Tor Miller is an alluring figure of sorts, equally due to his eclectic inspirations and his tragic hero arc. American English was a bold, piano-pop debut that seemed like it would send Miller skyward. By comparison, Surviving the Suburbs was a rockier album with a lament of loss and backsliding. And while the latter didn’t quite click at first, it became one of the most relevant pieces of art and I felt trapped for years in a series of bad circumstances.
All that said, Miller’s music – and honesty – was refreshing. And then he disappeared.
Generation of Me breaks the silence, and it opts for a diverse, experimental pop approach. Even within these confines, Miller as usual hints to more established acts like Billy Joel – and even modern ones like The Naked and Famous. But it’s clear labels don’t mean much to Miller. He’s always carried the sort of mystique that treads disparate genres with ease, all packaged in a sort of timelessness.
And this time is no different. Miller’s vocal command is as powerful ever as he croons, belts, floats, and waltzes across these songs. The album art this time around feels somewhat Bowie-esque, and that’s not inconsequential. These tracks are still tangible and well-anchored, but there are moments where it’s clear risks about on the record. Take “Only Miss You (When I Feel Alone)”, a darkly-cinematic rock track that verges on industrial, with booming synthesizers and a bit of vocal processing. This is not the same Tor Miller from “Midnight”.
I can’t help but be reminded a bit of scarypoolparty. Admittedly, Miller was on the scene first. But there are striking similarities in genre crossover and experimentation that come from a sparse, piano-pop origin. Both acts have a penchant for unpredictability, diverse sonic pallets, and stellar songwriting.
Thankfully, Miller continues his trend of throwing in a few bangers in. The title track opens the album, channeling The Strokes. “What’s On Your Mind?” seems to pair CeeLo snark with AJR accessibility. “Perfect American Girl” is upbeat bright and Dora Jar’s guest feature cements this as one of the most single-friendly tracks on the album.
“All Time Low” falls in line with songs from American English, painting lyrical pictures of city life over bassy, dark piano parts. It’s not entirely stripped back, though – and things continue to build toward the end as even drums enter the mix. It’s a dynamic gem.
It’s hard to not hold Generation of Me against its predecessors. It’s more pastiche than previous efforts, sort of like a mystery bag of tracks. Like many adventurous records, there isn’t a ton of cohesion. Surviving the Suburbs felt fairly narrative, with time and place and specific events laid out. And there are hints of that here, certainly. But at large, these songs feel a bit more abstracted. Other times, it feels like Miller is ever self-aware, with “The World Is Gonna Tear Us Apart” feeling like a response to “Stampede” and “The Feeling”. There’s a bit more closure this time around.
This isn’t a one-play album by any stretch. Sure, you can glean bits and pieces of what’s going on and there are staple songs that pop out effortlessly. And there might be a tendency to write Tor Miller off as yet another face in a sea of endless superstar wannabes.
But there’s more confidence this time around. Production is somehow even stronger. There’s more positive energy. The tracks are lively and full of personality. The title serves as a sort of double entendre. We’re familiar with associations of millennial selfishness, sure. And there is a sort of hedonist immediacy at times with the lyrics. But if we consider generation as an action, we see the experiences, sounds, and themes that make Tor Miller who he is now – a gifted and diverse songwriting who has been knocked down but just won’t give up.