The multifarious outlets of Chicago experimental musician Maxwell Allison include the solo project Mukqs and the improvisational ambient trio Good Willsmith, whose Twitter account he uses to opine about music. His incisive comments on the granular details of his daily listening make it clear he’s had the experience of loving a song while hating how it’s marketed—which means he knew exactly what he was doing when he named his new solo full-length My Most Personal Album to Date. Allison is a prankster—he and fellow Hausu Mountain label cofounder Doug Kaplan have done truly unspeakable things to chintzy Christmas music—so of course he’s not just mocking a PR cliche that’s been flogged to death. He actually did make his most personal album to date.
The songs on Allison’s new record incorporate incidental recordings made inside his apartment during the pandemic, giving them an unmistakable intimacy. I’ve seen photos of Allison’s cat—that’s basically all he posts in his Twitter Fleets—but I’d never heard its meow till I listened to My Most Personal Album to Date. I’ve corresponded with Allison for years and listened to a lot of his work, but I’ve never heard him as relaxed and unguarded as he sounds on “Baal,” where you can eavesdrop on him and his girlfriend casually answering Jeopardy! questions. These everyday moments make up just a tiny fraction of his sonic collages—you’re more likely to hear straggly, fingerpicked acoustic guitar (“Story About Nothing”), gentle new age soundscapes (“Northshore”), or gooey samples of 1950s pop (“Splish Splash”)—but they might be its most important element. Allison arranges serrated synth sounds into volatile pileups or massages them into serene interludes, changing the shape and tone of his material frequently enough that even its most soothing passages aren’t actually relaxing. My Most Personal Album to Date hints at stability only in its peeks at Allison’s life, which exist in tension with the music’s rough edges and disorienting juxtapositions in a way that evokes the intense feelings of pandemic-induced cabin fever. v