Kate Miller has always known what she’s about. The process of creating her opening statement as an artist may have taken a while, but it’s something the 24-year-old Londoner has been focused on for years. Debuting in 2016 with ‘This Is Now’, it was expected that she’d follow the usual route to an eventual debut album: various singles, maybe an EP or two, and then a gradual buildup to her first full-length release as ROCH – but then, she’s never been one for catering to expectations, and it would be another two-and-a-half-years before she made her next move with ‘Blackbird’, the powerful lead single from what would become Via Media, plans for which had already been set in motion.
That track’s lyrical focus tended towards self-examination (“You are more than the tale you’ve become / You are more than the robe you wear”), and across the record, Miller writes from a number of different perspectives; sometimes lyrically evocative, others questioning, there’s a deliberate quality to the topics she explores that fits with her musical laser focus. As a result, her debut displays a clarity of vision which is simply startling – given the unconventional road to it, even more so. Co-producing the record with Ben Christophers (who worked on Bat For Lashes’ 2015 album The Bride), Miller’s put together an alluring, striking record that shows off her wilfully experimental bent.
Though it takes various detours throughout, the album is held together by Miller’s cut-glass vocals, her voice by turns soaring and delicate, but always ringing clear as a bell. She depicts an imagined motherhood on ‘T-Rose’, imbuing the piano-driven ballad that explores what it would be like to both have and lose a child: “The sitter’s gone, and you’re in place / To fill the gap where we embraced / And now that you’re gone / It feels like there’s something in me to give.” On the surface, it’s the album’s calmest moment, but its lyrics pack quite an emotional punch.
Similarly impactful is the brooding ‘Monster’, on which Miller looks within to understand how she perceives herself before setting it against how she is perceived by the world; one of several songs to tackle the topic of identity in various contexts. ‘I Love To You’ is driven by the push and pull of how individual selves interact in romantic relationships (“One hand is stronger than the other / I Love To You is never neutral”), while the languid ‘All Time Favourite Girl’ is a bittersweet reflection on forming a connection with another person while simultaneously being aware of those differences in personality that might just mean it doesn’t stick: “When I sit and listen to you, I know exactly what you mean / I wish I could say it myself, we’d be a team / My mind is warped / And yours is full of hope and good things.”
Across the album’s 10 tracks, Miller sets out her stall, presenting her worldview with the sort of confidence many artists often aspire to but rarely achieve, even on their third or fourth albums. It can best be summed up by the darkly euphoric closing track ‘Little Girl’, a dazzlingly melodic last hurrah whose musical lightness contrasts starkly with Miller’s recounting of her loss of innocence at 16 – in the interim, she’s rebuilt herself into something stronger than before, and taken in the wider context of the record, it’s a fittingly personal way to bring it to a close. Musically, lyrically, artistically – Miller knows what she’s about, and there’s no telling where she could go from here. For this reason, above all, Via Media deserves close attention.