History has unjustly relegated Lincoln, Nebraska’s Millions to a footnote in the annals of For Against, the quietly legendary band that defines obscurity in its own right. Harry Dingman III (guitar) and Gregory Hill (drums) formed the Millions after they exited For Against in the late ’80s, taking ingredients from that band’s eyes-to-the-sky post-punk to cook up a more mainstream, but no less intelligent, cousin.
With vocalist Lori Allison and bassist Marty Amsler completing the lineup, M Is for Millions is an exciting debut. Though not far enough removed in execution from the membership’s heritage to defy comparisons (the sound of Hill’s toms, for one, is carried directly over from For Against’s December), the confident songs have a distinct sonic identity. Allison’s sweet, articulate voice drives the U2-invoking politicized yearning of “Riga (Freedom)” and the bittersweet ghost story “West,” while Dingman’s sprightly guitar manages to make itself integral in places where it once would have floated over the top. The rhythm section pushes the anthemic choruses onto footlighted arena stages of the imagination. Allison is the band’s only singer, and her overdubbed harmonies are often haunting; her lyrics, much like those of New Order’s Bernard Sumner, are both honest and obtuse, using simplistic rhyme schemes to sketch stories made all the more intriguing by their lack of detail. High points: “Ordinary Men,” “In the Alley” and “Sometimes.”
Raquel brings the Millions firmly into the musical ’90s with a decidedly more “adult” sound. With a second guitarist, Benjamin Kushner, the band takes on more spacious arrangements and lusher, darker soundscapes as Dingman continues to search his chorused arpeggios for answers he seems to have no intention of finding. The proceedings are so moodily enveloping at times that Allison almost hovers above the settings of American gothic that she depicts in songs like “Manic and Slipping,” where the guitar, in a rare acoustic appearance, acts as a harpsichord. The band is just as inviting in this second (and final) phase as in the first, though the album’s most affecting track, “Answer with Fever,” directly recalls the heady romps of the debut. The German release adds three tracks and an alternate edit of “Indians and Drums.”
Following the Millions’ dissolution in 1995, Dingman formed Starla the Nudie Dancer; he later reconnected with Allison in Electrolyte after both spent time in Lincoln band Floating Opera. Allison resurfaced in the new millennium as half of Junior Mighty, while Dingman rejoined For Against, an unexpected move that signaled a renewal of that band’s activity in late summer of 2004.