As can be assumed with a group named Mild High Club, the journey they take us on during Skiptracing is a little woozy yet pleasurable. You just might crack a half-smile.
"Skip Tracing" is the act searching out a person who has disappeared. It’s an interesting title for a record because it sets the listener up for a journey, a discovery. The distortion in this: the journey is one of self-discovery, or at least attempted self-discovery. As can be assumed with a group named Mild High Club, the journey they take us on here is a little woozy yet pleasurable. You just might crack a half-smile.
Alexander Brettin is Mild High Club. He has been a tour mate of Mac Demarco and Ariel Pink, so he keeps good company, at least in the weird pop world. 2015’s Timeline debuted his group to the record buying (streaming?) world with a set of '60s pop-indebted tunes with all the lo-fi seams showing. One second the record is rolling on a tight groove with cutesy toy organ leading the way and the next we’re listening to a seemingly out of tune guitar rip. It’s a fun record.
Skiptracing, Mild High Club’s new record, is not drastically different, but it does attempt to show a new side of the group. The record is still heavily influenced by '60s pop psychedelia, but in many places a new influence pops up: '70s R&B and jazz. In spots, sections of songs could be mistaken for a George Benson song, or, more amazingly, a Weather Report-in-their-'70s-prime jam. The first thing that any listener will notice, especially if listened to in sequence, will be the strength of the first half of the record. Right out of the gate, songs like “Skiptracing”, “Homage", “Cary Me Back”, and “Tesselation” are just plain smooth. When the cowbell introduces itself in “Skiptracing” while Brettin is singing, “All I want is some good loving musical thoughts”, it’s just plain chill. The next three songs are victory laps.
“Head Out”, which falls exactly in the middle of the sequence, is where the album loses its grip with reality. The song has pleasant jazz cribbing guitar and warm electric keyboard accompaniment, but it marks a change for the album: a dive headfirst into abstract psychedelia that continues until the end of the album, with multiple signifiers of the sound along the way. “Kokopelli” moves at a glacial pace and Brettin slurs throughout, while “Whodunit?” sounds like a studio jam from the sessions that produced “Tomorrow Never Knows”. By the time the album ends with “Skiptracing (Reprise)”, which is 30 seconds long and literally sounds as if it was recorded on a city bus, you begin wondering if the high is not so mild anymore.
The seeming de-evolution of the album’s sound brings me to my original thesis that the title refers to an attempted self-discovery. In an interview with C-Heads Magazine, Brettin said, “I’m so confused by this world; I’m still trying to figure out what I’m even doing here." The irony is that in the process of trying to find himself on the record, he realized that he need not find himself. In “Homage” he sings, “If you want a piece of my thoughts / There a coin worth flipping / Why don’t you toss”, letting us know he has no answers. Later in the album, though, he figures it out, or at least he figures out what’s important in his life: “Tuneage beats suffering”, he sings.
Skiptracing is the journey we get to take with Brettin and it’s a fine one overall . The tones are warm, the sequencing is great, and the songs are mostly solid. “Tuneage beats suffering” is right.