For once, you are hearing about a monster talent before the Kool Kids.
That's because Break Mirrors is close to a secret. Blake Mills recorded his debut CD in a friend's studio in 2009, when he was 22. He released it -- in the summer of 2010 -- on a tiny label and sold it only at Mollusk, a surf shop in Venice, California. The kid on the cover? That's a friend, not Blake. In other words: a very well-kept secret. His CD, as I write, is ranked 320,000 on Amazon; the MP3 is around 25,000.
Blake Mills has played with a few bands and been an opening act for a few others. (Sample message board comment: "That kid burned Charlotte to the ground.") Just before Christmas, he gave a Blake Mills kind of performance -- at Mollusk.
My friend Robert Smith -- a writer and painter of considerable talent who spends his days and the occasional night as a music executive of considerable talent -- pinged me afterwards: "His band was Dawes [a highly regarded Los Angeles group], Benmont Tench [legendary keyboardist, originally with Tom Petty], Jackson Browne [no introduction necessary], his talented girlfriend Danielle Haim and others. Two and a half hours for a handful of friends, family and fans."
Can you see him? Eventually. At some point. Maybe in a while. Until then: videos.
In his videos -- no surprise: they're just as low-key -- you will not see a rock star in the making. You will see something better: mature, impeccable lyrics, dazzling guitar playing, great range.
Bottom line: a major talent, an actual artist, a musician without an upper limit.
But the last thing I want to do here is put Blake Mills on a platform and ask you to worship with me. He's not the new Bob Dylan. Not the next anybody. And that's what is so exciting about him -- without any hype, with no great charisma, without even much in the way of stage presence, he is the immediate future of intelligent music. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Intelligence suggests seriousness. We'll get to that. Less usually said is that intelligence includes humor -- and on that score, Blake Mills is a delight. Witty. Fun, in an almost pop way. With a sharp eye for absurdity and a welcome interest in sharing it. Start with the title of the CD -- Break Mirrors has no deep meaning, it's what the order-takers at a take-out Chinese restaurant thought his name was. He can be deadly serious about his parents -- "They weren't in love, but they took care of me" -- but he's also, in "It'll All Work Out," droll and affectionate about them. [For the MP3 download, click here.]
Try another, "Hey Lover," So cheery and upbeat it could be a pop single.
Or "Wintersong," Ever so slightly influenced by Bon Iver.
If there's a masterpiece -- a song that announces the arrival of a talent who's more than this year's model -- it's "The History of My Life." A daring title for a kid. But this is a kid who can make the connection from 24 to...oh...55. The words matter, which is why they're on the video; read and listen. And don't miss the choir at 2:30. [For the MP3 download, click here.]
There are so many reasons to be interested in Blake Mills, and being first in your 'hood may not be the least -- it's shallow but satisfying to be the one who spins some tunes and has friends asking, "Who's that?" And then there are the greater rewards: the satisfaction of greatness, the way it touches something deep inside you, reminding you that greatness is possible, inspiring you to reach for your own.
"Oh God, couldn't I just change the history of my life somehow?"
The Voice Project supports the women of Northern Uganda in their efforts to bring healing and peace through song. The Project asks American musicians to sing music they admire; all revenue goes to the women of North Uganda. In his living room, Blake Mills performed a song by Lucinda Williams -- he tours with her.
This was recorded live at Mollusk. Such a happy, bright audience -- doesn't it make you wish you were 24?
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]
Follow Jesse Kornbluth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HeadButler