Chris Mills & The New Miserable Bastards
Sun. Nov. 27
1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
Chris Mills lives in Chicago. Well, he tours quite a bit, stateside and in Europe, so let’s say he’s based in Chicago. Chris Mills is a singer and a songwriter. “Chris Mills wants you to know,” trumpets his website (www.chris-mills.com), “that his upcoming fourth album is his masterpiece.”
“Hmmmmm,” says Chris Mills, when I ask him to describe The Wall To Wall Sessions for us. “I just think it sounds good.” When I ask him what he thinks about when he thinks about pop, he says, “I have no idea.” But I think he does. That very mix of wild ambition and effortless, diffident humility… that’s at least one of the things I’d call pop. It takes such an attitude to rally an enormous crew, such as the one Mills corralled for this complex yet immediately infectious plate’o’beans. You’ve got to be a genius and regular folks.
In the thick of one of Chicago’s merciless winters, Mills and his 17-strong “Chicago indie rock big band” (featuring members of The Sea And Cake, Giant Sand, Head Of Femur, Wilco, and other time-tested combos) poured their music into a two-track. No overdubs were deemed necessary. “I think playing it all live gave it a sense of intimacy I really enjoy,” says Mills. “[Producer] David Nagler did an amazing job with the orchestral arrangements, so I’m always finding new little things to love about what he did.”
Mills admits “none of us thought we could actually pull this record off. Dan Deitrich, the poor guy who had to simultaneously record and mix this behemoth, actually toyed with the idea of walking out before we even got there.” Mills tastefully omits the particulars. “Luckily, he stayed.”
Good news, that, however obvious. The Wall To Wall Sessions (lent its name by its place of conception, and aptly so, considering its breadth) is coy but true, its love of life all the more palpable for the comparative cynicism of much of its chamber-pop kindred.
Mills says that, when no one else is around (rare and beautiful times in such a city), he throws on British music hall records from the ’30s. Forget, if you can, that such music inspired “Martha My Dear.” Trust me when I say that’s irrelevant. Trust me when I say that Chris Mills is relatively uninfected with McCartney-type shtick. Those records channelled, as best they could, the scope of human emotion before anyone could conceive of guitar rock’s hormonal aggression. Chris Mills circumvents guitar rock’s hormonal aggression and does likewise.
Such folks as Chris Mills are of a rare breed, but such folks are human. Mills can’t fit his ambition into a sentence without constructing a run-on. He craves “the ability to make the records I want to make without having to worry about time and money and all those things that keep me from making as much music asI’d like.”