Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen and Nick Luca at New Monkey Studio
Blake Mills seems like he might be the kind of guy who, through the course of a day of just walking around leisurely, might step to his coat rack or the back of a chair and as he took his coat off, he'd notice something peculiar. He'd raise his arm and right there, on both sides, down near the loose material by his pits, he might see some hot, frayed holes. He'd take the jacket off and inspect it more closely, jamming a skeptical and quizzical finger into and through the dark holes, maybe commenting, "Holy hell," or, "I'll be damned," when the realization's made that these are bullet holes, the remnants of a handful of close calls. The music on Mills' debut solo record entitled "Break Mirrors" (a play on the pronunciation his would get at a Chinese take-out restaurant when his order was up) - out this April on Record Collection - is a series of love's frictions and sad little endings, the kind that everyone can empathize with. But it's just as much an album of these dodgings, these moments that come and go without a sweat being broken or any kind of anxiety occurring when it should be occurring. The misses are only acknowledged after the fact, reflected on most substantially when the mind's had a chance to reel a bit at the proximity it had to something that could have gone very wrong, but didn't and didn't even actually beat anyone up too badly. At the time, the potentially devastating aspects of the moment weren't perceptible and they can almost be painfully romanticized into a concoction that feels a little like autumn, some somber autumn.
Mills, who used to play with members of Dawes and others in a band called Simon Dawes a few years ago, has crafted an album that's a collection of tales that sit in the realm of incurable mental disturbances and phobias. He dwells upon life's impossibly wily fine print, the language that gets spoken in whispers and thusly misinterpreted. All of this causes duress and the kind of sleeplessness that feels like studying - a mind racing between thoughts of inadequacy and proficiency, of creativity and of woesomeness, and learning what it means to feel toppled, but not at all destroyed. The songs range from those about two people falling out of touch through hearts chilling to those about youthful times growing up in a household severely crippled by loveless relationships ("My parents weren't in love, but they were taking care of me") and not enough money to go around - not to mention everything in between. On the most stunning - though not the most somber - song on the record, "H.O.M.L.," which is an acronym for "history of my life," Mills laments and laments awe-inspiring melody, with a lighters-lofted-high-into-the-air guitar progression and the lyrics flow like a stinging rain. He sings, "Hot pink catamarans, the food beggin' call of the pelicans/They're skimmin' garbage and skinning over disappointing gifts from friends/Oh God, couldn't I change the history of my life sometimes. I'm growing my hair out on my head and my face right now/I'm gonna try real hard to keep from speaking very loud." We're thrown into the same mystifying world that some feel can't be worked with. The sky "owes the ground a wishing well" and the protagonist is in a dry spell, "throwing ashes into flames." "Break Mirrors" is a record that feels like a rebirth is possible for the man speaking on it, as if the close calls could end and he could finally rest easy one of these nights.