Chris Milam had a bad year.
Following a broken engagement, Milam lost everything but what he could fit in his car. Then, while on tour, that car—and everything in it—was stolen. Milam found himself with only a bag of clothes and a stack of questions: what happens when your plans fail? Where do you go when your future disappears?
Chris Milam went to the studio with a dozen new songs that tackle these questions and define his sound. He emerges after months of recording with an eagerly-anticipated new album: Kids These Days (out April 7 on Namesake Records).
For the project, Milam teamed up with Memphis producer Toby Vest [High/Low Recording, Memphis TN]. To fund the recording, Milam spent a year without a home–couch-surfing, pet-sitting, troubadouring—saving for studio time rather than rent. He called in Memphis musicians Greg Faison (drums), Pete Matthews (bass), Luke White (guitar), Jana Misener (cello) Krista Wroten (violin), and Vest (keys, effects) to illustrate the tension, loneliness, and loss in each song.
“We wanted the record to feel atmospheric, dynamic, and unpredictable,” Milam says. “It was important to me that these songs were built around live takes. Memphis musicians have a way of filling a song with life—beautiful, weird life.”
On March 3, Milam releases the album’s first single, title track “Kids These Days.” It introduces the darker sounds and carefully-layered arrangements found throughout the album. These sounds evolved in the studio, but started with an atmospheric vocal, shimmering guitar, haunting strings, and a driving drumbeat.
“Toby and I talked about combining elements of folk and classical with elements of rock and even hip hop. On one hand: there are ethereal strings and bright guitar tones. Then underneath: this cold, ominous backbeat.”
Milam’s gift for melody and lyricism revisits earlier comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel (Bookends). But this album also evokes richly-orchestrated works by R.E.M. (Automatic for the People) and Chris Bell (I Am the Cosmos). Reflecting the songs themselves, Milam’s voice has matured: plaintive vibratos shift in a flash to a shout, growl, or croon.
From its first moment, the single typifies an album full of inflection points, exploring the ways in which Kids These Days aren’t kids any more. The LP tells a story of heartache and recovery while each song examines a different answer to an underlying question: “what now”?
“Kids These Days,” “Autumn,” and “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” form a breakup trilogy: the moment before, the breaking point, and the chaos that follows. The buoyant pop of “Half Life” fades, enacting love’s diminishing returns. Other tracks seek answers in addiction (“New Drug,” “Coldweather Girls”), escape and celebrity (“Hey, Hollywood”), and nostalgia (“When I Was Young”). Spirituality takes the form of a supplicant’s cry for help (“Prayer #4). In “All Of Our Ghosts,” all roads lead back to a harsh reality and uncertain future. A final moment of hard-won optimism (“The Sun Isn’t Up”) precedes a fitting epilogue. Ultimately, the album ends where Milam’s journey began: with questions.
“I’ve read about my generation growing up for a long time. But we’re here—we’re in our twenties and thirties. And I know a lot of folks who, despite hard work and good intentions, aren’t where they thought they’d be. Maybe they’re even starting over. I hope that, by telling my story, other people see theirs in it.”
For Chris Milam, Kids These Days isn’t a break-up record; it’s a break from record. The loss of a defining relationship carried with it the loss of youth. And it’s a break from that path, and that youth, that this record truly mourns.
“The video for Chris Milam’s “Kids These Days”, shot by Andrew Trent Fleming, and co-directed by Milam and Ben Siler, rings true to the struggles of the small timer trying to break in to the business. But it’s not all grim grind—there are little moments of magic that keep Milam going. It’s those evocative mood swings that make this video work so well.” – Chris McCoy, The Memphis FLyer
“A dynamic and beautifully layered sound. Kids These Days is an atmospheric, dark and thoughtful collection. Highly recommended.” – Rob Dickens, No Depression
“Kids These Days could easily fall under the catch-all of Americana, but it’s more than just that. It’s gritty guitars and incredibly tasteful strings, and Milam’s versatile voice that easily sweeps to an elegant falsetto from ragged emotion. … rich and heartbreaking.” – Melissa Bratcher, PopShifter
“His strongest collection of songs to date.” – J.D. Reager, The Memphis Flyer
“Milam pulls together a song cycle that shows his continued evolution as skilled writer of emotional indie-pop.” – Bob Mehr, The Commercial Appeal
“These 12 songs are a fresh start and a declaration of who Chris wanted to be from that day forward. It’s a musical journey.” – Josh Terzino, Music Defined
“The track exemplifies a collection of songs of nuanced emotional intensity, both in terms of their lyrical preoccupations and their compelling musical arrangements.” – Exclusive premiere of “Kids These Days,” Graeme Blackwell, Skinback Alley
Listen Up: 12 Shows To See in Memphis in April 2017 + Chris Milam Ticket Giveaway! – I Love Memphis Blog
Our SXSW 2017 Top 20: Chris Milam at No. 18 – Concentus Music
Chris Milam – “Kids These Days” – Paste Magazine
Daily Discovery: Chris Milam, “Autumn” – American Songwriter
Daytrotter Session: Chris Milam – Daytrotter
High/Low Recording developing into musical hub – The Commercial Appeal
Music Video Monday: Chris Milam – “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” – The Memphis Flyer
Music Video Premier: Chris Milam – “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” – Music. Defined.
Q&A with Memphis Singer-Songwriter Chris Milam – Wilson Arkansas
Chris Milam: Interview – American Songwriter
60 Seconds with Chris Milam – Live From Memphis
Warm Up with Chris Milam – The Vinyl District
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