Chapel Hill musician Jenks Miller immerses himself in relatively straightforward local bands: He's the drummer for pop trio Un Deux Trois and noise-rock outfit In the Year of the Pig, and he plays guitar in occasional country-ish rig Mount Moriah. But Miller made several national ripples last year with a dense guitar drone record, Impale Golden Horn, under the name Horseback [Full disclosure: Released by Indy Music Editor Grayson Currin's record label]. Set in streaks of shimmering tone, it stands as an exercise in exploring the space between the waking dream and the nodding moment when the melatonin kicks in.
On his solo debut, Approaching the Invisible Mountain, Miller picks and coaxes sounds from his guitar in a more standard style. In doing so, though, he explores some of his most nebulous territory yet through six instrumental improvisations bend around a thematic piece, "Babylon Destroyer," a blues-based guitar revision. Miller breaks up minitature guitar figures using space and silence in surprising ways. The result can be alternately confusing and alluring, but this record isn't meant to unfold in black and white. What you think may turn into a melodic blues piece akin to some Skip James number during "Part III" drifts away suddenly. What seems to be forward motion is misdirection.
The drift of these guitar voices becomes Miller's language here—a deliberate, if often stuttering, talk from some ghostly folk-blues mantra. In "Part IV," an intro of shimmering drone hints at Miller's Horseback techniques, but gives way to resonant short-picking. If there is an ascension taking place from "Part I" to "Part VI," the ecstasy at the peak becomes evident in the last 30 seconds of "Part VI": The chiming effect rings like a distant bell.
Left on his own, Miller once again appears to be an explorer, willing to try something by which he's been inspired, or turn in an about-face from his last move. By this time next year, he'll surely be onto something else. His muse—curiosity—will also demand our listen.
Jenks Miller plays Nightlight Tuesday, June 24, at 9:30 p.m. with Sharron Krauss and United Bible Studies.