The name Blake Mills may still be relatively unknown to the masses, however the 28 year old has certainly made a name for himself within the music industry. After having co-founded the Malibu band, Simone Dawes, with Taylor Goldsmith (who would later evolve the band into just Dawes), Mills worked as a session musician for a range of talents including Weezer, Lana Del Rey, Paulo Nutini, Norah Jones, Pink and Dangermouse.
A jack-of-all-trades, the acclaimed guitarist has also produced several albums, such as Sara Watkins Sun Midnight Sun, Sky Ferriera’s EP Ghost and the forthcoming second release from Alabama Shakes, Sound And Colour.
Now Mills is choosing to pursue his solo career, having just released the follow-up to his 2010 solo debut, Break Mirrors. Titled Heigh Ho, the album is an understated demonstration of Mills’ skill as both a vocalist and guitarist. Self-produced, it sees the musician refusing to follow conventional guidelines, instead covering a range of genres free of inhibitions.
Because of this Heigh Ho is somewhat difficult to get into at first. The opening two tracks, If I’m Unworthy and Cry To Laugh, challenge expectations with Mills taking each song down unpredictable paths. While this is at first off-putting and tends to distract from Mill’s evocative vocals, it does demonstrate the uniqueness of his song writing.
Eventually both the album and its listener find their feet with Just Out Of View. Sensitive and laid-back, this melody captures a more considered composition from the Californian musician. While these three tracks make for an introduction that is less than enticing, the following two, which both feature the stunning alto vocals of Mills’ friend and inspiration Fiona Apple, are redeeming.
Seven is a lyrical standout – a dreamy country-style love song with contrasting funk blues guitar accompaniment. It is followed by Don’t Tell All Our Friends, which sees Mills’ lyrics at their most vulnerable and remorseful. A rockier Americana number, Don’t Tell All Our Friends finally introduces solid drumming into the album, the effect of which makes this one of the catchiest and most memorable tracks on the record.
Later tracks like Half Asleep and Three Weeks In Havana have drawn comparisons to the late indie singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, though Three Weeks In Havana is influenced also by a Latin tinge. While this vocal comparison is evident, Mills returns to his typically understated and stripped back approach for the rest of the album.
There’s no denying Blake Mills is a talented vocalists and a masterful guitarist, but there is something unsubstantial about this sophomore release. Heigh Ho is clearly the product of a talented musician, but due to his love of minimalism, it tends to lack the momentum to keep the listener’s full attention.