Ambertron is the first full-length album by Mint Mile, a musical concern from Chicago, Illinois.
Amber is a preservative. It’s used to hold things in suspension, to keep them still forever so they can be examined and appreciated. It imparts a tint to what it holds.
-tron is a suffix indicating an instrument.
Art is an ambertron. Bands are ambertrons.
Mint Mile is helmed by Tim Midyett, who spent eighteen years in the acclaimed Silkworm, eight more in the critically lauded Bottomless Pit and currently plays bass with SUNN O)))).
After three four-song EPs in as many years, Mint Mile piles up the tunes on Ambertron with over an hour of music across this sprawling, dare-we-say epic double LP. From stripped-down twisters to languid drifters to opulent jams alternately joyous, gripped, hopeful and desolate, Ambertron explores the optimistic, rueful space between the personal and global, the emotional and political, and the places (sometimes dark) where memory and reality meet and sometimes disagree with each other.
Baritone guitar, pedal steel, rock solid rhythms predominate, with keyboards, strings, horns, and atmosphere woven into the mix as expert spices.
The Mint Mile cast includes:
-Tim Midyett (Silkworm, Bottomless Pit, SUNN O)))) sings and plays mostly baritone guitar.
-Jeff Panall (Songs: Ohia) is on drums.
-Justin Brown (Palliard) plays pedal steel, most of the electric guitar, and dobro.
-Matthew Barnhart (Tre Orsi) handles almost all bass and most of the engineering.
-Howard Draper (Shearwater, Tre Orsi) does his magic spackling thing.
-Greg Norman (Bitter Tears) plays the trumpet.
Mint Mile were fortunate to be enlivened by a variety of talented guests, from corners of music as varied as Helen Money (Alison Chesley), Poi Dog Pondering (Susan Voelz), modern classical music (Mabel Kwan), and Glen Hansard’s band (Rob Bochnik). Then there’s the all-world vocalist Kelly Hogan, with whom Tim was thrilled to work again, after her contributions to Silkworm’s Italian Platinum so long ago.
Kalamazoo’s OUT features Chafe Hensley, TJ Larmee, Mark Larmee, and Ike Turner. OUT grew naturally out of a couple of areas: the relegation of Chafe, Mark and Ike’s other band, Minutes, to cryogenic stasis, and the icing of the short-lived Shark Beach.
Around the summer of 2015, TJ, Mark and Chafe would get together to jam, play Fruit Ninja, and bro-down on the regular. This evolved into writing songs and covering The Cure. Eventually, Ike wormed his way into the group, bringing only La Croix as an offering. They played their first show in December of 2015 and have been steadily active.
OUT spent the summer of 2016 recording their album “Swim Buddies” (cmo040) and playing shows around the Great Lakes region. Their second record “Billie” followed in 2020.
Owen Ashworth’s albums have always been about the human condition, and his latest is no exception. That may sound strange, given that it’s called Animal Companionship, but it’s as human as anything he’s done before.
After hearing problems forced the end of his electronic pop project Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in 2010, Ashworth started making quieter music as Advance Base, releasing A Shut-In’s Prayer in 2012, Nephew In The Wild in 2015 and a slew of tapes and 7” EPs in between. After releasing a 2016 live album, In Bloomington, the prodigious songwriter shifted his focus to his label, Orindal Records, and put his efforts into helping other artists release their music.
This break from songwriting gave him time to explore not just how he makes music, but why he’s driven to do so. “I spent a lot of time thinking about why I write songs and what I get out of writing songs,” he said. “It took a while to get back to writing for myself, unselfconsciously.
“The reason I’ve always made music is because it’s therapeutic for me,” he said. “It’s a way of processing my feelings and understanding my subconscious. I love the ritual of writing a song and performing it over and over again until its meaning reveals itself. It’s the closest I get to meditation.”
The meditative nature of Ashworth’s new songwriting process can be heard in Animal Companionship’s spacious arrangements. Blissful drones and lush synthesizer textures envelop soft electric piano arpeggiations and spare drum programming, creating an almost hypnotic backdrop for Ashworth’s lyrical narratives. And the lyrics themselves have found a new focus: dogs.
“There was a while last year when a bunch of different friends of mine were having problems with their dogs,” said Ashworth, “and even though I don’t have a dog, suddenly I was giving all of this dog advice. I was just thinking and worrying about these friends and their dogs all of the time, and dogs just started showing up in my songs.
“When you explain the relationship you have with a pet, it can sound crazy. We all tend to anthropomorphize the animals we love, talking about them as if they’re children, siblings, even spouses,” said Ashworth. “I wrote these songs to help myself understand what pets mean to their owners, how those animal relationships affect our human relationships, and vice versa.”
Unlike the previous Advance Base albums, which were made at home on Ashworth’s trusty 4-track tape machine, Animal Companionship was mostly recorded at Palmetto Studios in Los Angeles with Ashworth’s old friend and former Casiotone for the Painfully Alone collaborator Jason Quever. Animal Companionship still sounds like Ashworth, but Quever’s production adds more depth and clarity than you’ve ever heard from an Advance Base or Casiotone album. The album opener, “True Love Death Dream,” is full of warm synthesizer textures and lush drum machine tones, the kind that sink deep into your soul and take root there. It shows how much time and consideration Ashworth put into Animal Companionship, and how Quever knew exactly how to capture it. From the pedal steel atmospherics of “Dolores & Kimberly” to the densely layered oscillations of “Rabbits,” every movement beautifully frames each song’s narrative. Animal Companionship’s production is expansive but always deliberate, allowing Ashworth to speak volumes through subtle, emotional gestures.
Taken as a whole, Animal Companionship is not just a step forward for Advance Base—it’s the culmination of everything Ashworth has been building for the past two decades. It’s a record that’s gentle in approach and endearing in practice, the kind of thing that only Ashworth could create.
Animal Companionship was co-released by Run For Cover Records & Orindal Records on September 21, 2018.