'What Does it Mean to Be American?' is the eighth solo album by Maine-born, UK-based composer & multi-instrumentalist Robert Stillman. Performed, recorded & mixed by Stillman with a Prince-like versatility, the album takes in elements of jazz, drone, funk, blues, psychedelia, new age & chamber music across its seven tracks.
On the opener 'Cherry Ocean', we are treated to Robert's voice for the first time ... the effect is like a lost, sombre Beach Boys demo, with Brian Wilson talking us through the aftermath of a weekend spent in the French Quarter of New Orleans. What follows loops from glass-clinking, freeform jazz ('It's All Is') to angular, rhodes-heavy funk ('Self-image') and dub echo-drenched piano blues ('Acceptance Blues').
As with much of Robert's music, unexpected swerves and gear shifts are never far away; this is partly due to his improv-driven tape bricolage recording process, but also a wilful defiance to adhere to any particular genre. This fluid, unpredictable approach dovetails perfectly with the subject matter of Stillman's national identity crisis. Nothing is quite as it seems, as oddly rousing militaristic psychedelia, morning reveilles and mountain blues are dismantled in the melting pot.
Perhaps most remarkable is the size of Robert's sound on 'American?' - a one-man studio has no right to conjure scenes so raucous and convivial. And it's at these half-dreamt fraternal moments, where Stillman seems to touch directly at the tragic, optimistic heart of his question.
Recommended if you like Ornette Coleman, Milton Nascimento, John Fahey, Allen Toussaint.
This record ships around Jan 20th, 2022.