Blake Mills has picked up Grammy nominations for his production work on Laura Marling’s Semper Femina, John Legend’s Darkness and Light and Perfume Genius’s No Shape. However, the fourth solo album by the 33-year old Californian former touring guitarist should turn the spotlight towards his own work. Mutable Set is intended as a “soundtrack to the emotional dissonance of modern life”. Themes range from precious people and experiences to disappointment and isolation, though this isn’t conventional singer-songwriter fare.
The tapestry of sounds is often as close to the avant garde or chamber music as rock and folk. There are fleeting, faraway echoes of John Martyn at his wooziest, but Mills has crafted something very personal and individual. The songs don’t shout their presence, just gradually announce themselves over a gentle hum of guitar, saxophone, piano and pensive orchestrations. May Later beautifully eulogises the siren call of “your loving bed” and “the grey green brown of your eyes” to evoke long, lazy, hazy afternoons under the covers. Cass McCombs co-writes Vanishing Twin, which along with Summer All Over (“No future, no past, how long do you think it will last?”) captures evanescent joys. The seven-minute Money Is the One True God offers powerful calm in the face of a gathering economic storm. Mills’ gentle tenor drills into war and religion, singing the song’s circling motif in a hypnotic mantra. After several plays, the songs lodge like thoughts that refuse to go away.