Chris Mills - Heavy Years: 2000-2010 [Album Review]
Looking toward the future while dipping a toe into his own past, singer/songwriter Chris Mills offers up a "get to know me" compilation resetting his career in hopes of reaching new fans and reconnecting with old ones.
Released yesterday, Heavy Years 2000-2010 (Ernest Jenning Record Co., 2011) compiles 12 previously released tracks and adds two new songs only available here. Designed to introduce his music to more people in both European market and the United States, the album highlights songs found on his last four studio albums (Kiss It Goodbye, The Silver Line, The Wall to Wall Sessions, and Living in the Aftermath). Fans will need to be content with these two new songs for now until Mills finalizes songs for his next project, tentatively titled, The Soldier In The Castle. While they wait for new material, fans can listen to this decade spanning compilation and continue to ponder why Mills music hasn't brought him to a higher level of noteriety.
The lead track, "All Our Days And Nights", opens with a strumming guitar adding a keyboard - an instrument not found often in Mills' prior work - while a non-standard drum beat drives the song along. As one of the two new songs produced in collaboration with producer Alap Momin (DJ Oktopus of Dalek) more instrumentation (mandolin, piano, percussion) fills out the sound. A muted, etherial guitar solo à la Wilco's Nels Cline builds the song back up in the final two minutes of the brooding 5 minute cut. Mills advises the listener, "now is the time/to open our eyes/so open your eyes and let's begin" as he's ready to bring those unaware with his music on a tour of the past decade of his career with this new song.
While the overall style contained herein might classify as pop that's too broad a generalization as elements of folk, rock, and Americana all populate Mills music. Not content to leave his sound alone, Mills follows his muse from project to project tinkering here and tweaking there trying to forward his artisitic vision by not becoming stagnant.
Mills classic pop sound runs from the punchy power pop of "Atom Smashers" to the live to 2-track Wall-of-Sound baroque pop of the Wall To Wall Sessions tracks "A Farewell to Arms", "You Are My Favorite Song" and "Escape from New York" which all add full orchestration. His pop is neither glossy and cold, but warm and heartfelt. Sprinkling in the Americana undertones of "Sleeptalking" and the rock of "All You Ever Do," the tracklisting runs all the gamut of Mills' sound flowing seamlessly together without sounding chaotic.
"Suicide Note" with its soulful Van Morrison style horns and trumpet solo reminiscent of "Penny Lane" with guest vocals from Kelly Hogan (Jacob Dylan, Neko Case) highlights the middle of the compilation nicely. Hogan's complementary harmony vocals beautifully add texture and depth to the song as the instrumentation demonstrates the vision Mills would take on The Wall to Wall Sessions.
As stated in our recent interview, Mills writes most of his songs on guitar, however, he incorporates horns, piano, pedal steel, and strings in various places to fill out the usual structure guitar/bass/drums as he pays homage to his songwriting heroes Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. An aspect of Mills recorded work that always appealed was the use of an upright piano instead a grand piano for a warm, charming effect.
Neither the opening track nor the title track open with a bang falling instead into the song haphazardly, but both pick up with a quick mid-tempo groove. "Heavy Years" with its melancholy repeated line "when all hope is gone all is lost" Nevertheless, Mills music retains a hopeful quality in his music while having a cynical view lyrically.
The coda, a signature Mills track “Signal/Noise”, closes the compilation as it did on 2000’s Kiss It Goodbye. Serving as a post-modern homage to Phil Spector’s wall of sound producer Brian Deck's (Modest Mouse, Josh Ritter, Califone, Iron and Wine) work on the track holds up perfectly after 5 years. Most musicians would love for their work to sound relevant and fresh years after laying it down. Mills succeeds in that goal and for that he can be supremely proud.
Heavy Years 2000-2010 track listing (highlighted songs below are streaming)
01 All Our Days And Nights (new)
02 Atom Smashers
03 A Farewell To Arms
04 Such A Beautiful Thing
06 You Are My Favorite Song
08 All You Ever Do
09 Suicide Note
10 Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
11 Heavy Years (new)
12 Watch Chain
13 Escape From New York
Mills hits the road today to start his tour and plays into July. He'll grace the stage at Off Broadway in St. Louis on Thursday, June 23 with local band Magnolia Summer as support. Keep a watch on our Facebook and Twitter feeds as we'll giveaway a pair of tickets to the show and a copy of this new compilation soon.
Chris Mills tour dates
June 8, 2011- Cambridge, MA- T.T. The Bear’s w/ Phil Wisdom of Butterknife
June 9, 2011- Brooklyn, NY- The Rock Shop w/ Bird Of Youth, Niall Connolly
June 16, 2011- Washington, DC- DC9 w/ Typefighter
June 17, 2011- Raleigh, NC- King’s Barcade w/ Typefighter and Brett Harris
June 18, 2011- Charlston, SC- Vilage Tavern w/ Typefighter and Brett Harris
June 20, 2011- Nashville, TN- Springwater Supper Club
June 22, 2011- Memphis, TN- Hi-Tone Cafe
June 23, 2011- St. Louis, MO- Off Broadway w/ Magnolia Summer
June 24, 2011- Chicago, IL- The Hideout w/Magnolia Summer
June 25, 2011- Milwaukee, WI- Cactus Club w/ Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, tba
June 26, 2011- Madison, WI- High Noon w/ Theodore, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades
June 28, 2011- Cleveland, OH- The Happy Dog
July 17, 2011- Seattle, WA- Sunset Tavern
July 20, 2011- Los Angeles, CA- Genghis Cohen
July 22, 2011- Santa Monica, CA- Apple Store
- Tell Me About It: An Interview with singer/songwriter Chris Mills (3minuterecord.wordpress.com)