An offbeat rumination on love, Debbie Miller’s new EP Measures + Waits finds a way to pull no punches, even as it pulls a few jokes — no easy task.
Credit Miller who, across this sophomore release’s five songs — one of them recorded live — walks the fine line between letting you in and putting you on with grace and no small amount of emotional resonance. That contrast, often echoed in the music itself, gives Measures + Waits this memorable, narrative heft.
“Inch by Inch,” episodic and deeply engaging, begins with this Seattle resident singing in close harmony with herself over a plucky rhythm — belying the rumbling emotions just beneath the song’s whimisical, writerly lyric. By the time she gets to the song’s midpoint, though, Miller’s multi-tracked vocals have untangled, giving full flight to the song’s contemplative ruminations. Then, “Inch by Inch” simply bursts into its final third — as Miller’s world seems to break apart, right there in the studio: “Just so you know, my love for you is the color yellow,” she sings, capturing the ineffable way that people can weave themselves into our imaginations.
Along the way, Measures + Waits offers no easy answers, refuses to take the easy way out: “Much Longer,” spare and diaphanous, moves even deeper into Miller’s questions about love’s ambiguities. She counts the passing of time, and the way that things inevitably change, with a sense of both wonder and shattering sadness — the combination of which might best be described as reverent acquiescence. She then comes bursting out with the quirky piano number “It’s Been A Day,” exploring the sun-streaked distractions of early romance with a winking joy. They’re two sides of the same coin, but so very different — and the perfect example of how this project deftly sorts through the dizzying hopes, and the smoking wreckage, that these affairs bring.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Debbie Miller showed us from the first, on her terrific 2010 debut, that she could tie up the emotional threads which draw love together: the disappointment, the longing, the joy.]
“Brand New Album,” in direct counterpoint to its trickling guitar accompaniment, finds Miller quietly addressing a distracted and distant lover — and, with each verse, it becomes more clear just how distant. She’s describes her day, admits how little of it seems to matter when not shared inside the warm circle of their love, finally admits to not even speaking the last time they passed on the street. Yet, her desire has nehver flickered, even as time has passed. Miller writes with such glowing specificity that she takes us right into her heart: “I know that it’s been a while,” she sings, “but I would die to see you smile one more time, at something silly I’ve done.” A similarly captivating juxtaposition propels “What She’s Got,” this torrent of hurt (“what’s she got that I don’t got? Well, besides you?”) that Miller fashions into a rousing, if brief, rockabilly romp.
Finally, there’s “Snippets from a Bathroom Stall,” a live recording from New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall that includes a series of scribbled lines found around various saloon toilets. The song, like much of Measures + Waits, is a bundle of intriguing contradictions — some of it’s funny, some of it’s silly, some of it’s profane, and some of it deeply connects, as when Miller sings: “Roses are red, fuck all the rest — I wish you were dead.”
In this way, Miller has taken us perhaps to the end of this ride across a relationship’s rocky terrain. Still, you get the sense that she’s gassed up and ready to start the journey all over again. Lucky us.
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