Break Mirrors is Blake Mills’ debut solo album, but for the 23-year-old Los Angeles native, it’s just the latest step in a remarkable musical career that has seen everyone from Kid Rock to Cass McCombs solicit his services as a guitarist.
Mills’ trip began with Simon Dawes, the young L.A. rock outfit he formed with his childhood pal Taylor Goldsmith. They made an album, Carnivore, and eventually shared stages with some of the biggest bands in America, cranking out a fresh yet classic sound the Los Angeles Times called “exhilarating.”
After his collaboration with Goldsmith ran its course, Mills moved into the next phase of his career, as sideman to the stars. He moved quickly, too: In only a few short years Mills has become one of the most in-demand session guitarists in all of Los Angeles, touring with Cass McCombs, Jenny Lewis, Band of Horses and Julian Casablancas and recording with Weezer, Kid Rock, Jakob Dylan , Andrew Bird, and Jesca Hoop, among others.
“When it comes to playing guitar for other people,” he says, “...a lot of my dreams have already come true.”
Now Mills is taking center stage with a set of tunes that reflect that extraordinary wealth of experience. Recorded in casual bursts between other gigs over the course of much of 2009, Break Mirrors strikes a perfect balance between talent and tastefulness: You won’t miss Mills’ impressive playing—check out the fuzzy slide guitar solo on “Hiroshima,” for starters—but what sticks with you is his songwriting, which hits a bittersweet coming-of-age note.
In “It’ll All Work Out” he analyzes his parents’ marriage and comes to some surprising conclusions, and “History of My Life” ponders the best way to celebrate one’s privileges. (“It’s about a humility that comes with the transition into adulthood,” Mills says with typical thoughtfulness.) Elsewhere, “Cheers” documents a painful breakup, while “Hey Lover” celebrates the healthy relationship Mills is in right now.
“I wrote that song while I was on a tour and showed it to her when I got back home,” he says. “And then we actually ended up singing it together on this record.” With a laugh Mills describes the track as “my first song of having someone after one too many songs of longing.”
“Hey Lover” may only be rivaled by the album's artwork, for which Mills sought the help of acclaimed artist Sage Vaughn; together, the two collaborated in creating a collage that represents each song.
The music on Break Mirrors comes out of a long tradition of mellow Southern California rock. Yet, perhaps thanks to Mills’ work for other artists, the songs also reveal traces of something entirely different.
There’s also a sly sense of humor in much of the material that Mills credits to his time with Ben Bridwell and Ryan Monroe (Band of Horses). “There's a humor in some people's music that is not kitschy,” he explains. “And in some of those cases it ends up uncovering a certain kind of despair.”
The result is a record that feels as expansive as it does intimate, as forward-looking as it is nostalgic. Blake Mills is much more than the session guy, the band member, or the solo artist. Break Mirrors is the proof.
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