There's an eeriness, a downright weird centre to the United States.
It's something that has come particularly for the fore over the past six months, during an acrimonious Presidential race. After all, what other nation could lay claim to Donald Trump? Or would even want to?
At every turn, American history is dominated by the uncanny, by an individualism that is almost impossible to fathom.
Mild High Club revel in this, with their material – psychedelic in tone, but released on hip-hop stable Stones Throw – refusing to settle in any one box.
New album 'Skiptracing' is out now, with the band set to play a pair of UK shows next week. So, Clash invited Mild High Club lynch-pin Alex Brettin to define America's other, weird side.
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Steely Dan – 'My Old School'
This track has a little more weight to it than Alice Cooper's "school's out" in the sense that it recounts a 1969 pot raid in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where both Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were attending Bard College. Although the charges were eventually dropped, both were implicated along with some 50 others with Bard initially compliant with the sheriff's arrests. This is the duo's beautifully crafted thank you note for the outcasting.
The genius is in the text painting of 'cruel' – a minor, scolding harmony and 'school'- a major harmony with an arrangement reminiscent of a high school choir. Steely Dan inspired the lyrics "my Gestalt is hanging on the edge of the (San Andreas) fault learning tricks from Uncle Donnie and walt for an education…"
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Epicycle – 'Biological Reaction'
Before I was taking cues from the Dan, myself and our drummer Mat were enrolled in a jazz studies program in Chicago. One of our coolest teachers decided to leave all his vinyl out for whoever wanted to pick it up off his lawn. In the massive stacks of old jazz was a first pressing (with hand made comic book) of a local rock band called Epicycle.
This track blew me away from the raw timbre to the simple arrangement… but the tongue-in-cheek lyrics (that are seemingly about getting an erection) really informed my interest in expanding my lyrics with double meanings, tropes, clichés, hyperbole, and on and on.
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Ween – 'Baby Bitch'
Gene and Dean Ween are a couple of weirdos I've looked up to for years. 'Baby Bitch' is a ballad about a painful breakup in which the protagonist reprimands their former lover (who left them) for barging back into their life at a time when the protagonist has moved on and is in a new relationship. It's a harsh tone is well understood by those of us who've experienced either side of an exhausted relationship in love burns even after its gone.
I feel the sincerity of this song crying through the speakers and it's this level of diary-style writing that inspired my willingness to write about my own struggles via "chasing my tail" and "carry me back".
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Supertramp – 'Breakfast In America'
Although this one comes from across the pond, I can relate to the sentiment of the title track from Breakfast in America. The content touches on the ever-present songwriter's pilgrimage to make it in Hollywood.
I've always interpreted the lyric "girlfriend" as an allusion to the songwriter's body of work. I address my own LA transplant experience in my attempts to write/record compositions that are worth listening to on almost every track on Skiptracing.
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Patrice Rushen – 'Settle For My Love'
I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered this track during a Youtube K-hole. The absolute clarity of the production paired with the poignancy of the lyrics make for a deep groove track worth studying. At the time it was made, Patrice Rushen was chastised by the jazz community for "selling out" because she was primarily a jazz pianist. However, decades later this track stands the test of time and continues to inspire generations of juxtapose and redefinition.
This track, along with a few others influenced my attempts to draw upon everything I had consumed and enjoyed up to that point to craft a musical collage that was (in post modern sense) unique to me.
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'Skiptracing' is out now.
Catch Mild High Club at the following shows:
31 Brighton The Hope & Ruin
1 London Moth Club