Published May 05, 2020While the world continues to barrel relentlessly forward, many of our interior lives have slowed to a drip – mornings melt into shapeless afternoons, afternoons into sleepless nights. It's become difficult to reconcile the outside chaos with this sudden stasis – the disorienting sensation that we're rapidly losing time even as it crawls across the clock.
Mutable Set, the fourth solo record from Blake Mills, is where this tension meets and breaks – music concerned with the pace of modern life, isolation, climate change, the world both interior and exterior. "Never Forever" introduces the flickering, warped-folk universe of Mutable Set with a gradually unspooling meditation on time and attention spans and coffee lines, the now-foreign doldrums that stand between ourselves and true feeling.
The heat-twisted, alien textures that Mills lent to records by Perfume Genius and Alabama Shakes have been tempered to a warm glow – Mutable Set is more ghostly than extraterrestrial, the delicate scribbles in the margins of some other song. The stunning highlight "Summer All Over" is a quietly bitter paean to an endless season of heat, while first single "Vanishing Twin" breathes and shifts like some strange and rickety animal, a rumination on isolation and the disappearing self.
It's both meticulously crafted and warmly lived-in – Mills' close-miced vocals, the soft clatter of instruments and the room's empty space lend the feeling that you're there beside him, threads of sound dissipating in air. And while these songs are strange and quiet, they're rarely forgettable – melodies burrow into the brain and magnify, expanding and deepening the longer you spend with them.
It's this that makes Mutable Set so refreshing and alive – an album that requires silence and space, that blooms and changes if given the chance. It may not be able to correct our rapidly disintegrating sense of time, but it can, for a brief and illuminating hour, bring it to a halt. (New Deal Records)