[15 December 2011]
The consensus about Bay Area DJ/producer Miguel Migs seems to be this: He’s an exemplar of the house artist who is basically a groove machine who has all but mastered the creation of soulful sounds but who is limited by the samey-ness of his ideas and apparent recalcitrance to be pulled into the future. Though Outside the Skyline is an OM release and though Migs has a label of his own (Salted), he has become the poster child for Naked Music, the go-to imprint for mid-tempo, world-influenced chillout that has provided the studio for Migs’ DJ mixes and plenty of fodder for techno snobs to deride. In terms of visual allegories to his music, the computer-generated images of sultry young women in reverie on his album covers are about as on the nose as one can get.
Migs, born Miguel Steward, has been a producer since at least the late ‘90s, but Outside the Skyline is only his third proper LP. He’s much better known as a DJ, spinning tunes that sound nearly identical to his own, and as a remix artist. Is Outside the Skyline, which arrives four years after his last full-production album, an evolution in his style? Not even close. But Migs has ironed out the clunky bits and mass-appeal-house clichés of his previous record, Those Things, and has treated his sounds with more vibrancy, which gives Outside the Skyline the air of a more professionally produced and smarter piece than we’re used to hearing from him. It sounds as if Migs took cues from musicians who are one or two rungs above him on the artistry ladder, like Lanu, Jimpster, or Mark de Clive Lowe.
Every track on the record features vocalists, some of whom are typical Naked Music hired hands (Lisa Shaw, Aya) and some of whom are not (Meshell Ndegeocello, dancehall veteran Half Pint). Migs has seemingly tailored his songs somewhat to the style of each of his guests. For instance, Ndegeocello, also an accomplished bass player, claims the record’s two funkiest songs, and Bebel Gilberto gets to wiggle through a samba-house number that actually makes Brazilian electronica sound good again. Migs’ songs continue to buckle from lyrics that are underwhelming even for this genre — something that’s kept him from reaching the heights he otherwise could — but there is enough going on instrumentally to ignore them almost completely.
Though Migs appears to be answering to his creative muse a little bit more than he would on a Naked mix, this record is still more suitable for a party than an extended listening session (i.e., best left in the background). These songs are not growers, and if you aren’t careful, they can coagulate into mush rather quickly. Nevertheless, even small improvements look like leaps in the career of this artist, who has heretofore chosen to wrap himself in the warm blanket of consistency over taking the kinds of risks that stellar albums are often made of. While a few songs fail to make any impression at all, the majority of Outside the Skyline is quite good at what it does, and it raises the stock of not only Miguel Migs, but also, arguably, of Naked Music.