This isn't an advertisement, but some pre-orders of Milagres' Glowing Mouth comes packaged with a set of adorable boy band-esque trading cards. The Brooklyn quintet answer various fan club-type questions that are pretty comical. Lead singer-songwriter and guitarist Kyle Wilson spills the beans about his dream car, first crush, and favorite food. Fraser McCulloch (bass, backing vocals, keys), Eric Schwortz (guitar, backing vocals, percussion), Chris Brazee (piano/keys), and Steven Leventhal (drums/percussion) divulge details on first kisses, favorite video games, turn-ons, pet peeves, and favorite drinks.
This is all quite ridiculous, even for promotional material, but once you spend some time seeping in Milagres' rich piano and keyboard-centric tracks, the cards become even more incongruous. Milagres are a serious band with serious ambitions. For a sophomore full-length, Glowing Mouth cuts a deep and emotionally charged swathe. Falsettoed, gloomy, and chamber-ready indie music is a genre with a glut of antecedents. Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, The Antlers, The National, Grandaddy, and Bon Iver are just some of the bands that have fashioned careers out of sullen songcraft about romance and a lack thereof.
The psych-pop band was originally named The Secret Life of Sofia and self-released two EPs and one LP (2008’s Seven Summits) under the moniker. Their new stage name, Milagres, is Portuguese for “miracles.” As such, Glowing Mouth is a luminescent wonder of second album after Milagres re-released Seven Summits last year under their new moniker. The press release legend tells us that Kill Rock Stars head Portia Sabin signed the band sight-unseen (a first for the lauded Portland imprint).
From beginning to end, Glowing Mouth cascades over your ears with cavernous piano and keyboards, classically-influenced guitars, lush strings, hip-hop percussion, and Wilson’s heavenly falsetto. Staccato-voiced album opener "Halfway," sucks the listener down Milagres' sonic rabbit hole. Wilson sings of relational ruin as a dream-pop soundscape unfurls in majestic whorls. Around the halfway mark, the fivesome switches to a droning beat. Wilson sings, “Maybe wave your hand/ Maybe smile a bit/ What a waste of skin/ We are all thrown forth into the void." He strikes a true balance of musical vigor and emotional trepidation here and elsewhere on the album. It would be Glowing Mouth's highlight were it not for the two tunes that follow it. On "Here to Stay," Milagres build off the surging opener with an imagistic track brimming with Millennial dread and an obstinate hope for resolution. Wilson's claustrophobic lyrics are complimented by a shadowy and restrained playing from his band.
The back story of Glowing Mouth's recording also aligns well with the mood and melodic mise-en-scène of the song suite. Wilson was stricken with writer's block a few years back, and he fled to the snowy climes of British Columbia, where he quickly injured his back while rock climbing. He penned Glowing Mouth while bedridden, lusting after the natural world like a lover. The results are often admirable.
Florid chamber-pop ("Doubted") and dreamy funk grooves (the title track) keep the energy alive. Glowing Mouth, like many albums fueled by solitary confinement, is not an album for every occasion. These tracks are best played after night has fallen in your neck of the woods. Most tracks are arranged with the fall and winter in months in mind.
Since the song subjects are mostly dire or at least bittersweet, the replay value diminishes here and there. For every slippery summer anthem in the first half of the record, there are chilled out pieces that don't light as big of a fire under you. The classic guitar and nearly tropical rhythm on "Lost in the Dark" propel a cathartic melody. Sadly, all these choice elements are waylaid by some silly keyboard sounds about a third of the way through. Leventhal's ever-adroit percussion keeps it together long enough for the acoustic guitar to rescue the outro.
On the other hand, "Gentle Beast" is a poignant tale of puppy love and middle school note-writing on wide rule paper. The nostalgic keyboard keeps time quite well and the guitar. For The National and Leonard Cohen-esque "Fright of Thee," Wilson conjures up some haunting death imagery about pigs skewered on sticks and being lost in a field "where the flesh meets the bone." It's a song that never gets the Earth-shattering conclusion it so deserves.
"Moon On the Sea's Gate," Gone," and "For Disposal" are spacious and chiaroscuroed ruminations on doomed relationships, obsession, and solitude. The nature images conjured by Wilson are highly entropic and mostly engaging. If a friend told you "For Disposal" was a Grizzly Bear tune you wouldn't bat an eye. Its lyrics are thoroughly heartrending.
"To Be Imagined" starts as an acoustic guitar piece before following suit with the rest of the keyboard effects and driving percussion locking in to place. The power of the album's first half begins to trail off with each angelic coo of "take my advice." The electronic beat keeps things fresh, though. One of Glowing Mouth's major faults is its uniformity. It's also one of its prime assets.
The voice-and-piano ballad "Doubted" is a stark choice for a denouement. The drums lap onto the rest of the tune in soft swells. It's a whimpering end to a release that can be forlorn, frustrating at times, and hair-raising at others. Glowing Mouth isn't the ultimate revelation it sets out to be, but Milagres put on a charming show. Hey, you might even get emotional. Remember these guys in a few years when they release their full-bodied third album under the producing guidance of Chris Coady or Nicholas Vernes. Keep the boy band trading cards as a reminder of how far they've come.