Sunday, September 30, 2018

album review: 'budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies' by milo

So the last time I reviewed milo, it was a very different experience... and if those of you who are now wondering where the hell that review is, it was last year when I was in Atlanta and connected with a few members of the Dead End Hip-Hop crew to film for Myke C-Town's channel. And as such, while I did have a chance to go in-depth surrounding my introduction to milo - fairly late in the game, I was never quite pulled on-board in the same way as many fans were with so the flies don't come, really came to like and appreciate who told you to think??!!?!?!?! as one of milo's strongest projects to date - I will stress that milo can be an artist with whom I have a bit of a distant relationship. It's the sort of music I need to be in the right mood to appreciate and dissect, give him plenty of listens to really decode his pool of references and oblique production, and as such while I thought his last album was great, it wasn't something I was in a hurry to revisit last year besides maybe the deep cut 'embroidering machine'. 

And as such, while I was gearing up for another round of abstract hip-hop fresh off of Lupe's massive release, this looked to be a lighter affair - where who told you to think??!!?!?!?! was a respectable length for fifteen tracks, this album didn't appear to have many songs breaking the three minute mark and was reportedly even more abstract and diffuse than the last album... which I'm not against, but I also remember saying that the immediacy of his last album was what I found truly gripping. But still, I wanted to give this some time to really sink in, so what did we get from milo this time on buddy ornithologists are weary of tired analogies?

So this is... tricky. I've given this record a lot of listens to really sink into the bars and low-key, jazz-poetry vibe of this album and then read that milo wasn't intending to tack on a deeper theme or moral, that this was more intended as scattershot poetry overloaded with nuggets of wit. And you know, there's a part of me that's intrigued - hell, the title of the record can be translated to 'those who are learning the science of 'birds' - likely referring to women if we're getting old-timey here - are tired of the old jokes and double entendres'. So if milo's looking to spill from off the cuff, I can respect that, as well as the subtle themes he nestles between the lines that folks will never quite get a full handle on him and that this brand of quasi-inconsistent art is just as valid. Which, sure, is fair, but at the same time I can also say that this doesn't quite pick up the same emotional resonance for me as I can recognize free thinking rough drafts of ideas that could coalesce into more - love and admire the wordplay, mostly like the production, but it can't help but feel like a little less than the sum of its parts.

And that's where this gets tricky, because to be very blunt, I have a hard time saying bad things about milo as a rapper. I like his flow and pensive delivery that occasionally can feel a tad exaggerated at points but rarely in a bad way. And in an odd way I like his attitude - the guy who is clearly the smartest in the room but also the quiet one but capable of flexing when he needs to, I'm not going to deny there's some relatability to that, especially given the generally tasteful atmosphere and the rich, over-educated, slightly nerdy reference pool. It's different - you can tell that there's a deeper well of anger surrounding his experiences in this lane as a black man and this irritation isn't quite as buried as I think he'd like it to be on this project - but there's common ground, enough that it makes me wish he was aiming for a higher idea beyond intense witticisms and emphasizing that inconsistencies don't exactly make for bad art if it's reflective of some truth, especially when milo is so content to shift the narrative of said truth when you think you have an idea what he's saying. 

Of course, when you come to the realization that so much of this album is driven off of deflection and people not seeing the point, be it about milo or his work, it changes how you engage with the content - on 'pure scientific intelligence (quantum)' he's referencing MF Doom, who built his career on scatter paintings of rummaging through abstract metaphors and ideas, and a similar alienating intention is there. Hell, on 'aubergine cloak' he references how some assumed the 'Ruby Yacht' repeatedly referenced is referring to a boat when in reality it's an extended metaphor, and when you go to 'mythbuilding exercise no. 9' - cute Beatles reference there - when it's going down the river Styx between life and death but being immersed in it makes one like Achilles immortal, it's clear the 'ruby yacht' is more an abstract structure to carry him, especially when paired with the repeated references to the 1959 Camus film Black Orpheus, another figure passing between here and the underworld. And when you expand that concept - the black man repeatedly caught between life and death riding on the structure of perhaps the music itself, which makes milo's anger make sense at those who would co-opt the mechanism - it makes the underlying anger and increasingly direct flexing have resonance, especially as on songs like 'stet' milo makes it clear the root of his artistic core is not just as a black man confronting systemic racism but compounded upon it, a distinct figure that will not be pigeonholed. Of course, what you'll rapidly come to notice is that milo intentionally doesn't present himself as an aspirational figure in rap, because dig a little deeper and you find the well of post-modern nihilism and vague contempt for the hip-hop industry especially on songs like 'galahad in goosedown', a system he seems to loathe especially in the mainstream and would prefer to salt behind him as beyond repair rather than make the attempt to change or fix it. And look, I get milo's pessimism and disillusionment, especially as someone who has never tried to make commercial music, hates how a very specific brand of hip-hop can become one of a few avenues out of the trap, and on songs like 'failing the stress test' even showing how figures he used to idolize have let him down, but it lends the project an odd sourness that if I'm being honest has been creeping into milo's work for some time and doesn't do a rapper as thoughtful as him a lot of credit, especially with this production.

That's the other big thing with this album: in comparison with who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, this project seems to be circling back to a similar, low-key jazz rap vibe that was more prevalent on so the flies don't come, and while it can be certainly pleasant and match with milo's low-key delivery, it doesn't always match the content or provide a lot of momentum or even an avenue for engagement. And that's makes the entire mood of the record feel weird - sinuous basslines, low-key percussion, fuzzy samples, dreamy jazz piano lines, faintly buzzing touches of synthesizer, perhaps not a lot of standouts in terms of individual melodic fragments but it does mostly come together as a complete piece of music - but it never seems to grasp the darker core of tension that was lurking beneath milo's delivery and content in the same way the glitchier, slightly more aggressive production did on who told you to think??!!?!?!?!. As an album it's more content to meander and curdle within itself with a really odd sense of momentum, feeling both longer and shorter than you'd expect - which is one reason why despite my fondness for the few snapshots we get of him I'm a little bewildered why Elucid is even here, because not only does his vocal tone command more attention, he's also more openly earnest in his own way, which is a weird clash with milo. And it also means that it's hard to call out any one song as a real standout, especially when there are cuts that feel more like a fragment of a thought that can't stand on its own than a full song like 'lowcoup' or the extended interlude 'the esteemed saboteur reggie baylor hosts an evening at the scallops hotel' or even 'pure scientific intelligence' in its own way. 

So in the end... this project really frustrated me, because it's a much easier record to appreciate than outright love. It's incredibly clever and the emotional core is there, but the more dimensions of it you untangle the less likable it feels, especially juxtaposed with production and delivery that are way too chill to match its anger and way too distant and abstract to match an immediacy you'd think would be there. And for me, I'll treat this with the seriousness and rigor of any project and believe it or not I'm not judging this most for inconsistency or obliqueness, but rather for dissonance that lacks a deeper purpose. And as such I'm giving it a light 7/10, definitely recommended for milo fans and if you're looking for an easy record to put on for the background or a hard record to decode, this'll be up your alley... just don't be surprised if in both cases, you're not quite as satisfied as you want to be by the end.

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