The latest full-length from Rhett Miller, The Misfit, exists in an enchanted dimension all its own. With its elegant blurring of psychedelia, dream-pop and electronic-leaning indie-rock, the Texas-bred singer-songwriter’s ninth solo effort emerged from a charmed collaboration with his Hudson Valley neighbor Sam Cohen, the sought-after producer known for his work with innovators such as Kevin Morby and Danger Mouse. And while the album often wanders into decidedly cosmic terrain, Miller grounds each track with the vulnerable songwriting and unaffected vocal presence he’s brought to his role as frontman for legendary alt-country band Old 97’s for the last three decades. The result is a body of work fully attuned to the tension of modern times, yet imbued with all the lovely delirium of a dreamscape.
Produced by Cohen at his own Slow Fawn Studios (a former horse farm in the hamlet of Accord), The Misfit is deeply rooted in a shared intention to “make a record that lives in a world with no rules,” according to Miller. “As we were working we kept returning to the relationship between David Bowie and Brian Eno and the records they made together, and how fearless they were in their approach to finding the songs,” he adds. In shaping The Misfit’s elaborately detailed sound, Cohen handled all the instrumentation, playing guitar, bass, drums, and keys in addition to sculpting the album’s mercurial rhythms and textures with lavish use of synth and drum machines. Featuring the background vocals of Cassandra Jenkins and Annie Nero on several tracks, the outcome is an unexpected yet undeniably potent setting for Miller’s lyrical storytelling. “One of the things I love about working with Sam is that his instincts are very much complementary to mine,” says Miller. “He has this ability to create music that’s open and eerie and beautiful, and at the same time allows for a propulsiveness that makes it feel so vibrant and vital.”
Arriving almost exactly 20 years after The Instigator (his Jon Brion-produced solo major-label debut), The Misfit takes its title from a gloriously spacey but self-scrutinizing track called “Just When It Gets Good.” “It was the first song I wrote in the pandemic, at a time when I didn’t know where I fit anymore,” he says. “There are always so many voices in our head trying to keep us from making art, and I was definitely falling prey to their ill effects.” Noting that “feeling like a misfit is the artistic condition,” Miller ultimately found his sense of purpose wholly restored by the making of The Misfit. “I’ve toyed with some other disciplines, like writing short-form fiction, long form fiction, essays and children’s books,” says Miller, whose latest kids’ book The Baby Changing Station is due out this fall from Little Brown Young Readers. “They all fulfill something in me, but nothing compares to songwriting. The idea that you can sit down and create a whole universe and then put it out into the world—the joy I get from that quick-hit creation will always be unmatched for me.”