Milieu is the alias of Brian Grainger, an independent bedroom producer who has made more music than most indepedent musicians could make in a lifetime. Since 1997, he taught himself how to play guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard without needing classical training, and since then evolved into making computer-produced psychedelic and ambient techno tracks. However, with all of his proud discography, in 2005, he embarked to make a different album than he had created before:
“It was the end of the summer, in 2005, and I had finished a large bulk of material (Aurora Borealis and Night Currents, most notably) and I was unsure about the validity of my music at that point. Looking back on the dozens of hours of material, I was convinced that I was unable to produce quality music without the aid of a computer. To put myself to the creative test, I set out to record an album using only the most basic tools I had when i first began making tapes in 1997…electric and acoustic guitar, some effects pedals, my Lowrey organ and my Technics m11 cassette deck. The result turned into one of the most artistically perfect moments I’ve ever had, very very personal and very very real. No frills, just me at home on my original instruments. I followed these successful sessions immediately with more recordings in this same approach, which resulted in the of the Apple and Sun White Sun albums. The Milieu album remains self-titled because it’s the truest embodiment of who I am as a musician, where I’ve been, and how I want to communicate through my work all of these things. It’s a language without words to me.”
Brian has basically summed up the album in this way. Lo-fi, no computers, and just truly organic instrumentation. It’d be hard for any musician to make music like this, but luckily, Brian had the determination to create this album. The results are hard to describe. Anyone who has listened to this album probably could agree in the same way. Nostalgic, beautiful, timeless, innocent, these could be some of the words used to describe it, but even then, the music still defies all descriptions. Not many albums are like that, but luckily, Milieu’s self-titled album is one of them.
The first track, “Blue Islands”, is a beautiful ambient track created from simply a guitar and some pedals. Guitar chords ring out, with finger-picked licks over top. Just a beautiful minimal track. The next track, “Cloud Counting”, contain more melancholic melodies, with drones overtaking most of the song, and covered in a beautiful lo-fi fuzz courtesy of the cassette recorder. The third track, “Raindrops”, contains electronic arpeggios courtesy of the Lowrey organ in reverb, and “Six Fourteen (Revisited)” contains more beautiful swells from guitar, encased in a huge cathedral reverb. “Public Parks in the 1980s” contains more guitar as well as some haunting sounds from the Lowrey organ, which together create a nostalgic sound of innocence and childhood. There is even the presence of some field recordings at one point, along with some haunting electronic tones near the end. “Sky Blue Dreamcoat” is a happy short tune, played on the organ, with some reverb, whereas “Honeysuckles”, the longest track on the first half of the album at 7 minutes, contains brilliantly beautiful, slow moving electronic drones, with some twinkles of synth-like sounds here and there. “Many Calm Streams” is a short ambient interlude where it is hard to detect just what instruments have been used, and “Three Maps” contains a soft clicking rhythm in the background, and guitar drones flow vibrantly in the foreground. “Daydream in the Grass” contains the soft picks and drones of guitar, creating evocative images of an innocent summer day. “Susanna Hears” is a quite different track, containing high-pitched electronic swells that are almost reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “Ascent (An Ending)”.
The second half of the album begins with the strummed ambient guitar sounds of “Foggy Monday Morning”, whereas “Surrounds” contains more finger-picked guitar, encased in a beautiful reverb. “A Thousand Hands” contains almost soft, windy sounds of what sounds like white noise, with some guitar and people speaking in the distance. “Vanishing Point” is a 7 minute long drone piece with only the soft electronic sounds of the organ, extended to infinite lengths. “Over Hills” is a soft drone piece composed with, I believe, only guitar, which creates more evocative images of the countryside in the summer, and “Watching the Sun Rise from the” is a vignette of sorts containing more organ, which sounds as though it could have been included in a Boards of Canada album (specifically “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country”). “Sun-Day” is yet another ambient guitar piece, smothered with delay, whereas “Asleep Under the Moon” contains more drones of guitar, creating more beautiful images of a time long ago. “The Singing Pond” is yet another electronic drone piece, which sounds as though it is, indeed, singing, and “Night Closes Us In” contains dense guitar chords in reverb, creating a huge soundscape. The last and longest track on the album at 8 minutes long, “Infinite Stairs”, contains the strums of an acoustic guitar playing beautiful chords, encased in more reverb, before the electronic sounds of the Lowrey finish it out, creating the perfect evocative outro to the album.
Overall, “Milieu” is a brilliant lo-fi ambient album. The fact that it was produced without a computer, and recorded straight to cassette is impressive, but the sounds that Brian has managed to create here are just spectacular. Beautiful, evocative, nostalgic, these are just a few words to describe it, but as I said, the sounds often leave listeners at a loss for words. It’s just one of those albums that cannot be pinned down with words. The music, in all its lo-fi glory, speaks for itself in a language that cannot be immediately comprehended. It just proves that you don’t need a computer to make ambient music. Anything around us can make ambient noises. Highly recommended listening.
Released in 2006 by Experimedia
You can download the remastered album here: https://milieumusic.bandcamp.com/album/milieu-remastered