3 out of 5
Label: See Thru Broadcasting
Produced by: John Schmersal (?)
Not only was this the first post-Braniac project for guitarist John Schmersal – often cited as responsible for the group’s defining oddball sound – it was also the first release on the label started by my favorite producer, Dave Sardy – See-Thru Broadcasting. Of course, I didn’t really know the former bit at the time, and this wasn’t my first See Thru purchase – the next Schmersal project, Enon, was. Would my listening lineage have been the same had I caught this release first? Would I have followed this to Braniac, or maintained my appreciation for Sardy?
And it’s a tough call.
John Stuart Mill is best appreciated as an addendum to both of John’s before and after bands; as a standalone there are plenty of memorable moments but only a few songs that can be propped up on their own. Otherwise this is pretty raw stuff, and raw in a sometimes self-defeating way, such as track 2’s Learn the Proper Languages Before You Go to Bed, which reroutes a catchy opening through demos for, like, 8 other songs, or a stretch of tracks in the disc’s latter half which blend into each other and don’t continue much beyond finding a basic music / lyric rhythm.
You can certainly hear elements of latter-day Enon pop (especially on opener – and misleadingly one of the most ‘songy’ songs on the disc – A √), as well as the experimental fits that percolated through Brainiac. In that sense, the album seems like an exorcising of various musical demons, trying to find a path to which to commit. The recording is beautifully fuzzy, which adds to the demo feel and gives the roughness of the disc somewhat of a pass, and Schmersal’s lyrics – while I probably would never consider them a key aspect of his abilities – seem especially casual here, also in search of a theme or idea, pursuing a simple image or two for each short song.
So, alas, I don’t know how impressive this album is on its own terms. I don’t come back to it very often except when some of those randomly catchy moments come back to me; otherwise, it serves as an interesting primer for Schmersal’s many other projects.