Melbourne-based psych jazz/jazz funk/jazz fusion outfit Mildlife — multi-instrumentalists Jim Rindfleish, Adam Halliwell, Kevin McDowell and Tom Shanahan — exploded into the national and international scenes with the release of their critically applauded 2017 full-length debut Phase, a mind-bending mesh of jazz, jazz fusion, krautrock and 70s psychedelia rooted in their now long-held penchant for trippy grooves. Phase received praise from Resident Advisor, Uncut, The Guardian and others, while landing several award nominations including Best Album at the 2018 Worldwide FM Awards, Best Independent Jazz Album at the 2018 AIR Awards and a Best Electronic Award nomination and win at the Music Victoria Awards.
Fittingly, the album became a word-of-mouth sensation among open-minded, crate-digging DJs searching for that perfect, seemingly undiscovered — or little-known funky groove. And adding to a growing profile, the Aussie psych jazz outfit won fans with a loose-limbed, free-flowing and improvisational-driven live show that led to touring with Stereolab, JOVM mainstays King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and Harvey Sutherland.
Building upon that momentum, Mildlife’s first national headlining tour was sold-out, and they quickly followed up with a ten-date UK and European Union tour.
Mildlife’s sophomore album, 2020’s Automatic was a stylistic shift for the acclaimed Aussie outfit. The album’s material was much more danceable, but while continuing their unerring knack for knowing when to let a track luxuriate and stretch out — without being self-indulgent. The album received critical applause internationally while earning the Aussie outfit an ARIA Award win.
Unable to play shows in person in front of living, breathing, sweating and dancing humans because of the pandemic, the band traveled by boat to a long-abandoned 19th century fort on South Channel Island, just outside of Melbourne, where they performed material from both Phase and Automatic for a 70-minute concert film and live album, Live from South Channel Island.
Slated for a March 1, 2024 release through Heavenly Recordings, the acclaimed Aussie outfit’s highly-anticipated third album Chorus is reportedly their most optimistic effort, serving as a sonic testament to their unwavering adoration for 70s psychedelic and comic sounds. But if you delve deeper, the listener will hear references to Polish jazz, Italo disco and a sprinkling of contemporary electronic sounds. The album is the dance of an endlessly expanding and contracting universe — its groove is forever and always, cyclical and evolving. During its most human moments, the album’s material luxuriates in the velvety embrace of Shanahan’s bass lines, Halliwell’s luminous guitar riffs, McDowell’s hushed and alluring vocals, Rindfleish’s intricate percussive tapestries and the spiritual rhythms of regular collaborator Craig Shanahan. Swept up in the chorus, the lines between individual and ensemble blur.
“It’s knowing that all the pieces of our own puzzles can slot neatly into a bigger one,” the band’s Tom Shanahan says. The album sees the members assurance vocally growing — both individually and as a band. On their previously released material, Kevin McDowell was the primarily vocalist but Chorus sees each member having a moment of expression, highlighting their own choral visions, while forging a new unified openness and humanity to their sound.
“We had this idea that we wanted to create a kind of disparate ecosystem of living things,” the band’s Tom Shanahan continues. “We liked the idea of creating a small metaphor of moving through space. You see moments of things and sounds that may not emerge again, until everything around you starts to unify.”
The album sees the members of Mildlife thematically linking microcosmic personal meaning with a macro view from on high. “Chorus is about a coming together of disparate elements. Not in some sort of utopian aesthetic where everything works perfectly, but in the natural flow and state of things,” shares the band’s Jim Rindfleish. “It’s about cosmic compatibility and chemistry: what makes things work? Not just what makes the band work, but what makes good music, art or love? It’s the rhythm of nature”.
Earlier this year, I wrote about Chorus‘ first single,” Return to Centaurus,” which was also their first bit of new material since 2020’s Automatic. Clocking in at a little over 10 minutes, “Return to Centaurus” opens with droning synths and leads into Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd-meets-space rock-like introduction, with Kraftwerk-like vocoders. By around the 2:40 mark, the song quickly morphs into some hook-driven acid funk with loping yet supple bass lines, shimmering funk guitar riffs, glistening space-age synths, bursts of fluttery flute and intricate yet propulsive drum patterns. Rooted in the Aussie outfit’s love of 70s psychedelic and cosmic sounds, the new single serves as a reminder of their seemingly effortless mastery of mind-bending and unhurried trippy grooves.
The album’s second and latest single “Musica” is built around a groove that’s one-part motorik, one-part glittery Giorgio Moroder-era Italo disco paired with squiggling, Nile Rodgers-like funk guitar, glistening synths and a supple bass line paired with McDowell’s hushed, gently vocodered vocal and propulsive congo-driven percussion with a spacey, Wish You Were Here-like synth solo. While seeing the band further cement their retro-futuristic sound, “Musica” reminds the listener — both new and familiar — that the Aussie outfit are modern masters of trippy, mind-bending grooves that draw from and effortlessly mesh elements of funk, jazz fusion, prog rock, komische musik and more.
“Musica” was crafted after hours of improvisation, touring and studio time, and honed over 100-plus shows across 23 countries over the past year alone; at the end of each night of the tour, the band would dedicate space in their legendary extended encores to lengthy improvisational passages, out of this “Musica” eventually coalescing from those jams.
From those origins, the track came to assume particular significance for guitarist Adam Halliwell, whose Italian heritage manifested in the lyrics. “When my Nona passed away, I realized I didn’t really know anything about my culture,” he says, having begun learning Italian since her passing a few years ago. “‘Musica’ started with ‘mi da la carica’, which means ‘gives me energy’. Some of the lyrics were written in Italian and then translated back to English a bit askew – almost like writing a song for Eurovision where the lyrics are not quite right”.
Directed by Hayden Somerville, the accompanying video for “Musica” is a cinematically shot surreal visual that’s seemingly one-part Coen Brothers and part film noir oddball odyssey set in rural Australia — with nods to the Autobahns of Mildlife’s long-held krautrock influences. There’s also a character who may be — or at least believes — that they’re part-human, part-machine, part keyboard. It’s fittingly as mind-bending as the song it accompanies.
“Listening to the track, the ‘part machine part human’ elements throughout ‘Musica’ were so fun to mess around with,” Somerville says. “Both of those worlds play against each other in a really pleasing way in the song. I think that’s where ‘Keyboard Arm’ came from. The thought of growing your own little instrument and having a jam with friends was lovely and the whole clip grew from there.”