Ben Millburn’s Sunglass Moustache
Ben Millburn’s Sunglass Moustache is more than just a kitchen sink hodgepodge of styles; it’s a personal statement, first rate musical entertainment, and a work of popular art. The eleven song collection embraces an assortment of styles and, in lesser hands, the album might prove a disjointed and unsatisfying listen. Sunglass Moustache, instead, shows confident fluency with many different textures while still maintaining a consistent artistic aesthetic that gives the release a strong foundation. Austin, Texas via Louisiana underlies Ben Millburn’s songwriting and recording the songs at a first class modern studio, Austin’s renowned Church House, gives the album an unique aural flavor unrivaled by recent releases. Three of the album’s eleven songs are improvisational, but there’s an inspired air surrounding Sunglass Mustache.
One of those improvisational numbers, “I Feel Something”, begins the release with an intoxicating dose of fatalistic sleek New Wave styled material spiked with a light touch of guitar driven psychedelia. The use of keyboards gives the performance added color without ever becoming omnipresent – they are utilized in a compositional way. The unsettled melodies and lead guitar fills scattered throughout the song are effective and there’s a tangible Grateful Dead influence in the air without ever becoming too pronounced. The risk-taking inside the first song is equally apparent in “Mr. Tuxedo”, but the hypnotic guitar work and vocals have a much different musical presence than the comparatively traditional slant of the opener. The trippy, uneasy strands running through “I Feel Something” are livelier here. There’s a short but potent guitar solo near the song’s end.
There’s a strong “Texas” feel defining “Call Me King” reflected in its echo laden electrified acoustic beginning the song, but the cut soon shifts into more of the slightly hallucinatory, dreamy sound successfully explored in the preceding song. There are clear, straight-forward pop songs at the heart of performances like this, but Millburn and his collaborators wrap and lay a number of imaginative layers around each song.”ABCD” has a swaggering, assertive beat from the first, a bit of wah wah added into the introduction, and tasty lead guitar work woven through the track like strands of light. Millburn’s vocal is especially effective here, but the backing vocals really enrich the lead in surprising ways. The patient, meandering pace of “Mr. Taco” sets an early tone for an instrumental track brimming over with melody and even a whiff of retro soul. The keyboards play a crucial part in getting things over, but the gradual coalescing of elements here is the most impressive aspect of the song.
“Shoot It” has the same considered tempo we’ve heard on earlier numbers and heavy-footed drums swathed with echo punctuate the pace in a forceful way. The jagged grind of guitar riffing in the song’s second half changes up the mood again while still keeping the song coherent and accessible for listeners. The slinky blues streaked slide of the song’s central riff is the primary hook for “The Beat” and it has a recognizable quality many listeners will latch onto fast, but the title song sends us deeper into artful territory than we’ve traveled so far, albeit successfully. There are human voices heard scatting and wailing throughout the song, but this is largely instrumental in nature despite some added voice over touches. Sunglass Moustache is an album of contrasts; guitar rock colliding with traditional musical influences, nearly progressive rock like keyboards wrapping their warm lines around sinewy quasi-jam band workouts, and topped off by a superior production job thanks to Millburn and Grant Johnson. Underneath it all, however, are eleven thoroughly realized songs open ended up to serves as blank canvases for Ben Millburn and his band mates’ creativity.