Over the years I’m sure you got a whiff of Chromatics founder Adam Miller’s love for the meditative compositions of guitar-focused musicians like Vini Reilly/Durutti Column and Michael Rother, particularly as the band made its mid-Aughts shift in genre. However, on Miller’s first album since he, Ruth Radelet, and Nat Walker announced Chromatics’ end last August, that musical sentiment is much more explicit.
Free of the fruitful but restrictive palette of Italians Do It Better’s former flagship band — which Miller started in Seattle in 2002 and which by its end found itself featured multiple times in Twin Peaks: The Return and on the Drive Soundtrack — Miller is able to fully embrace a beautiful and contemplative journey through instrumental music.
Miller recorded the 18-track Gateway, released Friday on his Inner Magic label, between 2010 and 2020 with a very specific vision. He has said he recorded a good chunk of the album as meditations.
“When I’m in a good workflow, I usually start my day off by just picking up a guitar, zoning out, and recording whatever is passing through the quantum field at the time,” he said in a statement. “It’s a visceral process. I’m usually at my purest creatively at the very beginning of the day…”
There is indeed a crepuscular quality to the music that speaks to those moments just before dawn and just before dusk — when you’re feeling some mix of optimism and resolve or trepidation and uncertainty. It’s that lovely and ephemeral “in-between” period that often lends itself to pronounced avenues of both internal and external interconnectedness.
Miller opens Gateway with “Lost Guitar,” which reveals a chord progression and clean electric guitar interplay reminiscent of his work on those most ruminative Chromatics tracks. Ironically, he doesn’t sound lost at all. Here, it’s clear that Miller is in command.
Even so, there’s a weary foreboding that reminds the listener that just as a new adventure can start with unbridled excitement and anticipation, there is also the deep sense of apprehension. In general, it can’t be easy to leave something you’ve built for 20 years and which reached a bona fide cult and mainstream-adjacent status.
The intricately woven (and fantastically catchy) melodies of “The Lucky Star” come next, paving the way for the serene ambience of “Glimmerlight” with its splash of electronic percussion. Later on, “Hidden Entrance” pairs distant synth colors with an arrangement that loosely suggests what Jonny Greenwood would have sounded like had he came up in post-war Germany.
“Night Bloom” is an Eno-esque guitar reflection that delicately walks into film score cue territory. The delightfully slow-paced melodies have a knack for ungluing the pollution that clogs one’s thoughts. Noticeably, the number has a way of rocking back and forth between longing and bliss that makes this a standout track. (A gorgeous later track, “Blue Energy,” feels like a complement to this cut.)
A tempered electronic explosion and Robert Smith-minded melodies dominate “Libra,” which has a light but pronounced synth accompaniment that recalls the most cinematic moments of his former band. The guitars pluck along with a marked confidence, with Miller’s fingers weaving an intricate, multi-tracked tapestry.
The measured title cut and “Voyeur” occupy the album’s midway point, offering up particularly compelling opportunities for listeners to take part in a practice that Miller has championed for this record: noticing the space between the notes. After all, that absence is just as necessary as perceptible sound for the success of a piece.
“Hologram,” a short but inherently stand-out cut, works like a blast of time-burnt Philip Glass. Its guitars and mellotron circle around each other in minimal, repetitive statements that serve as an important dose of ablution to compel the listener toward the album’s closing quarter.
“The Shared Dream” and “Alien Summer” serve as noteworthy closers to the record. The former is a bit of a suite. It kicks off with minimalist, minor-key plucking that slowly weaves a deep sense of presence with the self before unfurling a hypnotic melody to cap off the contemplation.
By the closing notes of Gateway, it’s obvious that Miller has a clear vision for the next stage of his music career. He’s going to be authentic to his artistic vision and not get sucked into distracting tangents. Is it a risk? Sure. He could have easily just started another Chromatics-type band that would have been all over Pitchfork and Stereogum and which would have pleased the scores of fans who are awaiting no shortage of long-promised Chromatics material. But why bother?
As with the music we’ve heard from post-Chromatics Radelet, and post-Chromatics/post-Glass Candy Nat Walker and Ida No, it’s far better to live in your truth than someone else’s. Whoever that someone else is.
You can buy the album on vinyl, CD, and download from Inner Magic/Adam Miller’s Bandcamp page. Tour dates are imminent, so be sure to check out Bandcamp for that information, too.
BTW, check out the video he did below with this live band. It’s a blast.