Though effects are such an essential tool of so much alternative music, it’s rare to hear anyone use them in a constantly evolving way. Without fear and with precision, Totally Mild craft a powerful art-rock record on Her, blending elements of guitar-rock, synth pop and ambient music to deliver an album that is all but predictable.
Through electronic surges of life, the elegant vocals sweep in on “Sky” with a sense of majesty and a spiritual power. The cutting harmonies and evocative lyricism starts the snowball for the band to come in, setting up a subtle drop that gets the album going. “Pearl” jumps right into its swing however, giving deep grooves and explosive rock moments to signify “Sky” was more intro than overture. As the band blend all their rich textures into hard-hitting rock, the song takes on lush guitars and synths in ways that are so rare to find.
The subtle blues crawl gives a familiar footing to “Working Like A Crow” that allows Totally Mild to start taking risks with the sound right away. Though it’s less ambitious than much of the record, the dreamy qualities it evokes in a normally clean writing style give it a welcome unpredictability. There’s a wondrous pop that brightens up the record on “From One Another,” as the band unabashedly emote through infectious riffs and familiar stories. They also evoke a Belle & Sebastian-like quirk in not only their melodies but the way they switch gears in their chorus so heavily without ever losing their momentum.
Despite the tender and intimate piano of “Lucky Stars,” it’s such a jarring switch from the rest of the album that it struggles to deliver something truly substantial. While its story feels like a deep introspection and revealing moment, it hides too many details to let listeners really relate and connect. Frantic percussion and funky sensibility give a fun energy to “Today Tonight” as each section feels like a massive but understandable leap from the one that came before it. Mixing a spooky but also aggressively triumphant energy into their writing, Totally Mild create a punchy and iconic sound here.
Guitars slide around with warmth and a slick movement on “Underwater” as the band turn a simple guitar swing into something glossy and important to their emotion. As they subtly warp their guitars, the band make their instruments reflect the tones of disconnection and evolution they sing about. A retro guitar-rock drive pushes “Take Today” into Smiths territory while offering a sonic pallet that wouldn’t be there. Totally Mild’s fearlessness to minutely change their effects throughout even a single riff give the song an organic movement that elevates it to something sublime.
“More” carries a warm sadness that makes its stop-and-go rhythm feel like a reflection of the inner turmoil the lyrics suggest. Though the song’s chorus feels a little out of sorts with both itself and the song as a whole, the band’s empathetic arrangements tie it together enough. As the album is bookended with the sparse vocals of “Down Together” there’s a sense of growth in the certainty behind the lyrics this time around. The smoky groove that drives the song’s riffs, sets a base for its boundless tones that finds the band at their most ambitious.
Words by Owen Maxwell