Friday, January 19, 2007

Reviews:: Blake Miller Together with Cats

In an unassuming way, Blake Miller is making a big name for himself. If you asked anyone to pass judgment on a series of home recordings from a young Ohio resident with a name as plain as vanilla ice cream, the results wouldn’t be very good. Luckily, you don’t judge a book by its cover, or a musician by his name.

Blake Miller is nineteen years old. That’s something that I feel is important, but it reads like a justification. How can anyone who is only nineteen create something that is applicable? At 19, I was worried about going to bars and avoiding class. If you took my thoughts and put them to music, the results would be laughable. How can his music be anything other than a record full of potential?

Blake Miller will undoubtedly be described as freak folk. That’s something I feel is important, but it reads like a dismissal. Freak folk spiraled out of control with the success of Devendra and his friends. It even sparked a genre with a description that means nothing. Too many acts are creating music that sounds the same. The same warble. The same tones. How can Blake’s music stand out from the masses?

Amazingly, it does. At nineteen, Blake has an uncanny sense of melody. Although the first song, Sinners, plays like a blues influenced coffee shop standard (his double tracked vocals use a nice falsetto and a catchiness that is rare), the rest of the album follows a completely different path.

The path he follows is what makes this record stand out. In an obvious metaphor for growing up, Blake is exploring, trying to find out where he belongs. He’s influenced by Devendra and early Sam Beam, but unlike so many kids who are trying to fit in, he exposes himself through risks. Unlike so many people who experiment with this style, he concentrates on melody when he creates his songs. Where Do We Go From Here is a back porch sing-along, which is something that can not be said about most freak folkers. Escaping the limits of the genre is exactly what makes this record so surprising.

He uses interesting sounds, like the typewriter that clacks in the background of Summer She’s Hiding or the folky beat box and bongos that supplies the backbone of Pouring Out My Sides. Delicate slide and strings litter the landscape, but the only passenger on the dusty road is definitely Blake’s voice. Consistently mixing a double tracked self harmony adds much needed depth to the intimacy of the recordings without losing any of the honesty.

He’s able to add effects and rhythms that keep you want to listen and separate the songs. Swing Set uses a simple drum machine beat, but it shows Blake’s pop sensibility, as do the Devotchka-esque strings that hover in the background of Mama Poppa Witch Daddy. The thing that impresses me most is how he’s able to give shape to a notoriously shapeless genre. To paraphrase his own words, adding even the slightest structure to his work let’s his roots grow. Let’s them grow deep.

My favorite track is the beautiful Rain and Sunrise. It’s an interesting look at his psyche and how he sees life. Amongst his thoughts of learning kung fu, he also wants to become a perfect lover for his girlfriend. He knows he’s got to learn, in life, in love, in general. I hate to wonder how his sound will evolve as he begins to experience life and feels more comfortable with his own sound, because it takes away from what he’s already done. These 12 songs are focused, exciting, diverse and inspiring. That's not a description that is usually attached to someone so young.

MP3:: Rain and Sunrise
MP3:: In Your Own Places
MP3:: Your Own Tree

Posted at 5:53 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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