Gumption is the second piece of work by Kansas-originating musician, Taryn Miller (Your Friend). Since the release of her first EP, she’s ticked off a great deal of musical highlights, including a stop at SXSW and her first tour (her first tour being with Courtney Barnett!). Gumption is a true accomplishment for Miller, in every sense of the word. It is a sonically diverse, complex, and shimmering record with thought-provoking lyricism and an overall sense of warmth that surrounds the listener.
There is an air of mystery, constant questioning of personal perception and reality throughout record. In fact, this entire album was based on a question. Seeking guidance and advice from friends and composers, she landed on a piece of advice from a past high school teacher who said to her:
“Art is just where you are right now. Where are you right now?”
So, for every piece on the album, this is the question, answered in song. So you, too can ask yourself, “Where am I right now?” The answer ambiguous question changes constantly, as we all find ourselves somewhere else day to day, moment to moment, whether mentally or geographically. Just as the answer to this question changes, Gumption changes minute by minute, track by track. Her first EP, Jekyll/Hyde was inspired by the duality of human nature and how these complex orbs we call humans affect each other and interact. We are made up of so much: personality, values, culture, insight, beliefs, creativity. In Jekyll/Hyde she wondered how she was affected by the complexity of others but in Gumption, she asks what HER effect is on others.
It all begins with “Heathering”, which reaches out to you from a dream. That moment right between sleep and awake, when you realize you’re dreaming. And the dream only gets louder, more present as the song expands, grows and develops. Changing tempos and times, interesting sounds and trancelike, distant backup vocals come in and out of earshot. The following track, “Come Back From It”, begins similarly to “Heathering.” But, it takes a turn towards the less abstract during the chorus, offering a brief answer, a sense of relief, to the questions her instrumentals and general style of music ask her listeners. In this collage of track, which contains only a couple simple elements of Miller’s original demo, Gumption producer (Nicolas Vernhes of Deerhunter and The War on Drugs) suggested that this “relief” was necessary.
At this point on the record, Your Friend offers a fleeting moment of pure instrumentals. “To Live With It” is a simple interlude where you get a glimpse into Taryn Miller’s childhood, sonically. She wanted to build her past into the album, literally. So, when visiting her family’s farm in Dexter, KS, she brought a field recorder to sample the sounds she grew up with. You can hear a dripping creek throughout and if you listen closely enough, the sound of an engine. The interlude blends seamlessly into “Desired Things.” It begins immediately with a desire, followed by more desires and wants. Her desire clearly audible in her fluttering and powerful voice:
I wanted to love…
I wanted to burn…
I wanted to hurt…
“Nothing Moved” – begins with the description of simple pieces of furniture, like an old table and relates to how we perceive each other, how we look and feel to each other.
Is that how I see you, how you see me?
Capable, tethered, frail, un-weathered, though un-healing.
The lyrics for this piece are stunning, full of life, heavy on the heart at times:
I like to keep you like bees that sting and sting.
A line about the kind of love that you keep regardless of the pain it causes.
The title track, “Gumption” begins with sweet and tender acoustic guitars but soon launches into the familiar ethereal, detached and introspective nature of the record. Interestingly, “Gumption” represents two separate tracks which alone, were less sturdy but together, created something stronger, braver and more courageous, just as “gumption” is defined.
“I Turned In” is a beautiful track that highlights the sonic nuances that Miller and Vernhes capitalized on for Gumption. Drum machines, electronic hums so deep on the bass scale they are almost missed if listening on a cruddy pair of headphones, and twinkling, digitized elements, giving the track a space-like openness.
Altogether, Gumption is a beautifully complex record that holds a moment for everyone. In her own personal soul-searching, she has achieved the ability to connect and reach out to so many others. In her own personal introspection, wondering how she has and is effecting others, she is doing just that through her music. Gumption is a triumphant gift to the denizens of the musical ether.
You can buy Gumption now on iTunes.