Fiona Apple made her debut at age 19 with 1996’s Tidal, which is certified triple Platinum. Rolling Stone named her Artist of the Year in 1997 and in 1998 she won a GRAMMY for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for one of the album’s singles, “Criminal.” When the Pawn…followed in 1999, and was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as “the work of an original.” In early 2005, fans organized a massive “Free Fiona” letter-writing campaign, insisting that her label release the long-delayed follow-up album, Extraordinary Machine. Released in the fall of 2005, Extraordinary Machine was named the top album of the year by The New York Times, which called it “magnificent,” and was awarded four stars by Rolling Stone, which praised it as her “strongest and most detailed batch of songs yet.” Five years later, Extraordinary Machine earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of the ’00s” list, underscoring how her work continues to resonate powerfully.
Fiona’s first album since 2005, The Idler Wheel, is a 2012 Grammy Nominee for Alternative Album of the year. She has received countless accolades taking over Top 10 album lists from such credible sources as Time Magazine, New York Times, Pitchfork, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Stereogum and more.
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. Here is the proof.
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