Grandeur in gentleness
Blake Mills rose as a musician’s musician. As an esteemed session guitarist, songwriter, and producer, Mills has worked with some of the most sophisticated artists today: Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, Perfume Genius and John Legend. Sophisticated only begins to describe Mills’ solo efforts, especially in his latest release. Merging folk, classical, ambient and jazz, Mills captures the essence of timeless elegance on Mutable Set, one nuanced soundscape after another.
Mills’ build upon the stripped back singer-songwriter sound with his impeccably detailed and intricate compositions. “Never Forever” opens the album with lush orchestration supporting the meditative guitar that turns vibrant and bouncy underneath Mills’ whispery, quiet yet passionate vocals. Using dissonance chords played by accented guitar and sweeping synth to build and push phrases forwards, Mills emphasizes the refrain, “never ever could sever you from heart.” In the quirky lead single “Vanishing Twin,” the busy and active instrumentation builds upon a pulsing, rhythmic synth to create a sophisticated sense of urgency resulting in a cathartic, yet gentle, climax.
Mills’ dreamy production and hushed performance allow his idiosyncratic choice in musical texture to shine, creating some truly expansive and immersive soundscapes. “May Later” exemplifies his genius in creating a sonic world. Mills’ beautifully layered vocal harmonies float on top of a steady muted guitar, complete with ambient synths and cheeky chimes to create a wonderfully whimsical atmosphere. Nuanced textures take the spotlight once more in “Summer All Over” to highlight Mills’ indulgence in self-reflection. The unexpected ominous bass and looming high synths juxtapose the steady percussion, peaceful guitar, and Mills’ meek vocals to result in a breathtakingly calm and poignant soundscape.
On the more stripped back cuts on the album, Mills still manages to fuse genres in unexpected ways, bringing a fresh perspective to the singer-songwriter sound. “Eat My Dust” and “Farsickness” are both reminiscent of jazz standards with an air of folk music similar to that of Moses Sumney and Sufjan Stevens. These tracks put the spotlight on Mills’ airy yet passionate falsetto as well as his masterful guitar skills. These elements also come together in “Window Facing a Window” along with subtle influence from the romantic era. The ballad allows his gentle strumming and contemplative vocal delivery to take the lead while a softly lush wave of synths and piano provide a nuanced, wistful and nostalgic ambiance.
The splendor of Mutable Set does not lie in grand instrumentations and climatic belts. The album sparkles in its subtle warmth, elegance, and admirable attention to details. Mill’s gentleness impeccably ties together influences and textures to create an immersive and timeless work of art.