Unlike Jeff Mills’ recent Purpose Maker-era, when creating one-dimensional dance building blocks became his central mission (utilized gruelingly by Richie Hawtin on Decks, EFX & 909), Lifelike showcases Mills’ ability to create compelling tracks which favor multilayered rhythms and melodies without giving up the dance floor. Tracks such as “Zenith” and “Solara,” the first with a series of quivering electronic vibrations and a teasing beat, and the second with a full-on futuro-romp of a bass line, are two such examples of a Mills aesthetic that has been nearly 20 years in the making.
Each track on the hour-plus album is built, in glorious Detroit fashion, with four or five different rhythmic layers, each filled with both subtlety and drive. From bass lines that push firmly and then quickly drop out (“Detached”), to keyboard and string riffs that glint off into the ether (the angelic “With/Dove”), Mills is in control of his muse throughout the record.
Expert and listenable. But he is not Sun Ra.
Mills still seems to think this sound, pioneered by the old Detroit guard more than a decade and a half ago, is still the cutting edge. To supposedly understand its nature, he has himself psychologically examined in the liner notes, “not by a music journalist, but by a professional. A doctor of human psyche.” The resulting 13 pages of outright Tofflerism/techno-babble, in which Mills nips at his own tail in defining what techno is or is not, is almost as self-absorbed as Mills displaying pictures of his hands at art exhibits. After a strong LP by Mills, this “adventure” into Mills’ psyche adds nothing to his music except to highlight its increasingly witless conceptual baggage.
Mills’ skills are unquestionable. His reified theoretical tenor, though, increasingly approaches irrelevance.
Carleton S. Gholz writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].