Head Copy Editor
Mild High Club is back. The psychedelic jazz rock project, created by Alex Brettin, had been on a hiatus of sorts for the last half decade, before releasing his third studio album, Going, Going, Gone, on Sept. 17, less than a month after its announcement. Before this, fans of the indie darling had gone through an eternity hoping for new music from the one-man-band. Going, Going, Gone is the follow up to 2016’s Skiptracing, signifying both a change in direction of the band’s sound and goals. There are songs like the breakout hit, “Homage” taking Brettin into the mainstream music scene that year, and given the popularity of similar acts such as Mac DeMarco and Tame Impala at the time, it was widely expected work on a new album would begin immediately due to the massive surge in popularity. Instead, fans were treated to a collaborative album, Sketches of Brunswick East, alongside psychedelic rock band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. After that, however, there was nothing but radio silence; instead of trying to capitalize off his newfound success, Brettin kept his usual slower work pace, taking the past five years to craft what might just be one of the best alternative rock albums of 2021.
For those who are unfamiliar with Mild High Club, this album might not be the best choice for a first listen to the band’s music. While earlier work, such as their debut album Timeline, sound a lot more typical of bedroom pop or indie rock in general, make no mistake. Brettin was actually a trained jazz musician prior to creating Mild High Club, and this influence became a lot more complex and overpowering as the years went on. Skiptracing had very clear jazz motifs and was keen on using more typical jazz instruments, and now with Going, Going, Gone, the music sounds almost like Steely Dan and other founding bands of jazz rock. This isn’t the typical jazz rock by any means, though, as Brettin brings in new genres, mainly from Latin music, and turns away from pop-friendly song structure in favor of instrumental complexity rivaling actual jazz at times. If that sounds good to you, however, this band is absolutely for you.
Starting off, Going, Going, Gone is “Kluges I,” already showing a strong departure in the band’s old sound. After several seconds of silence, the sound of a tape being wound is heard, and you’re enveloped in an instrumental landscape. While not having any lyrics, a first for Brettin, synth pads envelop the world of the song, paired with off-kilter drums, that leads into a short harmonica interlude, before busting into a keyboard solo with backing horns. This fades neatly into the next song “Dionysian State.” With some clear influence from more eastern jazz scenes, specifically Chicago, where Brettin hails from, this song has an almost theatrical aura, with the first 30 seconds sounding like the intro song of a musical or movie. Then, after two minutes of the album, the vocals finally kick in. He sings about a profound boredom, something that the narrator can only fix by living a hedonistic lifestyle. While only having two short verses followed by a saxophone solo, the song gets across its point effortlessly.
Next up is “Trash Heap,” one of the most Steely Dan-sounding songs in Mild High Club’s discography. While only a minute long, it feels a lot longer, as a piano ballad plays alongside a washboard percussion, Brettin sings about going too far, ending up passed out drunk in a casino after the narrator indulges himself too much. The instrumental slowly morphs into a synth interlude, before giving the piano a solo, and jumping back into taking hedonism too far. This suddenly flows into “Taste Tomorrow” where the instrumental slows and instantly becomes more distorted, giving the impression that the narrator’s only gotten more inebriated, as he sings in a drunken rant about missing a love interest, the first clue as to what might’ve caused the hole he’s feeling. The piano becomes more sporadic as alien-like synths start taking over before the whole song fades to nothing.
What follows is the emotional crescendo of the first half of the album: “A New High.” This song is both the first time Mild High Club has had a feature, in the Latin American singer Winter, and, if you couldn’t tell from that, also has some of the most apparent Latin American influence. Bringing in new instruments, namely an acoustic guitar and backing violins, Winter stuns, as Brettin takes a backseat on vocals to focus on the instrumental. The payoff is incredible, as the horn section almost transforms into its own solo, before going into a more traditional solo on electric keyboard. The story is pretty clear by this point; after ruining himself trying to change his mood with nothing but the power of addictive tendencies, the narrator finally finds a person he cares more about, bringing in his ‘new high.’ The song ends on an ominous note though, as after a triumphant fade out, the drums and piano reappear playing the same five second pattern — an ascending solo that nonetheless sounds almost out of tune in its eeriness — before a synth gives a short solo to close out.
The next song, “It’s Over Again ” proceeds with another obvious progression in the album’s story. With backup singers, a surprisingly catchy cowbell, and Brettin’s lyrics of loneliness and feeling fed up make it obvious that this was just a short excursion for the narrator, and he’s quickly left behind to his old ways. The vocals fade into an outro of a magnificent sounding outro of trumpets and a video game-esque keyboard. This leads, somewhat haphazardly, into “Kluges II,” an even more extreme version of its prequel. While longer, the band doesn’t make it any easier by making it less complex. With the drums seemingly playing a different tempo than everything else and several synths morphing into each other and the piano, before the song ends itself sounding like pure electronica, another genre Mild High Club’s dabbled in but never used to this extent. The song ends with a looping sample of chatter at a cafe, before looping into “I Don’t Mind the Wait,” which starts off with a looped sample of a cassette sound.
“I Don’t Mind the Wait” is the next logical extension of the album’s narrative, with Brettin almost begging for his love to return, not caring when, but not getting a response. This song has one of the most bizarre instrument solos I’ve ever heard, with the drums suddenly tripling in speed and the keyboard hanging on notes to sound like a computer freeze. The narrator clearly can’t get what he wants, and the song ends with the addition of what sounds like a melodica and a rock organ, mourning what could’ve been. Afterwards is “Dawn Patrol,” an interlude leading into the last leg of the album. There isn’t much to be said, as it’s just a pure instrumental with another synth solo. What’s more important is the song that follows: “Waving.” One of the earliest parts of Going, Going, Gone, with the first leaks and live performances of the song coming almost two years ago, this is absolutely the emotional climax of the album’s second half. Seemingly coming to the acceptance of his situation, the narrator takes a much lighter attitude, with backup singers adding more to the triumphant emotion of the song, giving the feeling of seeing the sun after a thunderstorm. “Waving” also has one of my favorite outro of any song, as Brettin finally allows the trumpets to have their own solo, furthering the atmosphere of feeling relieved after it’s all said and done. The backup singers also continue on, which gives the song a sound somewhat reminiscent of some early-to-mid 2000s pop songs in their tone. The album ends with “Me, Myself, and Dollar Hell,” the only single of the album, bringing back the snarkiness the narrator had in the first half. While no longer self-pitying, the narrator still keeps his dry wit in criticizing the world for its absurdism, but without the bitterness he previously had. Ending is “Holding On To Me,” which uses a lot of ‘80s synth keyboards and other older electronics before leading to a short verse where Brettin sums up one of the biggest themes of the album — looking for love in oneself first instead of others.
This album was everything it was expected to be, just taking an unorthodox path to doing so. While not taking advantage of newfound popularity and letting his 15 minutes of fame fade, Brettin kept focused on making music he wanted to make, and the half decade payoff was definitely worth it, bringing in even more genre crossover and experimentation than before. While any jazz crossover isn’t the easiest to get used to, this album is definitely one of the gems of this year, and is able to fit everything it wants to be into a clean 30 minutes. I’d personally give it a 8.8/10, and, if you do give it a listen, “A New High,” “Waving,” and “Me, Myself, and Dollar Hell” are all great places to start. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing more and more of it when award season rolls around, though.
Featured Image Courtesy of Wavy ID