Anyone who's ever worked in a record shop understands the need for that perfect album to play at closing time, the one that's guaranteed to drive every last straggler out the door. Think of it as the late-shift clerk's version of those screaming rabbit recordings that ATF SWAT teams use to flush people out of religious cult compounds.
Actually, Taryn Miller can help you with that. When not recording critically adored experimental pop under the name Your Friend, the 24-year-old artist moonlights at her hometown record store in Lawrence, Kansas. Her eviction strategies of choice include albums by avant-garde musician Bill Orcutt and ambient industrialists Nurse With Wound.
"It's actually stuff that we would probably listen to, but we can just tell that they won't," says Miller. "I've also used The Shaggs a few times, just to see people's reactions, like 'Is this a real record?' And I'm like, 'Yeah. We have it. Do you want to buy it?'"
Your Friend's debut album, Gumption, released in January on Domino Records, sounds nothing like The Shaggs, a band Rolling Stone cruelly likened to "a lobotomized Trapp Family singers." It doesn't sound like Bill Orcutt or Nurse With Wound, either, although the album probably goes further in that direction than Miller's 2014 debut EP, Jekyll/Hyde.
In fact, were it not for "Expectations/Reality," the 61/2-minute closing cut on the self-recorded EP, it would be easy to mistake Jekyll/Hyde and Gumption for the work of two different artists.
"I've always had the desire to make records more like Gumption, but I'm just now starting to get the opportunity to do that," says Miller, who used her newly found resources to enlist the aid of producer Nicolas Vernhes, whose other clients include Deerhunter and Animal Collective.
Together with a handful of additional musicians from Lawrence's close-knit music community, Miller and Vernhes shifted Your Friend's focus from relatively austere guitar-based songs to a much more textured and evocative sound.
On tracks like "Come Back From It," Miller's sublimely hypnotic vocals — which fall somewhere along the spectrum between London Grammar's Hannah Reid and Nico from the Velvet Underground — are immersed in subtly looped synthesizers, understated electric guitar, motorik rhythms, and nearly as much echo as a Lee Perry dub-side.
"The demos are, in a lot of ways, unrecognizable," says the former high-school athlete and band geek. "A lot of the songs came together in the studio, and would finally just surface. I would retain most of the melodic content of the songs, but then completely reframe the structure or the rhythmic elements. And that would open an entirely different world."
Miller cites the album's title track as a prime example. "'Gumption' started out as two different songs that I'd been developing, and then it just all came together. It was an organic process to a degree, and more so than I thought it could be, honestly. It was really freeing."
The end result is an album that's unusually resistant to categorization. The term "dream-pop" has been showing up a lot in reviews, along with comparisons to bands like Beach House and Lower Dens. But Miller says she was careful to catch herself any time traces of the music she heard at work began to bleed into her own songwriting.
"I have a tendency to just absorb everything I'm hearing, so when I'd come home from the record store, it's like I had to cleanse my mental palate," she recalls. "At the time, I was listening to a lot of drone and sampled records like The Caretaker, because doing that helped me clear my head."
Now that the album's out, Miller is looking forward to touring it with a full five-piece band. "I'm really drawn to very visceral things," she says. "So when I'm playing, I'm feeling that wall of sound, that energy I thrive on so much. I think that's why I've really enjoyed performing this record so far, because there's so much room to be creative with it. It's not a calculated thing, and I think I can lose myself in that."
So much so, in fact, that the band will spontaneously improvise transitions from one song to the next. They've yet to reach the point of performing the kind of live one-hour improvisations that krautrock pioneers Can were known for, but Miller says not to put it past her. And if she does go off in that direction, it won't be to drive people out of venues the way she and her co-workers do at the record shop.
"I think that's why people do stick around," says Miller of her band's live performances. "Because it's real. There's this rawness to it. It's like people can't look away, you know what I mean?"
Like a car accident?
"Yeah, exactly! If you play the songs straight through and seem kind of bored with it, people get bored with it. They don't want to watch you being bored. But if you're genuine, it sticks."