There is something deeply comforting about Maybe Another Time, the new LP project from Oakland’s Rob I. Miller (under the name Christian Singles). Created in the wake of his father’s returning cancer diagnosis, no listener would come in expecting that — understandably so, as examining complex familial relations does not normally inspire the warm fuzzies.
Perhaps that is because Maybe Another Time is less about pain laid bare and more about approaching it with some perspective. There are layers here – no moments of singular self-effacements or doomsday predictions. Even the hardest questions get delivered in soft packages. Take “Collapse,” one of the EP’s best tracks. It’s strangely dance-y, boasting a jumpy drum beat paired with some empty-room echoing guitars that allot a sense of undulating space to an otherwise anxious track. And indeed it is anxious; at the end of the song comes the line that feels like it may be the crux of the whole project: “Can you shake the collapse of your youth?”
Time is important on Maybe; the LP feels old without feeling outdated. There is something folky about it, but also something indie, but also — you get the picture. More than anything, it pulls up memories of listening to old Adam Schlesinger songs. A lot of the tracks on this project would fit in perfectly over a montage scene on an early 2000’s rom-com, but like, a cool one that became a cult classic. And then, years later, the song will pop up on the shuffle playlist and someone’s like, “Oh my god. I used to watch that movie every day after school.” And everyone else is like, “Me too!”
Miller — also a member of local bands Dick Stusso, Blues Lawyer, and Flex, and owner of the Vacant Stare Records label — has a diverse catalogue of experience, and used it to his advantage. He knows that no one wants to lie prone in the sludge of ennui for nine tracks, so most of them follow the footsteps of “Collapse,” using the instrumentation to create that sense of forward movement and sonic space that is so tantamount to those warm-and-fuzzy old releases. Think of — and please don’t sigh at me — “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. Basically, the build up may be long, but it’s worth it. This is a move that Miller uses more than once, most obviously on “Bury” and “By Design.”
The former is short and sweet, naturally moving into fuzzy guitar distortion over a cheerful tambourine as Miller chants, “digging up the past to bury again/trying to make sense of where I am.” The latter is a bit more of a slow burn at over four minutes, but what may have otherwise been a foot-dragging track redeems itself on the second half with a more complex mixture of distortion than in “Bury.”
Miller occasionally makes the move towards more simplistic country-lite, like in “A Dream Ends Without Starting,” but his strengths definitely lie in layering as opposed to trying to carry us all over the finish line with only an acoustic guitar and the light of the trembling moon. Or whatever.
A better example of his more stripped-down work is “Rest Easy.” While a lot of the other tracks may need the context of the background to catch onto the themes, this is one of the most explicit, and this is why it works as one of the few examples of that familial pain laid bare. Like “Dream,” it stays simple throughout, but the more specific lyrics and a sense of peaceful venerability anoint it with the substance it needs to work: “I know you never really understood me,” Miller sings. “But you always tried.” With a project as personal as this, Miller might’ve fallen into the trap of forcing others to understand his perspective; on Maybe Another Time, his biggest strength is meeting us halfway.
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