It’s a straightforward, difficult-to-Google proclamation that belies a wry, self-aware sense of humor and a lack of concern for popular acclaim.
“Heavy Years: 2000-2010” is a great introduction to his enthusiastic, acoustic-based, alt-country/rock/pop ballads. His well-developed melodic touch (horns everywhere!) and impressive lyrics show that although Mills knows all the rules, he has more fun breaking them. “You shine like something that shines / And you ring like something that rings / There are no words to describe such a beautiful thing,” Mills delivers in “Such a Beautiful Thing,” investing an abysmal, self-parodying songwriting move with meaning.
The gravitas of his voice sells the whole thing beautifully, and you’ll probably not even realize that if Justin Bieber sang it, you’d want to punch your radio’s lights out. The album is full of these types of situations, most notably “Watch Chain” (which punks the main caveat of “I Will Survive”) and “Atom Smashers” (which features perhaps some of the most self-aware lines ever).
His voice is the element sitting one down on the “best things” list from his lyrics. A comfortable mid-range, it never seems stressed or challenged. His mouth opens, and a voice falls out. Mills is almost the quintessential “phone book” voice: He could read the listings, and it would still be riveting, thanks to the nuances of his well-controlled voice.
The album collects 14 songs, giving you nearly an hour of singer/songwriter goodness. Because this is essentially a greatest-hits collection from an artist who (sadly, unfairly, incorrectly) has no hits, there is almost zero filler. The one exception is “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which sounds exactly as histrionic as the title insinuates. Skip.
From the jaunty, saloon-esque opener of “You Are My Favorite Song” to the abrupt starts and stops of “Escape from New York,” this album delivers engaging tunes from the beginning to the end. Fans of Josh Ritter, The Format’s quieter work and well-orchestrated alt-country will love it. —Stephen Carradini