Dave Miller – Old Door Phantoms – ears & eyes

Multi-genre instrumental album of the year.

Dave Miller – Old Door Phantoms [TrackList follows] ears & eyes ee:16-046, 44:59 [4/1/16] ****:

(Dave Miller – guitar, Mellotron; Ben Boye – pianet, Wurlitzer electric piano, Mellotron; Matt Ulery – Fender bass; Quin Kirchner – drums, percussion)

You can’t peg guitarist Dave Miller. He’s juxtaposes jazz, rock and pop influences on his first solo outing, the 45-minute Old Door Phantoms. Miller is experienced at genre-jumping, having performed with John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann, Dan Tepfer, Colin Stranahan, Jeff Parker and many more from the improvisation/jazz scene. Miller taped his new album at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio located in Chicago, which is renowned for the many rock acts that have spent time there. Listening to these eight tracks is like being in a single room with Miller and his band: it has the impression and purity of a live recording, where the sound is analog-warm and the instruments seem to blend rather than be isolated.

Miller’s quartet was well chosen. Keyboardist Ben Boye has worked alongside roots singer Bonnie “Prince” Billy and outsider jazz group Darts & Arrows. Bassist Matt Ulery has released several records replete with beauty, depth and imagination. And drummer Quin Kirchner is also an alum of Darts & Arrows, as well as other likeminded ensembles. The tunes run a gamut of emotional terrain, from nature (“Animism” and “Bison Disciples”) to spirituality (“The Things I Don’t Know” and “Tree Worship”) to self-doubt (“For Too Much Longer”). Throughout, Miller’s instrumentals share a sense of openness; a calculated closeness which melds music from different eras; and approachable mannerism not necessarily undemanding.

Most of the pieces impart a rock-oriented tone. “Found Towns” has an early-‘70s rock perspective, with a portion of prog-rock and psychedelic-jam groove. “Found Towns” is heightened by Miller’s heavy riffs, Kirchner’s hardy tom-tom drums and Ulery’s reverberating Fender electric bass. It’s the kind of significant timbre which sometimes can be heard on records by the Bevis Frond or San Francisco’s the Mermen. The lengthy 7:15 “Bison Disciples” has a blues touch fronted by Miller’s revolving chords and Boye’s comfortable electric piano, like something Joe Walsh might have done if he had ever jammed with Southern rockers Sea Level. Miller explains it is about when he “accidentally came in frighteningly close proximity with two bison in the Badlands.” What could have turned gruesome instead became the impetus for one of the best jam/groove tracks not from the early seventies. Miller generates an energetic four-to-the-floor experience on the fast-moving “Last Call,” where Ulery and Kirchner maintain a speedy and thumping rhythmic foundation. At the conclusion of “Last Call,” the momentum careens upward and outward like a tidal wave in a teapot.

Events become spacy and meditative during “The Things I Don’t Know,” which Miller says is about “the vastness of the universe and one man’s knowledge of his infinitesimal place within it.”  Boye’s ghostly Mellotron rouses a denotation of classic rock, while Ulery and Miller’s jazz fills fashion a jazz fusion feel. The interplay between guitar and keyboards is particularly prominent. There is a comparable characterization to the contemplative “Animism,” which gets its title from the worldview that non-human entities (animals, plants and inanimate objects) all have a spiritual essence. After Miller establishes a modernistic melody coupled with a distorted arrangement, the quartet turns inward to produce a short ambient soundscape suffused with atmospheric guitar, washed keyboards and brushed cymbals. “Animism” ends the way it begins, with dense instrumentation and thick noise. Every cut evokes ‘60s and ‘70s material and is like something familiar but never heard before. It is appropriate Miller finishes with the well-known “Telstar,” a surf-rock instrumental originally done by the Tornadoes in 1962 and also a massive hit for the Ventures. “Telstar” fits alongside everything else on Old Door Phantoms. Miller’s translation is definitely one for the ages, as he and the band escalate the reverb to bring this space age number into the 21st century. Old Door Phantoms is the multi-genre instrumental album of the year. You aren’t likely to hear another one better than this. Someone needs to start the Grammy nomination process.

TrackList: Found Towns; Bison Disciples; The Things I Don’t Know; Last Call; Animism; For Too Much Longer; Tree Worship; Telstar.

—Doug Simpson

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