Here is the thing, I am not a guitarist, nor do I pretend to know what I’m talking about when referencing guitar styles. Despite taking a guitar-for-beginners adult night class and spending countless hours noodling around in front of Rocksmith, I do not play.
But I am a feeler of feelings. And for Blake Mills’ sophomore album, Heigh Ho, I have many.
The mythology of Blake Mills seems to have transcended that of my tight-knit group of friends who swore Break Mirrors was the best album of 2010, and those who entered our circle only after careful consideration that they might be the kind of people who would really get it, and would in effect, ‘get us’. We would include songs like ‘Cheers’ in mixtapes to one another and play it for each other to ignite a potent nostalgia for the times we first heard it. This, it seems, is a sentiment shared by other secret friend groups, who together form a larger tapestry of people-who-like-under-appreciated-music. That, along with a string of collaborations with such artists as Fiona Apple, Cass McCombs, Julian Casablancas, Jenny Lewis, Jackson Browne, Beck, Lucinda Williams, Alabama Shakes (along with a slew of notable collaborators on Heigh Ho) and more as well as a a recent nod from Eric Clapton as a phenomenal guitarist, converged to reveal an undisputed truth: Blake Mills is as skillful a musician as he is a songwriter and that playing well still matters to people.
I have only listened to Heigh Ho a couple of times over, mostly with headphones in my office trying hard not to get tearful while listening to Blake and Fiona croon playfully over Seven, imagining that I lived in a universe where a gentleman-like cowboy would tilt his hat my way and ask me to slow dance in his living room. Or the subtle, pulsing theatrics of Cry to Laugh (which reminds me of a Fiona Apple song I cannot pinpoint). Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me, in contrast feels the most confessional, (something similar to his older – It’ll All Work Out) where he sings, “and I’ll write songs that’ll help me deal with issues, and sure, some people may hear too much” which is so direct in it’s delivery that you feel like it’s a line you weren’t supposed to hear. Like he shared a moment of honesty, where the lines between fictional narrative and artist were blurred and the song becomes funny and vulnerable. It is in his standout single If I’m Unworthy that he reveals the natural evolution of his work, because it feels like a fully-realized song, written with a certain texture in mind and with it, a sort of intention of a feeling to be transferred to the listener. A slow burning excitement towards absolute chaos and back down to a soft, immaculate steadiness, then again marching towards a release. There is a magic in it. The entire record, it seems, is considerate of that kind of magic- heard in the strings on Half Asleep create a Disney-esque dream world, or the sparse and quiet harmonies of Gold Coast Sinking. It all feels delicate and precise, like something beautiful is unraveling, and if the light hits the room at a certain hour and everyone is dancing in sync, then a perfect moment can be achieved.