- by Sean Hewson Rating:7 Release Date:2016-09-02 Label: Stones Throw Records
Mild High Club's Skiptracing (largely the work of Alexander Brettin) is the story of a private eye tracing the development of American popular music. It sounds like a terrible idea, like Elliott Gould's Marlowe producing Donna Summer's I Remember Yesterday instead of Giorgio Moroder. You would not feel love, right?
As is usually the case, it's best to put the concept out of your thoughts when listening to this album as Skiptracing has a sound all of its own. It sounds like a subverting of Yacht Rock. The jazz chords, supple bass and electric piano are all there but so too are Brettin's 90s slacker vocals (quite like Plush) and a strange love of multi-tracking slide guitar and pitch-bent keyboards to create what sounds like a drunken orchestra backing a drunken George Harrison.
Songs start out all twinkly and then suddenly tilt as if the drugs have just kicked in. You can hear this on Chapel Perilous where some lovely chords are overtaken by the lurching pitch of the guitar and synth and the foggy vocal effects and then by a few wonky seconds of When You Wish Upon A Star. This juxtaposition of sparkly LA and sleazy LA happens again and again. It's like Tom Waits' presence on the Asylum label in the early 70s. This album does coke off the mixing desk at Warner Bros' studio and then has cocktails around the pool at the Tropicana Motel. As well as having a great feel to it, Skiptracing also has some lovely moments: The tired and emotional Carry Me Back (like Jack Rieley singing A Day In The Life Of A Tree or a Dennis Wilson out-take); Tesselation has that twinkly, Yacht Rock sound; and Head Out is a lovely mix of Spanish guitar, brushed drums and electric piano.
Whilst this album is best listened to without thinking too much about the under-lying concept, it does have merit as Skiptracing has the slightly low-rent feel of Inherent Vice or The Long Goodbye. The music history angle also comes in because it's like a smart-arse 90s slacker guy dismantling smart-arse 70s LA music. It's the sound of cheap keyboards mimicking a great, lost, Hollywood orchestra sound-tracking a drunken walk home.
I like it a lot. Skiptracing has a feel of its own - a weird combination of disparate elements that somehow inhabit the same place and time. Like Philip Marlowe in 70s LA or Tom Waits on Asylum.