In his recorded work, including his just-released Kiss It Goodbye, singer-songwriter Mills is generally surrounded by a klatch of critically acclaimed utility players from the Chicago indie rock community. Among them: Drag City's Edith Frost; Lambchop veteran Deanna Varagona; Kelly Hogan, formerly of the Jodie Grind and Rock aTeens; Mekon and Waco Brothers founder Jon Langford; Gerald Dowd and Ryan Hembry, who comprise the rhythm section of Pinetop Seven; and Red Red Meat drummer Brian Deck, who, besides Mills, counts Modest Mouse among his production credits.
The result has an energy rarely found in a traditional studio recording. Thoughtful sequencing and an artful mix make the record a cohesive whole, but the spirit of the tracks belies their inspiration: "Hey! I've got some cash; let's hit the studio." You can feel the vibration of ideas bouncing off the walls.
The best example is the closing track, "Signal/Noise," in which Mills cozies up to the bathroom floor as the static of his long-distance relationship holds forth against an extended swell of Phil Spector-like production, including girl-group sha la las, an assortment of drum fills, strings, and just about everything else but the bathroom sink.
At the hard, magnetic core of all this, though, are Mills' brittle tales, brackish voice and believable emotion. Like his engaging personality, these have the greatest impact on their own.
And it's no small impact that can have you singing to yourself, "I think I'll let my kids play with guns," the catchy chorus of a vignette of spousal victimhood, or pondering' "What's a little nigger joke between friends?" from "All You Ever Do," a scathing put-down of pretension. Pretension just isn't Mills' thing.
Chris Mills appears Saturday, August 12, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Troy Olsen opens the show at 9 p.m. Call 670-9202 for more information.