Reviewer Paul Jetten on his summarized Mike Gale and his new album Twin Spirit on his Bandcamp page thus: “Imagine Ween and Sparklehorse being curated by The Caretaker. This album is a triumph.” That’s as good a place as any to start with this very, very indie lofi release. Hardly actually new with nine solo releases and a further nine under his belt with other projects, Mike Gale is here to inject some much-needed whimsy into the largely chilled out genre.
Going through Gale’s catalog, there are definitely lashings of the afore-mentioned Ween, Sparklehorse and The Caretaker, especially in the earlier works with his other projects, Black Nielson and Co-pilgrim. Largely rock in nature and also containing the fun and fantasy of mid-era Flaming Lips, these early ventures also have a sort of Roxy-Music-if-Brian-Eno-came-back-and-tied-up-Ferry-in-the-corner vibe. It seems clear that while his work with his bands was soulful and interesting, much like Frank Black with the Pixies, it might have been a bit formulaic for Gale.
As the discography merges into his solo ventures starting with the album Finger Bone from Swan Wing in 2015, it’s clear that Gale really wanted to explore the production and electronic side of lofi. In this album there are some definite Bon Iver vibes, but luckily it gets much more diverse from there. Gale’s experimentation with electronica and synths began in 2018 with the concept album Beachhead Galaxy. With Moog-style supporting synths and some pretty prodigious sound design, the tracks on this album show Gale’s progression into unorthodox folk and folk-tinged electronica.
Something must have clicked for Gale after Beachhead Galaxy because on the very next album Summer Deluxe, each track is rife with experimental sound design and merges the lofi vibes from his old rock albums with vintage synths and ambient sounds to give a really sun-bleached, sepia-tinted, reel-to-reel feel to the music while still being innovative and interesting. It’s a tough balance to hold but Gale seems to have a preternatural ability with it.
After two more largely acoustic albums in 2020 where some jazz and world music influence starts to creep in, Gale decided to go full-on experimental with Twin Spirit. Now more Zappa versus Vampire Weekend or Al Jolson versus Flaming Lips than Bon Iver versus Liz Phair, Twin Spirit sees Gale really taking chances with every single track: playing with distortion, sample loops, beat progressions and more to make some really interesting lofi sounds.
Tracks like the intro “Don’t Mind the Weather” and “Welcome to Amsterdam” channel that really zany, chaotic jazz fusion energy that Miles Davis and Frank Zappa pioneered in the 70s while others like “Awake Awake” and “Another Trick of the Light” are more conventional-sounding lofi rock with vintage 80s touches. Still others like “Betteriver” and the title track are fun, trippy musical interludes where it’s clear Gale was really enjoying messing with the sound design to make all sorts of different combinations and vibes.
Twin Spirit closes with possibly the most cohesive and emotive track on the album or so it seems. “Don’t Mind the Devil” is just a modernized re-imagining of the opener “Don’t Mind the Devil,” and with it, the album sort of comes full circle and proves what may be Gale’s point for this release: there are hundreds of ways to build every song, and he clearly doesn’t want to be restricted to just one way.
It’s always interesting to discover an artist whose style is already established yet they’re still pushing their own boundaries. With such a long and storied discography, it’s easy to see how Mike Gale has progressed while still making the music he loves. Adding more and more styles and influence and really breaking out of his stylistic shell, Twin Spirit may be Gale’s seminal album. That said, it’s likely he’ll continue to evolve his sound even more. so he’s also one to keep watching both for lofi and experimental electronica.