, his tunes leave DeMarco at the door and instead seek the territory explored by bands like under–appreciated ‘90s Brian Wilson worshippers the High Llamas.
Λ Skiptracing also draws on early ‘70s jazz–rock and funk much more than its predecessor. “Tesselation” recalls Bill Withers with a slacker bent. “Kokopelli” channels ‘70s jazzbos like Steve Kuhn as well as ‘90s tricksters like Ween, with a guitar solo that would sound at home on that band’s classic Chocolate and Cheese. Still, while Brettin’s singing is greatly improved — lazy but more present and self–assured — his lyrics are at best inscrutable and in general lacking in substance. The album’s story apparently is meant to track some kind of mystery, but other than the instrumental track explicitly labeled “¿Whodunit?,” you’d never know from the words.
Λ More problematic is the fact that the album loses steam in its second half, with an aimless instrumental and two 30 second interludes bookending the two most forgettable tunes, “Chasing My Tail” and “Chapel Perilous.” The effect, unfortunately, is that the album just kind of drifts away, belying the strength and substance of the record’s first half. Skiptracing is a great step forward for Brettin, though, as he elevates Mild High Club from nifty disciples of DeMarco and Ariel Pink to sneaky–good purveyors of sunshine pop. Λ http://pitchfork.com/
BY JEREMY ZERBE ON AUGUST 26, 2016, 6:00AM
Λ Mild High Club founder Alexander Brettin grew up playing flute in the school band and majoring in jazz studies in Chicago. In 2012, a visit to Los Angeles allowed him to connect with the Stones Throw crew. Within a year, after passing the early demos of what would become Timeline onto Peanut Butter Wolf, Brettin made the move out west.
Λ “The difference between Timeline and Skiptracing is detail,” Brettin said. “I was stubborn with the process for Timeline; it took almost three years to let go of it.” On Timeline, Brettin resorted to vague lyrics so as to highlight the music itself. But for Skiptracing there’s both a heightened thematic aspect as well as more complex musical arrangements encasing it. In Brettin’s estimation, the album’s story arc is that of a “private investigator attempting to trace the steps of the sound and the spirit of American music.”
Λ And in investigating the spirit of American music, Mild High Club re–imagine AM radio hits as blasting in from a parallel universe, the sound of early 70s LA in a smog of sativa. If Todd Rundgren was the primary touchstone for Timeline, Brettin and band now look to the wry, trenchant wit of Steely Dan, gazing deep into the dark underbelly of sun–bright L.A. and coming away with catchy songs underpinned by slippery jazz phrasings.
Λ Dig deeper into the lyrics and imagery and that detective story slowly emerges. But it’s no simple whodunit? Instead, think The Long Goodbye, The Late Show, Chinatown, Night Moves or any early 70s inversion of the detective noir genre, where the gumshoe protagonist ultimately winds up investigating himself, navel–gazing so as to solve the ultimate mystery. Skiptracing is Philip Marlowe driving around LA listening to Caetano Veloso or that deleted scene in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie where Cosmo Vitelli reads Cosmic Trigger.
Λ In crafting Skiptracing, Mild High Club have made an album that strikes a balance between the known and unknown aspects of art and creation. While Brettin sought to have complete control over the creation of the previous album, in opening up and allowing these creative variables in, he learned a valuable lesson that lies at the heart of Skiptracing itself: “When you wish upon the unknown, you might be surprised by the rewards.”
|Mild High Club — Skiptracing (August 19, 2016)|