Track by track: Dan Mills’ Small Talk & Saturdays

EP cover: Mills' face in silver-blue
EP cover

Why you need this EP: it’s provocative in a soothing way and soothing in a provocative way, so ideal for when you’re restless, lazy, and ambivalent.

Style: T.S. Eliot invents a dream-pop / Americana fusion.

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Restless nostalgia runs through Dan Mills’ newest EP, “Small Talk and Saturdays,” cherishing tiny everyday details while trying to avoid a life measured out in coffee spoons. The coolly reverb-heavy and layered vocals say “dream pop” to me, while the guitar- and piano-driven instrumentation has the deceptively casual feel of a master raconteur sitting down to tell you whatever’s uppermost on his mind.

Dan Mills crossed my Instagram feed as a Rhode Island native (his drummer Jesse Humphrey also drums for Stephen Kellogg, come to New England and play Three Degrees of Separation), and although he’s moved to Brooklyn, his songwriting is all about the rootsy eclecticism and evocative lyrics that I love so much in our regional music scene.

Sell the Furniture bubbles gently with the aftermath of rage. It’s about turning away from pursuing the wrong dreams, and a big part of the appeal for me is that the lyrics are as much rueful as inspirational. My favorite lyric of the EP — “I know it all adds up on paper / I’m gonna tear that paper, burn it up, and write another” — is delivered as if in a daydream. Also deeply appealing is that where urgency builds, the instrumentation becomes imbued with jazz — we’re not going to war, we’re figuring out how to improvise and make do.

So Young is the track where label suits would say “this is the single.” It’s got the energetic hook — “hey now, babe, how we ever gonna feel satisfied, when we were so good at being so young?” — and I think the squawking raspberry at the end of the line (kazoo? guitar effect?) adds a delicious bit of irony to a song that plays with Saturday afternoon drive-aimlessly futility. Mills might be horrified at my hearing just a tiny hint of the Barenaked Ladies’ “Pinch Me” and the Gin Blossoms “Hey Jealousy” — but it’s in the context of admiring how he demands why we haven’t yet outgrown the mood of those songs, while still capturing nostalgia for being young, dumb, and broke.

Lonesome Love goes dream-country. The cheerful guitar strum. . . is a red herring. The song exudes chilly lonesomeness so thoroughly that if you listen to it outside, birds will suddenly disappear and light snow will fall.

Old Familiar Song is the “island” track — since it mentions the New England sunset, I’m calling it as Block Island. This is also the one that will have audiences dancing in front of the stage. It’s adorable.

The Marais summons the ghosts of French singers of sweet songs. It’s musically referential to the wistful sound of Paris in the 1950s, as it both embraces and annotates every cliché of falling in love with the city of lights.

My favorite track is about 80% “So Young” (the most pop track on the EP, plus I can just point to it and go #mood) and 20% “The Marais” (for being so perfectly evocative that I want a liqueur, a piano, and a sprinkling of Paris rain).

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