Tom Conway- Indy Music Writer
This is the age of the bedroom rock star. Anyone with some ambitious compositions and an eight-track recorder can engineer a demo tape that record labels will respond to. Interestingly enough, the artists that gain prominence this way generally have a certain look about them. The longhaired, dirty looking, quiet, quirky indie rock archetype has been upheld by Ariel Pink and Mac Demarco most notably, but there are far more artists adding breadth to this burgeoning genre. Mild High Club, a.k.a. Alex Brettin, is one such talent. His most recent album, Skiptracing, fits his style: it is hazy, endearingly under produced, occasionally brilliant, but never groundbreaking.
There is many good in Skiptracing, especially early in the album. The first four tracks blend like a mixtape some love-struck teenager would make for their significant other in the late 70’s. Bumpy, but obvious, transitions combine with consistent keyboard and guitar timbres to create a cohesive flow of songs. Building on that early theme, most of Skiptracing feels generally old. The lead guitar on the opening track mimics America (on “Sister Golden Hair”), the cascading synthesizer introduction to “Homage” seems vaguely like something ELO would do, and the liquid-smooth funk guitar on “Tessellation” doesn’t invoke any artist in particular, but I have a feeling my Dad would enjoy it. All of this comes together to make the first half of Skiptracing quite repeatable.
It is as if Alex Brettin tried to create a “record flip” effect on Skiptracing, because the second half of the album is distinctly darker and slightly less appealing than the first. “Whodunit?” best represents this trend. A disorienting collage of skittering noises maintains the 70’s style by sounding startlingly similar to the interludes on Dark Side of the Moon. Pink Floyd used it in moderation, to great effect, but it sounds abrasive on Skiptracing as a standalone track. Luckily, Mild High Club includes noticeable jazz elements on most of the darker tracks (certainly due to Brettin’s background as a jazz musician), which save them from being entirely uninteresting.
The lyrics, however, may actually be entirely uninteresting. Skiptracing contains several “meta-lyrics,” as I call them. That is just a fancy way to say Mild High Club often writes songs about writing songs. The title track is entirely about music, as is “Kokopelli.” Do not get me wrong, I love music enough to write about it, I just think its low hanging fruit for a professional musician to write so many lyrics about music itself. Surely, there is more to Alex Brettin than the fact that he is in a band. I would prefer to hear about his non-musical thoughts, if only he would write songs about them.
Skiptracking does not lose any points for listenability; it loses points for lack of depth. Compositionally, it is impressive. The mixtape section of the album (tracks 1-4) is stellar, and the darker tracks are still interesting for their hazy jazz vibe. “Chasing My Tail” is a late-album gem that sounds like one of Willie Nelson’s acid flashbacks (listen to it at sunrise for maximum sonic effect). That is the problem with Skiptracing, though: the sounds are on-point but the lyrics give listeners little to work with. Alex Brettin needs to fall in love, or travel the world, or have a near death experience (please pardon my morbidity), because he clearly has the chops to compose excellent songs. The only thing he seems to lack is the inspiration. (3/5)
Tom Conway- Indy Music Writer