Miguel Migs – Outside the Skyline Record Label: Om Records
Release Date: September 20, 2011
One thing I always appreciate in good music is atmosphere. I don’t want to turn something on just to have noise in the background; I want it to envelop me and draw me fully into its embrace. If an artist can reach that level, I can forgive a whole lot—I’ve already opened myself up, after all.
I say this because I speak as somebody who has almost no knowledge of house music, the genre that San Francisco-based DJ/producer/musician Miguel Migs specializes in. And while I may not be an expert, I know that in terms of sheer atmospherics, Outside the Skyline is near-impeccable. What’s more, it clears a fairly high bar by keeping the energy going for a full 69 minutes. The length has its ups and downs, but nobody can accuse Migs of phoning anything in, especially when he’s created textures as rich and meticulously crafted as these.
After “Intro – Life” sets the rules of Migs’ game with whirring electronics and subtly romantic synths and bass, “Tonight” kicks things off with a slightly more upbeat rhythm. What’s especially interesting is the restraint Migs shows in his songwriting and his production—the cuts here aren’t as pounding as anything on the Top 40, but consequently they gets more opportunities to play with different ingredients, liberated from the need for empty decibel. Case in point: “Breakdown” never reaches a point of adrenaline, but it’s still an impressive array of moving parts, a cocktail of lounge synths, dance-floor breakdown handclaps, and brassy overtones.
Migs draws from his experiences as a DJ into this effort, and it shows in the construction. At times, the album feels like a full setlist, with a variety of both upbeat and downtempo songs and a revolving door of vocalists, all of whom add their own influences into the pot. It’s a lot to juggle, and the tracks end up all over the genre spectrum. The deeper we get in, the more weird corners we get to explore: mid-album standout “They Don’t Know” incorporates some more psychedelic production and funkier instrumentation to create an almost chilling veneer. On the other hand, we have tracks like “Zuzu”, which is a tad spicier than most house fare, infected with samba rhythms and an airy sense of looseness
The production, as a matter of fact, may be one of the most important aspects of the album. If it’s not the confinements of any single genre that hold the album together, it’s the production of Migs, which breathes dimension and gravity into every track. The aforementioned “They Don’t Know” swoops in and out of focus, at times barren, at times magnificently layered. The choice to stake so much on the production, however, proves to be a double-edged sword: while the atmosphere is wonderfully realized, at times it all melts together, and as a result, sometimes the album feels like it’s revisiting the same stops too much. Another slight demerit is the disappointing lack of lyrical content. The songs here are so teeming with life that it’s a shame that the words behind them feel a bit like afterthoughts. They’re perfectly serviceable in the context of the album, but rarely rise up to the music’s level.
Then again, when the music is this good, does it really matter? The point is that I could easily get lost in Outside the Skyline for another hour and find new details to pore over, new tangents to go off of, and new motifs running through the whole enterprise. It’s a captivating, if not perfect, adventure into a completely different environment. I can’t wait to see where Migs might take me next.
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