There’s a good chance you may never have heard of Californian-born singer-songwriter, Blake Mills. He began his musical career with some high school friends of his in a band called Simon Dawes in 2005, and, after their break-up in 2007, launched another band called Dawes with the same bassist. Mills has gone on to be a session musician with such acclaimed stars as Weezer, Paolo Nutini and Lana Del Ray before bringing out his first solo LP, Break Mirrors in 2010. Now, here we are, with Mills’ second solo LP, a combination of heartfelt singer-songwriter songs and some interesting guitar-led instrumentation that explores both sides of the American musicians’ talents.
As a songwriter, Mills shines. His mostly acoustic-led LP echoes the style of past legends such as Cat Stevens (especially in terms of his vocal) and Bob Dylan. The final track, Curable Disease, has Mills crooning beautiful poetry over softly-played acoustic guitar, that ends on the assertion that “Love is a curable disease”. What is interesting about his writing style is his avoidance of the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge formula that is often a staple of the singer-songwriter. Instead, the hooks are mostly reliant on the melody and not on the choice of lyrics. In many ways, the songs are like Mills’ thought patterns, unorganised and unpredictable. The opening track, ‘If I’m Unworthy’, has instrumentals separate the more lyrical sections, some very bluesy guitar riffs as well as an impressive drum fill.
If Mills was trying to show off his skill as an instrumentalist in this album, he has certainly succeeded in that respect. There are even two musical interludes between songs, Silence is Sincerity and Shed Your Head. The former is a bluesy instrumentation, slow and brooding, while the latter is far more impressive, with powerful riffs and clapping drums as well as a light guitar solo. It’s almost as if Mills is jamming with himself in the album and he seems to be having fun doing so.
Sadly, upon completion of the album, it leaves the listener with a ‘So what?’ reaction. It’s a fairly good album and certainly listenable with its meaningful songs and instrumentation, but, at the same time, it is very forgettable. It is not an album that will leave you compelled to listen over and over again. In some songs, Mills’ crooning is barely comprehendable, leaving the messages of the songs lost on most audiences. There are some beautiful stand-out tracks on the LP, sure, but as an overall experience, Heigh Ho is not a stand-out in itself. It’s the kind of easy-listening LP you may stick on a calm evening’s night for a few weeks, but then discard for something better.
So, what can be said of it as a whole piece? Good, but nothing special.