Metaphortune finds beauty, resolve in nature amid a tumultuous year

Andy Downing

ThroughoutPerennial Fae, the new album from Ken Miller, who records and performs as Metaphortune, the musician continually returns to the concept of nature, even if sometimes by happenstance. “The seasons seem to have shifted again,” Miller sings on album track “Autumn,” as if he’s just taken notice of the change after emerging from a long, inner fog. 

Elsewhere, Miller watches the leaves and trees dancing above his head (“Fairy Circle”), seeks out moonlight amid winter-shortened days (“Helsinki Moon”) and compares emotional purging with a wildfire clearing the landscape of detritus. “Burn away the dead rot/Sweat away the sickness/Cry away the sadness,” he sings amid the pastoral crackle of “Prairie Fire.”

For Miller, the path toPerennial Fae, out today (Tuesday, Oct. 13), has necessitated a similar singeing of the extraneous, stripping away the posturing and obfuscations of previous efforts, including audacious, playful early rap tracks, to allow listeners closer to his core.

“Up until [starting] therapy in the last few years, I had a lot of trouble being comfortable sharing my emotions, which is a big reason a lot of the rap stuff I did early on, it was more of a character, just a series of hollow, sexual boasts,” Miller said, and laughed. “None of it was connected. There was no emotion in it. It was fun and it could be funny, at times. But it was because I wasn’t comfortable in myself. Slowly, I’ve gotten more comfortable telling people how I feel and putting myself in my music, which is such a crazy concept.”

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Miller traced the references to the natural world populating his new album to the years he spent growing up in a small town where he was afforded plenty of time and space to take in the outdoors. It’s a fascination that has carried through to adulthood, where most of Miller’s travels center on escaping the city, including an early March trek to Zion National Park in Utah.

“It was just before the pandemic. … And it was the first time I’d been in a desert environment. I had no concept of things like, what does the soil feel like? What is the vegetation like? What do those big rocks feel like?” said Miller, who grew up surrounded by musichis father was a 1970s record store clerk who palled around with the likes of late poet and songwriter Jim Shepardfirst picking up a guitar at age 11 and recording his earliest songs at 15. “Also, I didn’t know what the desert sounded like. We have that firm soundscape of the forested area in Ohio, where you have leaves rustling, trees creaking and maybe birds [chirping]. I loved getting to just be [in the desert] in that moment and realize it was so different from what I normally experience.”

Exposure to that comparatively alien desert soundscape had some effect on the making ofPerennial Fae, increasing Miller’s focus on the sense of atmosphere in his music, which bleeds into more spacious songs, such as the album-closing “Helsinki Moon.” Other tracks, such as the guitar-driven “Drowning in Pastels,” are denser and more chaotic, reflective of the cluttered mental space many have existed in amid the upheaval of this year.

“I, personally, was a victim to this, but I think there were a lot of folks that got depressed or sad after the pandemic started,” Miller said. “At the same time, X amount of your friends are saying, and it’s in all of these articles, that, ‘Oh, yeah, the pandemic is a great time to do this and this and this and work on all of your creative endeavors,’ and I was like, ‘I do not have the emotional energy for that, y’all, I’m scared.’

“For me, the creative process is so tied into what I’m feeling and thinking about, et cetera, so if it is a time when I’m emotionally drained by being alive in the world, I don’t have anything to give it, and I can’t just sit there and force it. Nothing against the people who are able to get stuff done. God bless them. But that just doesn’t work for me.”