What is American music?
This question posed by Mild High Club's founder, Alexander Brettin, seem's to be at the heart of the Club's second album, Skiptracing.
The storyline of Skiptracing seems to pegs Brettin as a skiptracer searching for an American sound that's no longer present in mainstream pop. If r&b, jazz, and western ("Chasing My Tail") are all forms of American music then it's worth looking for traces of these styles (in their original form) in Skiptracing. American music has evolved and bended to pop culture's will, but there are current artists who've been inspired to write pop songs the way they sounded in the 60s and 70s. Steely Dan and other "blue-eyed soul" artists have been touchstones for Mild High Club's peers, like Mac DeMarco. Demarco, Brettin, Connan Mockasin, and Peter Sagar of Homeshake are leading the "indie rock" sound with their warped take on smooth, classic styles. Jazz, adult contemporary (Japanese and American), and sometimes r&b (Homeshake's Midnight Snack) are huge influences on the music these guys make.
This version of "Puttin on The Ritz" is a progressive pop take on a classic American song, and in some bizarre way I can hear it when listening to Skiptracing's single, "Homage". The harmony and high-pitched keys of "Homage" run together in my mind as a bizarre man in a tux singing a twisted lullaby. From the first time I heard it, I could tell that American music was being construed in a fascinating way.
I was so excited to hear the rest of the album, and it ended up exceeding my expectations. For the second year in a row, Mild High Club has put out a record that's consumed the majority of my listening time. But Skiptracing is Mild High Club on a whole new level. The songwriting and production are more complex and the vocals carry more weight than they did on the Club's debut, Timeline. However, Brettin's exploration of the aforementioned American styles are so subtly molded into his hazy baroque pop that one can easily overlook Skiptracing's complexity. When he says in "Homage", "if you want a piece of my thoughts, it's a coin we're flipping', why don't you toss?" I get the idea that he's not pressing this exploration on his listeners. It's Mild High Club's world but no one is forced to understand how deep it goes. It's only during the cacophony of drums on the all-instrumental track, "Whodunit", that you feel like Brettin is asking you to sit up for a second and take note of what he's made.
All of the confidence, progression, and purpose manifested in Skiptracing makes it one of the most colorful and well-produced albums of the year. I can't stop listening to it at the pool, in the car, or on headphones in the AM hours. It's reminiscent of the style that MHC and peers have been playing with, but it's the best version I've heard of it so far. If you've heard any smoother funk than what's on "Tessellation" or any more tantalizing jazz than what's on "Head Out", please, send me all of your music recommendations.