Mild High Club burst onto the scene in a major way in 2015 with their debut release ‘Timeline’, but Alex Brettin’s experimental indie project was not without its obvious influences. Signs of Brooklyn-via-Montreal urchin Mac DeMarco were clear as day, smudging their reverb-soaked, synth-stained paws everywhere, while other tracks pulled out moves characteristic of Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin, as well as fellow Mac DeMarco disciples Homeshake and Travis Bretzer.
On ‘Skiptracing’, Mild High Club make strides toward carving out an identity more uniquely their own. The album doesn’t boast the immediacy of its predecessor, something which might throw off listeners expecting to hear another slate of easy-breezy, whimsical pop tracks. Instead, Brettin’s background in jazz studies is readily on display here, and cuts like the understated ‘Head Out’ present perhaps the biggest contrast. Brushed, swirling drums and delightful, off-kilter piano shine in the absence of distracting guitars and excessive sonic texturing, revealing an attention to detail rarely present on ‘Timeline’.
The title track provides the album with undoubtedly its most pop-friendly moments. Expertly faded in drums, festive percussion, and jangly guitars all feel organic and inviting, and Brettin’s vocal melodies blend in seamlessly. Fit for any summer playlist, Mild High Club’s warped take on bossa nova more than makes the grade.
‘Tesselation’ also represents an impressive step forward. With bouncy keys bringing to mind the R&B-influenced stylings of instrumental outfits like Vulfpeck, the fourth track on ‘Skiptracing’ does well to combine the best facets of ‘Timeline’ with Brettin’s increased willingness to explore the more soulful side of indie-rock. Smooth jazz phrasings and a lounge-style vibe pair ever-so-well with one of Brettin’s characteristically seductive and sleazy guitar licks. Its elevator music meets bass-face funk rock meets 60s psychedelia (in the best possible way).
Another highlight is the creeper-jam ‘Kokopelli’, which borrows its name from a flute-wielding Native American fertility deity, but by the end of the chaotic sound collage ‘Whodunit?’, ‘Skiptracing’ tends to wander off track, failing to rediscover the deliberateness and dynamism of its earlier offerings. ‘Chasing My Tail’ is drowsy and droning, and weirdly similar to the twisted carnival-esque ‘Cary Me Back’. The mellow ‘Chapel Perilous’ also feels a bit overcooked, and is sandwiched between two pleasant but largely aimless interludes—‘Ceiling Zero’ and album closer ‘Skiptracing (Reprise)’.
Alex Brettin has likened the thematic thread running through ‘Skiptracing’ as resembling a “private investigator attempting to trace the steps of the sound and the spirit of American music.” It’s an alluring sentiment—no doubt—but one that isn’t as fully fleshed out as the aspiring skiptracer might have wished. Still, Mild High Club have succeeded in one thing, and that’s distancing themselves from the throngs of indie rockers aspiring to that DeMarco aesthetic.
In this way, ‘Skiptracing’ functions as a statement of intent—rather than making another ‘Timeline’, Alex Brettin has opted for a work that rewards repeat listens rather than cursory examinations. The results are mixed, but what’s certain is that Mild High Club have broken ground and laid new foundations with their most nuanced and exploratory material to date. Who knows what they might go on to build.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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