I'm no scientist. Alas, I have this crackpot theory about how former Simon Dawes (Dawes) member and nigh worshipped guitarist Blake Mills came to be. Picture this: Rabbit Fur Coat era Jenny Lewis, Bob Dylan, Chuck Ragan, Portastatic, and Bright Eyes (Bright Eyes, NOT Conor Oberst) are lab coat clad in an underground laboratory one hundred feet below Omaha. They’ve extracted their talent DNA and now take turns injecting it into John Fahey’s guitar, which they are using as a petri dish. A few radio waves and other science-y words later, the smoke clears and before them stands the one, the only, Blake Mills.
Ok, so, that was kinda lame and that obviously didn’t happen. Alas, Blake Mills’ summer release Break Mirrors is a nearly defectless beaker full of everything that is fantastic and valuable about the patchwork, DIY folk rock aesthetic that is one of the strongholds of the indie scene. Mills has perfected his skills with incredible intensity and commitment as a sought after tour and session guitarist, having made music with the aforementioned Jenny Lewis as well as Cass McCombs, Band of Horses, Cory Chisel, Jesca Hoop, Julian Casablancas, and even Kid Rock. Thankfully, he stepped out on his own in 2010 and came out with his own set of songs, which showcases Jesca Hoop returning the favor whilst doing background vocals in several places on the album.
Each track on Break Mirrors is stunning and complete. Mills fails to miss any marks as each track becomes progressively more impressive than the last. The album begins strongly enough with the gentle electric guitar twangs of “Cheers,” which gives the listener an introduction to Mills’ ever so slightly gravelly intonation. From there the tempo picks up on “It’ll All Work Out,” and Mills’ “tell it like it is” sense of humor is revealed with lyrics like “when you called me from the car/ when you were on your way/ with your friend from San Francisco/ that you told me was gay/ well I guess he was a closet-straight.” There are so many times while listening to this record that I wanted to hit pause and jot down lyrics that I felt needed to be isolated and appreciated. In his bio on the Blake Mills site, Mills attributes his comedy vs. tragedy songwriting in part to his time spent with Band of Horses, saying “There's a humor in some people's music that is not kitschy … and in some of those cases it ends up uncovering a certain kind of despair.”
“Hey Lover,” is a sure shiner on the album, and features a duet with Danielle Haim. Again, the lyrics inspire approval, awe, and even a little jealousy (“I'd want to raise with you, and watch the younglings hatch / Fucking make the first letters of their first names match / Hey lover!”). The song even elicited a widely viewed cover by his former mates in Dawes. Taylor Goldsmith, the frontman of Dawes, has gone on record to say that there is nothing but good blood between the ex-members of Simon Dawes, and the respect is palpable in the cover’s delivery.
My personal favorite is “Under the Underground” (lyrics here include references to rattlesnakes, Emmylou Harris, and unprotected sex) for its trippy, swirling wall of sound and sanguine vocals.
This record has been out for a few months already, but the wryly assured, coming-of-age observations fit well into the autumnal season of change. I urge you to make a late cup of coffee, put on a sweater, and take Break Mirrors on a fall drive with you.