“Mild” isn’t an adjective that contemporary musicians typically aspire to, but there’s something in the zeitgeist that seems to be drawing us towards the smooth and moderate. You can detect it in the recent subcultural penchant for silken hip hop and r’n’b (see: Blood Orange, The Weeknd, Anderson Paak, Drake); buttery ambience and synth melodics (András, Sui Zhen, most vaporwave); and gently degraded, smooth-sailing indie rock that plumbs dad’s record collection (Mac Demarco, Real Estate, Kurt Vile, a million others). Esteemed homeboys Tame Impala kind of sit at the nexus of those distinct tendencies, moving ever further from their proto-metal-riffing origins towards lush and frictionless ear candy.
You have to wonder why, since independent youth-oriented music post rock-and-roll has usually favoured the extreme, energetic and bombastic. Maybe as information overload reaches a fever pitch, music’s purpose shifts: towards offering a sense of calm, quietude, a return to innocence and straightforward pleasure. It’s worth noting that most of the artists I just cited are male, so maybe it’s got something to do with a cultural reassessment of masculinity and its presumed aggression, drawing on the sensitive stylistics of Prince, Michael Jackson and AM-radio soft rock. Female artists cresting parallel waves in the underground/mainstream junction - from Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna to FKA Twigs, Grimes, Pharmakon, Holly Herndon - have perhaps been more inclined toward the experimental, dissonant and fiendishly eclectic. Of course, these are massive generalisations and possibly totally wrong. I’m thinking out loud. I digress.
The point is that there’s a new single out from Alexander Brettin & his band of mellow men, collectively known as Mild High Club, based in Chicago and/or LA. Like Melbourne’s Totally Mild, they wear their easy-listening credentials as a badge of honour. That’s fine by me, and it’s nothing if not accurate - their music literally gives you a mild high. The song is called ‘Skiptracing,’ and it’s the title track from an album that’s coming out next month on Stones Throw Records. You might know Stones Throw as a hip hop/funky beats label, but with a slew of eclectic compilations, releases on the psychey ‘Circle Star’ imprint and collaborations with Leaving Records, their scope is constantly expanding. And why not? The common emphasis remains on fascination, fun, and soul.
‘Skiptracing’ pretty much does skip, all the way through three-and-a-half minutes of retro-pop sleekness. It exudes a summery languor, with latin percussion overheard from the next street, gently warbling synth and smoothly harmonising guitar floating over a pleasantly jazzy progression. If you’ve ever listened to Steely Dan on a worn-out op-shop cassette while smoking a pipe in hammock, you’ve probably felt this feeling before. I’ve never done that, although I want to, but for now I’ve got Mild High Club, and it’ll tide me over nicely.