Acts from both sides of this pond this week. It’s easy to tell which artist is from which side. Blake Mills evokes Laurel Canyon, with traces of country and psychedelia. Tirzah has a more modern sheen.
As a teenager, Braintree’s Tirzah Mastin was on the path to becoming a classically trained harpist. Attending music school, she found more joy in the songs she created with classmate Mica Levi. After finishing school, Tirzah worked as a print designer, treating music as a hobby. She released a pair of EPs in her twenties but her debut album Devotion, recorded with Levi, didn’t emerge until after she had turned 30.
Trip9love is Tirzah’s third album, and her best to date. It’s her hardest-sounding record – there’s plenty of mileage in contrasting Tirzah’s sweet and sincere vocals with slightly dissonant arrangements. It finds a sweet spot between R&B and 1990s trip-hop. Trip9love is often minimalist, with drum machine and piano the main instruments. Additionally, the drum palette limited – many of the songs use the same beat.
If it sounds monotonous on paper, it works beautifully in practice. The lead track ‘F22’ is immediately claustrophobic and engaging, based around a lovely piano figure. It doesn’t all follow the same template – there are tough guitars on tracks like ‘2 D I C U V’ and ‘Stars’, while ‘Their Love’ and ‘6 Phrazes’ are minimal and pretty. Tirzah’s more dramatic than usual on ‘No Limit’, where her multi-tracked vocals are used to good effect.
Trip9love came out without warning in September. It’s a pleasant surprise – one of the best records of the year.
Even if he’d never released a solo album, Blake Mills has an impressive CV. He’s played guitar on records by legends like Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, and Billy Gibbons. He’s carved out a successful career as a producer, and wrote songs for Daisy Jones and the Six. He recently appeared live with Joni Mitchell on her first concerts for 20 years, playing her guitar on ‘Amelia’.
Jelly Road is Mills’ fifth album as a solo artist. He’s often low key and playful. Opener ‘Suchlike Horses’ builds slowly, with Mills’ vocals wistful and dreamy. The record’s a little frontloaded – the title track features his most impressionistic lyrics, while ‘Skeleton Walking’ is my favourite track here. Mills’ pretty guitar lines are often at the centre of the arrangements, but there’s a jazzy feel to the instrumental ‘Wendy Melvoin’.
Jelly Road is pretty, and timeless enough that it could have been released fifty years ago.