Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren. Not really because I like Todd Rundgren (although some of his Utopia stuff is cool...maybe?) but more because I like the idea of Todd Rundgren. A kid from the Philly suburbs discovering drugs for the first time and with a shit-ton of gear cranking out song, after song, after song. Writing and recording sprawling 2xLPs and writing and recording songs in the time it takes me to get out of bed and pour a bowl of cereal. The One and Only Matt Miller probably has little in common with the Runt aesthetically, but the comparison I like to draw from is the singer-songwriter as cloistered, self-contained composer. In the gatefold of Rundgren's album when shit first started getting real, is Rundgren standing in his living room, facing all of his recording equipment, guitar slung low across his waist with his arms extended triumphantly. In what is either hubris of preemptive fame, or a sly wink and a nod to other home-recording enthusiasts it speaks to the fact that the output containing your greatest ideas, best lines, most carefully crafted compositions are transcribed into mediums that are probably only representative of about 15 % of what went into them. The true fans, the ones getting the real show, are usually your 8-track recorder, massive tube amps and miles of stereo wire who hear everything in its intended, pristine brilliance.
Approaching Miller's studiously lo-fi, kitchen-sink composition decisions it makes me wonder if we are truly getting out what went in. Casio keyboards are supposed to sound underwater when recorded directly onto decaying strips of magnetic tape. But I get the feeling when I listen to the carefully-constructed, building compositions replete with full drum-kits, armies of synths and bass licks on Harasite that Miller has more in common with Rundgren than I first thought. These are aspirational songs that often work against the aesthetic of lo-fi homerecordings as much as with it.
There are moments on this tape, however, that are as stop-you-dead-in-your tracks brilliant and affecting if they recorded in some ludicrously expensive studio than in a cold and drafty row house in a decaying Midwestern city. Harasite is bursting at the seams with them. Miller's songwriting can turn a phrase like no one's business. Witness "Scientists and Zionists" agreeing on constructing a "Manna from Heaven Machine", Miller's younger-self protagonist "liter-roll-roll-roll-ly" falling down the mountain that the "rednecks have their hill climb", watching TV snow all night until re-runs come on in the morning. These are easy returns on a record that often requires repeated listening for the full weight of a metaphor to truly dawn on you and crush you in its relevance to your life, right then, that second.
Tracks on Harasite range from Rundgren-esque mini-symphonies of full rock band set up and swirling synth lines that induce a woozy, golden-tinged sense of giddiness. But much of this album is tinged with that unnamed sense of sadness/adrenal rush that comes with remembering forgotten emotions. Tracks like the massive crescendo-ing "The Virgin Suicides" makes me want to form a band immediately to recapture that ennui, rage and wonder that Miller can wring out of his distinctive voice that registers somewhere between downcast croak and soaring croon. Dude has pipes. Especially on "Boys, with the Blues, on red alert" where he sounds like Boz Scaggs. Which is amazing.
These are huge songs. Huge ideas full of small winks, nods and clever lines that slip past even the most astute listener on the first couple listens make this one of the most rewarding and fulfilling finds of 2014. Spend some time alone with this tape. No extended hubris on this. You hear the most shiver-inducing lines, the building, echoing voice of Miller pouring his soul into this tape machine. There is no saluting the means of production or studio wizardry. It is all there, more or less, in plain sight. Bare bones and prickled hair.