Guest Review: Tim Felton on Milagres “Glowing Mouth”

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There are a lot many reasons to check out one of Bloomington’s biggest live shows of the week featuring Peter Wolf Crier, Milagres, and hometown heroes husband&wife at The Bishop the Wednesday.  There’s the local buzz:  Bloomington’s husband&wife is still hitting things strong having spent most of 2011 on the road in support of 2010’s Proud Flesh; after pulling off yet another successful XRA Fest last month the band has even had time to work on some new material that will no doubt make an appearance at this show.  Minneapolis, MN band Peter Wolf Crier is only one of the many bands blowing up the national indie music scene for Bloomington-based indie label Jagjaguwar this year.  The band’s latest release Garden of Arms has garnered positive reviews on the blog-o-sphere as well as nods from the likes of Pitchfork, The Onion/AV Club, and Paste Magazine among others.  However, even with all of that hometown pride, it’s Peter Wolf Crier’s tourmates, Brooklyn’s Milagres, that added the extra “cherry-on-top” to this lineup.

Also touring in support of a new album, Glowing Mouth, Milagres first came into my consciousness about a year ago, when the 5-piece band played a local show with husband&wife.  The husband&wife(ers) had been singing the band’s praises up so well, that I had to check out their set.  And they were right, Milagres was captivating and creative.  Singer Kyle Wilson’s intriguing, husky-yet-smooth voice and the band’s use of sampled sounds added an especially attractive quality to their otherwise typical rock band set up.  Now, the band has released its first album with larger-known indie record label Kill Rock Stars. And are pulling out all their secret weapons to draw and engage listeners into their electro-rock sound.

Tim Felton, photo by Trevor Ditmar

I could think of no better person to help navigate through this impressive second release than Tim Felton, guitarist/vocalist for husband&wife and longtime friend and fan of Milagres.  Felton met members of Milagres way back in about 2006, when most of them were in a band called The Secret Life of Sophia.  The band was looking to play a basement show with them which came together and was the start of a now five-year friendship.  Felton’s relationship with the band and admiration for their music over the years really sparked interesting discoveries and responses to the band’s more completed sound in Glowing Mouth.

I sat down with Tim for a listening party, here are our thoughts and comments as we listened, track-by-track, to Glowing Mouth.

1. Halfway

The album starts out with a great opening track “Halfway”, a subtle track which really sets a tone for the album, without giving too much away. It starts with a bouncy, pulse-setting keyboard rhythm, joined in by somewhat ethereal sustained chords and Kyle Wilson’s opening verse. As more instruments join in and build up to what should be the bursting chorus, the band holds back, bringing again a pulsing keyboard rhythm to accompany Wilson.  It’s not until after the second chorus that the full band really breaks out with an intense wave of sound.

Tim: Keyboards sort of hold the record down with the electro-beats and the atmospheric guitars, it’s the keyboard that  really keeps the whole sound grounded.  The drumwork is also great, Steve [Leventhal] is such a tasteful drummer.  He was with the band back when it was still Secret Life–a more indie [rock] band where he was constantly playing.  With this style he sort of works around what’s there, he’s really great at practicing restraint as a drummer.

2. Here To Stay (download!)

Tim: The transition between the first two songs is great, there is nearly no break in between.

“Here To Stay” is the first single off of the album and is the perfect catcher track to follow the much slower opening track.  It’s a pop song, fast and to the point, topping in at just barely over three minutes.  It features a more full-band indie rock sound, and yet those keyboards are still pulsing through the song, keeping the balance between the traditional rock and ambient electronic sounds of this band.  Though all the instruments are hard at work creating a swirling sound to accompany Wilson’s whimsical lyrics, they are never overpowering the vocals, nor each other.  Every sound has its place and its influence at just the right moment.

Tim: I can’t help but think that the vocals in the verse sound similar to the style of Win Butler (Arcade Fire.)  They sound a tad more theatrical and playful in this track, in a very good way.

3. Glowing Mouth (download! – Radio Edit)

I really enjoyed this track, though it’s nearly six and half minutes long, the band does such a great job of making it worth the listen.  There are so many styles and sounds, and a really set groove that is completely enticing.  Also, the vocals are just beautiful in this track.  Everything fits so well together.

Tim: “Here To Stay” wastes no time, it’s straight to the point, which leads right into the title track, which is much slower.  The band members really take their time here, which they can afford to do at this point because they’ve already got [the listener] hooked.

That keyboard sound [at the start] is so harsh.  I remember hearing that sound for the first time at a concert and, at first, it seemed very dissonant, but it really works with the groovy style of this track.

Kyle shows off his voice in this song, that strong falsetto that he has is prominent. It’s a really dynamic song, suddenly there’s this sort of fairytale, haunted break with electronic flutes, it’s lonely and calm, just for a second.  Then the drums come in, this big concert bass drum sound, it sounds great.  It’s like a fairytale dream sequence.  And then it all comes back together and you’re right back into that bass-heavy electro-jam.  They are playing with so many sounds in this track, they find really creative ways to use samples and fit them strategically into the mix of their style.  That’s something I really like about this band.

4. Gentle Beast

I keep touching on sound, but the band really locks down their style so well throughout this album.  This song sounds big, like it was recorded in the hallways of a large cathedral.  And the darker, deeper tones of this track build a wonderful, mysterious mood into the track.  The overlay of sampled vocals that drop in just after the chorus are so haunting and other-worldly.

Tim: This song could easily be an extension of “Glowing Mouth” it sneaks up so quickly, you don’t even realize you are in a new song for the first few seconds.  I love the tambourine on this song.  That sampled vocal with effect (often played through a MIDI player at concerts), that’s my favorite part of the record.

5. Lost in the Dark

This is where listeners can really hear the band’s ability to not pigeon-hole it’s sound.  “Lost in the Dark” is an eerie dance tune, with an almost jungle-esque rhythm brought on by the keyboards and percussion.  The keyboards get a very 80s treatment later in the track that only drew me more into the rhythm.  Also, vocal harmonies are key to setting the groove in this track as well.  Although the keyboard rhythm is repetitive, it never feels stale.

Tim: This one gets you going with all the emphasis on the up-beat.  Eric [Schwortz], the rhythm guitarist plays a lot of the extra beats, he gives the song a really layered feel, like Peter Gabriel-style.

6. Fright of Thee

This slow-driving track really breaks up the album.  Wilson’s vocals are deep and heavy, yet dynamic and attention-grabbing.  The slow-driving swing beat keeps this track moving right up to its quick end.  The keyboards near the end of the last chorus remind me of Labyrinth.

TimThis is one of my favorite tracks, possibly because they don’t play it live as much, but Kyle’s voice is very deep and rich, you can really feel it, such a nice and rich sound.  The chorus does just what you want a chorus to do.  They don’t avoid that naturally tendency to just ‘give the people what they want:  a chorus that swells and builds.  It’s such a short track, and the percussion all the way through the end- the finish is just right.

7. Moon on the Sea’s Gate

The title is perfect for this track, because the rhythmic progression, the suspense of the added strings, and that deep husky voice (nearly whispering in the chorus) perfectly capture the essence of the dark waves and skies of a night out at sea.  It’s really a beautiful track that is dripping with imagery.

TimThere’s that orchestral style that is so prominent in this album.  Chris Brazee (synth) adds so much to the songs, he’s not doing too much, but when he does it really adds that extra touch.  Another example of how this band practices restraint.

8. Gone

This may be my favorite track on the album.  We are suddenly back the band’s more pop style with much emphasis on the straight 4/4 rhythm, and the fairytale-esque tones that just swirl into a whimsical style in the chorus.  The choir-like backing vocals remind of something straight out of a Danny Elfman soundtrack.  And just when you settle into the groove, the song just fades away like light cloud.  The style of this song reminds me very much of Aqualung, one my favorite pop musicians.

Tim: I really like Fraser (McCulloch)’s bassline in this song because it’s kind of funky.  He doesn’t let anything sustain, there are all these little short notes.  The fact that he lets the notes get long in the chorus and doesn’t in the verses really gives this song a distinct sound and attraction. There are such ethereal and dreamy sounds in this song, especially in the break down.

9. For Disposal

“For Disposal” is such a quiet song at its start, a surprising transition from everything that “Gone” built up to.  The strength in this song however, lies in its apparent use of space.  The space that is present between the drum beats really grabs the attention, here it’s the softness and space of sound that really draws in the listener.  Throughout the track, the band holds back from giving too much at once, there are constant builds that lead to a pause and instant drop to often one or two instruments.  The heavy presence of echo and reverb sounds in this song great an overall large sound in this track without the need for a lot of instruments playing at once; it sounds as if it was recorded in a large concert hall.

TimThe dissonant and distant piano that starts this track are really nice, a sound we haven’t really heard yet on this album. Orchestral vibe, big concert sound.

10. To Be Imagined

I would call this the secret weapon track. If you need any other reason to listen to this album in its entirety, it would be so that you can get to this track.  Electronic drum beats, clarinet, brass, and string sounds.  The band does not hold back on any creativity in this track, laying all of their ideas on the table and executing them gracefully.

Tim: This is the first time they really highlight a dancy-electro drum beat. This is a really orchestral track, arranged so well. There’s also a great call and response style happening between the vocals and the wind instrument sounds. They bring some things in at the end of this album that make the whole album worth listening to.

11. Doubted

The album closer “Doubted” is drenched in suspense and darkness in its start.  The piano chimes along like an ill-fated clock counting down to an epic disaster.  However, instead of erupting into a painful ballad, the song suddenly turns a corner with the entrance of a guitar rhythm about 2:15 in.  It seems like the song suddenly had a rediscovery as it progressed, and just when you are ready to follow it to the big conclusion, the track instead suddenly drifts off, leaving this album at an epic cliffhanger.

Tim: There’s that piano again, they keep over some of the orchestral sounds and strings from the previous songs.  They are true to themselves here as being a guitar/keyboard/drums band.  It comes back around to saying “this is who we are, and what we do”.  They add in a lot of other sounds throughout this whole album, but they never stray too far from what they are. It’s not a conclusive end, it just drifts and finishes.  It makes you want to start the album over again (smart way to end!)

Concluding Comments

Tim: Where Milagres has progressed with this album is incorporating a nice interplay of these orchestral pieces with electronic back beats and sampled sounds, the use of keyboards/synthesizers.  It doesn’t feel like those sounds are not at home together.  You can’t always just put a rock band set up with orchestral and keyboard sounds and make it work.  The band lays those sounds together well, it was sort of surprising to me, but I liked it.  It doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a small room in NYC.  They produce a very concert sound, which is very impressive to me.  And they have an album that feels so complete with having done it all themselves.  Props to them for to making a cohesive album,in so many ways that in itself a greater accomplishment than just writing 10 songs for an album–making an album that flows and makes sense.

HipsterSpinster: This is such an impressive collection of songs, sounds, and creative energy.  Milagres is clearly a band that is not afraid to experiment with its sound, call upon unexpected influences, and take risks.  The band’s ability to arrange such intricate and orchestral songs yet package them into their indie-electro rock package is the stuff of geniuses.  This album leaves me with only the desire to explore more of what this band can do.

See MILAGRES along with Peter Wolf Crier and local band husband&wife at The Bishop this Wednesday, October 12 at 9:00 PM. Tickets are available now at The Bishop, Landlocked Music, TD’S CDs & LPs, BCT Box Office, and online.

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