2 out of 5
Label: Comedy Minus One
Produced by: Barney (Matt Banrhart?) and Tim Midyett (recorded by)
Though pleased by Mint Mile’s debut, and their lead-up of EPs to this full length, Ambertron, the thing that most often kept those precursory listens from feeling like wholly intentional sets – as opposed to warm-ups for something then forthcoming – was a lack of identity. Mint Mile floats and coasts through jangly Americana, nibbing some Silkworm rock to ground things, and then slinking into more fleshed-out, sonorous and poppy elements (somewhat reminiscent of Comedy Minus One labelmates Eleventh Dream Day), while also slipping back into a raw, late-nite-mic style of earnestness. None of this is bad individually, but the combination has never felt smooth – like Andy Midyett / MM is trying on different styles – and that latter ‘earnest’ bit tends to come across as a little forced, like an attempt to capture some elusive inspiration that’s been dimmed by Midyett’s years in the industry. Which isn’t a bad thing: that history produces some great tracks of focused riffs and clever lyrical punch. On the EPs, the short burst of this combo tended to be more favorable than not. Stretched out to an album, though… it’s exactly that: stretched out.
An Amberlin tries to put its shakiest foot forward, which is brave, but obviously also underwhelming: the whole A-side of this 2-LP set is very lacking in mood, the Americana m.o. functioning as a template for hushed words and gentle strums and patter drums and slide guitar, as opposed to the songs themselves feeling inspired, and in need of these elements. The lyrics – this turns into a habit across the album – are very open-ended, lacking in Midyett’s more direct narrative style, favoring instead very wide imagery, and honestly some rather yer-gettin’-old themes (life is cluttered by technology and industry, mmhm).
Towards the middle of the LP, things pick up, bringing in more lush arrangements and some very solid songs through and through – Riding On & Off Peak, in the album’s middle, feels more in line with the better Mint Mile tracks we’ve experienced, combining that maturity and one-take vibe into a unique extension of the Silkworm / Pavement-y / EDD sound – but many moments are still undercut by a purposeful veering away from hooks, or letting that pursuit of rawness overtake some requisites which might’ve made for a better track. The closing, whole D-side 14-minute Amberline is a good summary: a dirgey, centerless runthrough of muttered feelings; no peaks or valleys. This is an interesting conclusion, but it’s one that would work better if the lead-ins were more solid and punchy; like a reflection on what came before. Instead, it comes across as uncertain: what is Mint Mile saying? What type of music are they playing? And not that lyrics need to have an accessible point, or that you need to stick to one genre, but there’s a difference between that and your band / album sounding like a hodgepodge. Similarly, while I shouldn’t really judge packaging as part of the rating, the lyric booklet’s design fits with this: a confusing splattered arrangement of lyrics makes reading order weird sometimes, and the varying fonts just make me not want to read along.
Alas, that feeling is what sealed my rating: while Ambertron is inoffensive at worst, and honestly very soothing at points, I ultimately didn’t find myself wanting to dig much deeper into it, hesitating upon each playthrough to try to hear something different. But perhaps with this EP-buildup-to-an-album process accomplished, the band will come out on the other side with a clearer identity.