Review: Rory McMillan, Remember This, Vol. 1
Rory McMillan, Remember This, Vol. 1
Instrumentalist Rory McMillan hails from the Deep South in the United States, but if one didn’t know for a fact that he is a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, one would swear that he was from somewhere in Europe. That is because he specializes in electronica that is very European-sounding, and he gets a great deal of inspiration from European artists such as Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno (who had a major impact on ambient electronica after he left Roxy Music and recorded classic solo albums like 1975’s Another Green World). That European influence was evident on McMillan’s last album, Sutherland Avenue Hymns (which came out in 2014 and was his first full-length album), and it is no less evident on Remember This, Vol. 1.
This 2015 release, in terms of instrumentation, is a departure from Sutherland Avenue Hymns. On that album, McMillan combined electronic programming with acoustic instruments that included ukulele, acoustic guitar and electric bass. Some electronica purists might argue that because Sutherland Avenue Hymns was not 100% electronic from start to finish, it was not really electronica. But the synthesizers, in fact, dominated that album; they were the main course, while the ukulele and the acoustic guitar were an appealing side dish (his publicity bios have described that approach as “folktronica”). But on Remember This, Vol. 1, McMillan changes course and opts for an all-electronic direction. There is no ukulele or acoustic guitar to be found on “Dream Cruisin’,” “Electro Mystery Panic,” “Race You to the Stars” or “Melting Ice.” His Knoxville colleague Nick Miller helps with drum programming, but this time, McMillan becomes even more digital and abandons acoustic string instruments.
Yet compositionally, “Moving Spaces,” “Winter’s Promise” or “A Beach Bum’s First Love” is not radically different from the composing on Sutherland Avenue Hymns. The McMillan heard on “Grey Mouse Escapes Space Mountain” or “Moving Spaces” still has a sound that is consistently mindful of European electronica, and the influence of Kraftwerk, Moroder or Eno is no less evident on “Electro Mystery Panic” or “A Beach Bum’s First Love” than it was on the material he offered on Sutherland Avenue Hymns.
Electronica is a broad, far-reaching term. When one considers that everything from the most harsh, abrasive and blistering of techno to ethereal, lush chillout and downtempo is part of electronica, it becomes evident just how diverse electronica is. And Remember This, Vol. 1, demonstrates that McMillan operates on the more melodic side of electronica. Remember This, Vol. 1, like Sutherland Avenue Hymns before it, never becomes angry, confrontational or dissonant. In fact, McMillan brings a good-natured outlook to “Melting Ice,” “Winter’s Promise” and other selections. And the fact that Remember This, Vol. 1 is totally digital does not mean that any of the performances sound cold, distant, mechanical or aloof. McMillan brings a lot of warmth to the material, demonstrating that there is no reason at all why programmed music should sound mechanical or unfeeling.
For musicians, going for any type of change of direction can be risky. Followers can get used to a particular type of approach from an artist, and when the artist goes for something that is different from previous recordings, some of them might resist change. In McMillan’s case, there will no doubt be some admirers who enjoyed the blend of electronic programming and acoustic string instruments that he offered on Sutherland Avenue Hymns and will wonder why he did not stick with the “folktronica” approach, as his publicity bios have called it. But that switch from heavily digital to strictly digital has not caused McMillan’s music to suffer in any way. He still gets his points across as both a composer and a producer. And he still performs European-style electronica so convincingly that those who hear Remember This, Vol. 1without reading about the details of his life and career will likely assume that he is from Europe.
But no, McMillan is as American as apple pie. And with Remember This, Vol. 1 he continues to deliver thoughtful, pleasing electronica.
Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars out of 5