Review Summary: We're just kids, isn't it absurd / To think that maybe one of us would have a way with words?
The power of nostalgia is still a mystery to me, and it probably always will be. I’m more likely to feel nostalgic about the things I missed out on or never had, as opposed to what I cherished in my past life. Perhaps it can be boiled down to my brain’s incessant dreaming up of possibilities, and the backwards sensation that wanting is often better than having. What’s truly fascinating is looking back on the moments of my life where I’ve felt the most viscerally happy, and realizing that they were moments of anticipation rather than satisfaction. The Mile’s “Impossible Figures” is this feeling encapsulated in some of the most anthemic pop rock of the 2010s.
The Mile were a two-piece band from Chicago, and “Impossible Figures” is their sole release, unleashed onto the scene in 2015 and drifting determinedly among a sea of weightless records released in the aftermath of The 1975’s self-titled album. While countless uninspired groups shamelessly emulate the Manchester quartet’s self-aggrandizement and ‘80s pastiche, “Impossible Figures” is propulsive yet entirely modern, a record that overflows with energy and still sounds fresh six years after the fact. The Mile expertly capitalize on the emerging pop trends of the time by juxtaposing painfully nostalgic lyricism against their grandiose hooks and driving rhythms. For a band with only two members, their sound is powerful, densely layered, and displays a clear mastery of sonic world building. The album’s first full-length track “Headlights” demonstrates this in spades, riding the steady crescendo of its dueling keyboard and guitar leads to a chorus so soaring it must be heard to be believed. Matt Bolman’s vocal performance across the whole album is worthy of considerable praise, but on “Headlights” in particular, where he is tasked with maintaining high pitches at powerful volumes while rarely being permitted to stop for a breath.
Instrumentally, the album hardly lets up from there. The climaxes of “Gold” and “Lost” somehow manage to rival the seismic hook of “Headlights”, while keyboardist Dominic Pierri is able to shine on gentler cuts like “Sleep”, “Numb”, and the title track, a soothing instrumental interlude where he steps fully into the spotlight. Bolman’s syncopated and funk-laden guitar riffs breathe carefree life into lead single “Let Go” and the brilliant “Hide”, while also managing to lift the aforementioned “Gold” to absurd heights. Bolman’s exceptional vocal lines and the exemplary instrumentation all coalesce on album highlight “Thursday”, the gorgeous centerpiece of “Impossible Figures”. Slowly emerging from an enthralling two-minute buildup, this track handpicks every aspect of what makes The Mile’s songwriting great and utilizes them all perfectly, while also being the album’s lyrical highlight.
Both members of The Mile were under 20 years old when this album was released, which explains this record’s greatest stumbling block, the raw and unpolished nature of the lyricism. All of “Impossible Figures” revolves around the narrative of a broken relationship, which is sometimes described in a heart-wrenching and wistful manner, like on “Thursday”, “Sleep”, or “Gold”. The band’s greatest weakness as songwriters is their tendency to repeat themselves, not only across the record but sometimes even in the same song. I don’t know who this album was written about, but she must have had really pretty eyes because sometimes they’re all the band can sing about. Simple lines found throughout such as “Though I want to, I cannot stay” are run into the ground by the album’s end, which is unfortunate because the band show themselves to be more than capable of exploring their own in depth emotions toward the situation on two or three tracks. Unfortunately, this introspective style of writing is used sparingly. Album closer “Speechless” combines the worst of both worlds, featuring the album’s most underwhelming lyrics coupled with the only lifeless instrumental arrangement The Mile offer up over the course of the album. Choosing this as the album’s final song also takes a sledgehammer to the kneecap of the album’s momentum. “Gold” would have served as a far superior closing track, not only because of its phenomenal energy, but also because of its thematic tie-ins with opening interlude “Cope”.
It’s a shame that “Impossible Figures” is the only record The Mile released, because it showcases a band with a wonderfully bright future. Any self-produced debut can be expected to be a bit rough around the edges, and the work on display here is nothing but commendable for being done by two college-age men entirely on their own. While the lyricism occasionally falls flat and the tracklist contains one definite misstep, “Impossible Figures” is a mostly consistent and always interesting debut album with stellar production and high entertainment value.