As sleek as satin, as smooth as velvet, with an air of mystery and just a hint of irreverence is Skiptracing, the sophomore release by Mild High Club, the musical brainchild of Alexander Brettin.
Compared to a "private investigator attempting to trace the steps of the sound and the spirit of American music," Skiptracing is characterized by a cinematic feel, tinged with 1970s hues, jazzier moments and brief psychedelic spells. Themes of cabarets and coin tosses into wishing wells (penultimate track "Chapel Perilous" ends with the heavily altered vocal delivery of Jiminy Cricket's sentiment "When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true") are par for the course here, as are multiple reprises. Indeed, Skiptracing — a colloquial term for the process of finding a missing person, usually one not keen on being found, who's covering up their whereabouts — takes the listener on a beautifully produced and paced adventure that plays out like a soundtrack.
The record begins with a trio of strong songs that immediately establish an atmosphere of adventure and wonder. Intoxicating opener and title track "Skiptracing" is essentially an ode to the jukebox ("Pull another record from your sleeve / A mystery, if you don't believe, slip another coin in my machine / All that I want is some good listening musical pop, the gift keeps giving") that then melts into the kaleidoscopic and scintillating "Homage" (an album highlight), which drifts into the hazy but bright "Carry Me Back." The rest of the album features some guitar riffs that have Mac DeMarco-esque touches (no surprise; they've shared stages before), some nifty jazz moments (brushed drums, gently tickled organs, muted bass on "Head Out") and generally excellent moments as he blends different styles without making a mess.
My only real qualm here is what happens after the helter-skelter instrumental "Whodunit." Skiptracing goes from being layered and lush to a tad laboured, with the somnolent "Chasing My Tail" and the harmony-heavy, a cappella "Ceiling Zero," which intrigues but trips into the drowsy "Chapel Perilous." As with any adventure, spirits start to sink here when the end is nigh, as the initial excitement of it all wanes and wavers. Skiptracing follows that pattern, proving that it can be a bit of a challenge to keep that good groove going.
Ending with "Skiptracing (Reprise)," which features the sounds of a bus squeaking to a stop, one can picture the skiptracer heading back to his office, but it's unclear whether it's begrudgingly due to not completing his task or bittersweetly, due to his mission being accomplished. It's a nice open ending to the pleasant escape that is Skiptracing. (Stones Throw)