one year ago today, milo released his dual-ep whirlwind of things that happen at day and things that happen at night. those two releases were among the first pieces of work covered here at dimestore saints, resulting in an affectionate soft spot for anyone attached to milo’s music. on this one-year anniversary, things that happen at day producer riley lake has released an instrumental version of the ep, substituting milo’s raps for lush guitar loops and other downtempo, dreamy sounds. the eleven-track effort is bolstered by a handful of brief interludes from iglooghost, another producer that frequents milo’s projects. check out the entire album below.
if you’ve somehow missed out on milo’s output this year, let me give you a quick crash-course. on new year’s day, the mc released a double-ep called things that happen at day/things that happen at night. this past july, he dropped cavalcade, an excellent mixtape with exquisite production from riley lake. the three bodies of work together exhibited an enormous amount of artistic growth over a short period of time, as milo continued to develop his philosophical, spoken word-tinged rhyme delivery over beats that were more interactive and at the forefront of each composition. i think most people would have been beyond satisfied if he had called it quits for 2013 after cavalcade, but milo’s prolific tendencies dictated that even more material was necessary. i can’t really complain about that.
with poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer), milo’s first full-length release for his scallops hotel side project, the young rapper furthers his case for being consider among the year’s best artists. poplar grove also marks somewhat of a return to milo’s earlier, independent days; although there are smatterings of hellfyre club found throughout the album, his decision to release it through his own personal bandcamp is telling. the tracks are much more intimate and eclectic than milo’s previous work this year, and they’re largely devoid of hooks. this return to a more stream-of-consciousness approach is akin to what initially drew me to last year’s milo takes baths, but it’s been juxtaposed by deeper, pitch-shifted vocals and comparatively haunting instrumentals.
when the occasional melody does appear, it’s wonderful. “bergamot gamut” traces the same melodic figure throughout with milo appropriating his words to its contour, changing the content when need be and slipping in and out of spoken and sung phrases. the improvement of his singing voice is notable, but what’s even more impressive is milo’s growth as a songwriter, not so much in terms of lyricism as in terms of form and overall structure. i saw some deviation from his established formula in penobscot expedition, a fan-made b-sides compilation that also surfaced this summer, and it’s nice to see milo continuing down a path to diversify his sound.
poplar grove isn’t milo’s defining album of 2013, and it really shouldn’t be. this excellent foray under the moniker of a side project allows him to prove that his output will never run the risk of becoming one-dimensional, and probably will help him pay for rent next month, too. in order to fully understand milo’s musical realm, poplar grove must be inserted into a continuous stream of his entire discography from this year. once you do that, i hope you’ll understand why milo has become a force to be reckoned with.
as if releasing a fantastic pair of eps and a damn good mixtape this year wasn’t enough, wisconsin rapper milo plans to release a new ep from his side project, scallops hotel. the ep, entitled poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer), is set to drop on november 19th and features production from iglooghost, lee bannon, and busdriver. if you can’t wait five days to hear the whole thing (i can’t either, don’t worry), milo has remedied this situation by streaming the ep’s lead single, “xergiok’s chagrin (a song for jib).” the self-produced joint is dark and contains some of the best lyrics i’ve ever heard this guy proclaim. check it out below.
hellfyre club sports a roster of multiple artists poised for some substantial breakthroughs. if you follow my blog, you are probably already familiar with my high opinions of milo, a talented rapper from wisconsin currently signed to the label. hellfyre club has a compilation album, dorner vs. tookie, due out november 5th, and today they’ve shared “manchester,” a fantastic track that will appear on the album. milo and busdriver handle the hook, while the former also provides a fantastic verse that complements nocando’s rather brash musings. all of this floats over an easy, downtempo groove supplied by super. check out “manchester” below, courtesy of hellfyre club’s soundcloud page.
awhile back i did a brief spot on mantras, a project that blends the hip-hop stylings of safari al with the indie rock tendencies of ghost of james. safari al was kind enough to answer some questions about the group’s aesthetic, their new ep easy, hogarth, and hypothetical future plans. check out the transcript below.
although mantras is an extremely organic-sounding project, i understand that paul and jp essentially functioned as your producers, sending you finished instrumentals to work with. how did you approach writing lyrics for songs that feature different timbres and tempos than perhaps you are used to?
ghost of james’ music is a type of music that i listen to frequently and am comfortable with, so i wouldn’t say there was much musically that i wasn’t already familiar with outside the context of rap. though, part of the project’s purpose is to path-cut along one of rap’s fringe ley lines. ultimately, this is one of the better results of folk, rock, and rap all sitting at the same table.
i approached writing for this project more poetically, but that’s also the trend my writing has been following along recently. one thing this project has that my others do not is manpower. with that in mind, i did want to include some cuts where paul and i could belt our buns off.
mantras combines members of the dilla gents and ghost of james. how much of each group’s aesthetic did you shed for this new project, and what elements did you retain?
i do not believe there is a strong dilla gents presence on this project, and that is fine and dandy because i did not intend for that to be an identifiable influence on easy, hogarth. jp and myself are the dilla gents transplants, but over the last few years, gents’ activity has been waning and influence less perceptible.
this project is the marriage of safari al and ghost of james, each taking one another in sickness and in health. heh heh. that is to say, i got all of ghost of james and they got all of me. i don’t think there was much sacrifice on behalf of either party in order to compromise towards a medium.
the song “villains” features milo, another hip-hop artist based out of eastern wisconsin who seems to have a similar aesthetic – both in terms of flow and use of occasional non-sequiturs – to the one you’ve developed. can you speak to your prior collaborations and general thoughts on the dude?
“villian” is actually an intentional misspelling (see: almost, maine).
rory and i are currently roommates in milwaukee, wi. the other day i put our bathroom rugs in a washing machine because our friend braden refused to enter due to the piss odor that sort of permeates the room. i’m not trying to say that rory pees on bathroom rugs – the odor predates our stint as roommates – but, we are both comfortable being dirty, hairy boys. rory is one of my best friends and the similarity in aesthetic that you have observed exists beyond our written content and delivery.
easy, hogarth is relatively short; just six tracks that clock in around twenty minutes. is this a one-off project between friends, or will mantras continue to be developed down the line?
honestly, this hasn’t really been addressed yet. the initial impetus to create this project felt a little one-shot in nature: you’re on winter break, i’m on winter break, you make incredible music that i’d very much like to yell over, etc. but, for better (i think), the process of finalizing our work got drawn out substantially, which meant i got to continue to interact closely with paul and jp. in short, i am more than willing to further develop mantras, but ideally in a more synergistic setting. i’d like to play guitar on some songs.
the marriage of indie rock and hip-hop goes over very, very well on mantras’ easy, hogarth; safari al wasn’t simply tooting his own musical horn. personally, i’d love to see the trio expand the project to its fullest potential, but i’m perfectly content with the content they have to offer at the moment. safari al will be joining forces with milo and riley lake for a tour of the eastern half of the u.s. next month. if you like any tiny bit of what you hear, go check out a show.
earlier this week, rapsmith milo dropped his exquisite new mixtape cavalcade. now, a nice little supplement has surfaced, apparently courtesy of an unknown third party. someone took it upon themselves to compile a set of b-sides and rarities by milo and subsequently posted the file on tumblr, promising to update it as more material becomes available. the mixtape is entitled penobscot expedition and features seven new(ish) tracks, depending on your previous exposure to milo. it’s gotten the endorsement of both milo and hellfyre club, so i feel comfortable passing along the goodness. download it here.
milo’s third mixtape in seven months may come across as a bit overzealous to some, but those people are probably missing the point of his work. the music milo creates is an examination of his own conscience, beliefs, and life experiences, much like the philosophical principles that creep up in his lyrics. if anyone is poised to take command of intellectual hip-hop, it’s milo; over the span of a half-dozen mixtapes, milo has honed his craft from promising yet slightly one-dimensional spoken-word musings to a sheer force to be reckoned with on cavalcade. it’s his best work yet.
whereas things that happen at day and things that happen at night largely relied on a singular aesthetic, cavalcade is more of a chameleon, flexing milo’s confident, aggressive, pensive, and emotional sides impressively in less than forty minutes. he’s still thinking about his friend rob and talking about causality and calculus, but new topics come up. even when he’s gloating about his elevated status within the rap community, milo does it in a very characteristic way; not many other artists would admit that they cashed in their royalties for some thomas pynchon audiobooks. the strong personal thread that connects cavalcade is milo’s grandfather, who was ill at the record’s inception. this record is for him. while he may not be explicitly addressed in every song, a sample from a tune by america (his favorite band) does appear on each track without fail.
that segues nicely into the next topic of conversation concerning cavalcade, which is its production. after collaborating with him on things that happen at day, milo again enlisted the help of riley lake, whose signature subtleties are sprinkled across the mixtape. there’s the pitch-altered duplications of milo’s voice that create an eerie supplement to the song’s main content on “geometry and theology” and “sophistry and illusion,” and audio interview samples that pop up frequently throughout the seven tracks. even more important is riley lake’s command of the america samples that he worked with; time and time again, he appropriates a dated folk melody successfully into a hip-hop setting, often assisted by something more modern like james blake or dirty projectors.
the cherry on top of cavalcade is milo’s sheer embracement of the quirks that defined his earlier work and inevitably drew criticism. non sequiturs run rampant and spoken word is prevalent, but these aspects that once seemed like crutches are now clearly a facet of milo’s musical personality. any subsequent records without those would just feel empty.
cavalcade is a damn good slice of hip-hop pie; it’s easily the best i’ve heard this year so far, and it’ll be one of the better free downloads of the year for sure.
stream it in its entirety via the bandcamp embed above and grab a download, and then check the brief video below that to see if milo, riley lake and company will be stopping in a city near you on their u.s. tour next month.
wisconsin isn’t exactly synonymous with hip-hop, but artists like milo and safari al have been carving out an interesting intellectual niche for the past few years. the latter recently teamed up with fellow labelmates jp merz and paul smirl to form mantras, a project that infuses hip-hop with indie rock in a completely infectious way. i’m still trying to wrap my head around easy, hogarth, the first ep from the band, and i’ll be offering a more coherent examination of the project in the coming days. for now, take a listen to easy, hogarth below, courtesy of mantra’s bandcamp page. snag a download if the mood strikes you, or throw the guys a couple of bucks if you’re feeling particularly generous.
in my interview with riley lake last friday, the producer of milo’s upcoming mixtape cavalcade hinted at the possibility of its lead single dropping some time this week. call him prophetic or just simply well-informed, but riley was right; listen to and snag a free download of “ecclesiastes” below, courtesy of hellfyre club’s soundcloud page. the full mixtape drops on july 9th.
interviews have been a glaring feature missing from this website, and i’ve been trying to remedy this problem for some time. i’m really happy that the artist to claim first dibs on this segment is someone that i’ve known for quite a few years. riley lake, a twenty-one year old producer from claremont, california by way of rural wisconsin, is the elusive man behind the beats on milo’s recent mixtape things that happen at day, along with a slew of other smaller projects. we were able to reconnect via email this past week, and the ensuing dialogue is the result.
i had the pleasure of knowing you quite well throughout middle school and high school, and i remember during one of the last conversations we had before leaving for college, you mentioned you had gotten some new software that you were pretty excited about. what initially sparked your interest in producing and making electronic music?
the most simplistic answer is that, senior year of high school, i found out our family desktop came with a copy of logic. i made a song for a science project in ninth grade about saguaro cacti, which i guess is my first production effort. in hindsight, it was kinda cool; i recorded some guitar, bass, and vocals and added a super wack bell sound in some bummy 20 dollar d.a.w. from best buy. finished it off with some heartfelt couplets about the need to preserve the saguaro.
as someone who spent a lot of his youth playing other people’s songs, learning how to use a computer as an instrument was incredibly liberating, comparable only really to learning to play the guitar. i could create things that i might actually want to listen to. i think that has motivated my entire evolution as a musician and provided the impetus for my technical development. the result to putting effort into music-making shifted from giving a good performance of a piece i probably didn’t even like that much to having this precious little digital copy of what i thought was the most beautiful way of putting sounds together at the time of creation. rather than having to practice when i wished i could’ve been doing some other shit, i felt driven to sit down at my computer and make some corny beat. that was cool.
all of the “beats” that I heard growing up were from the rap songs that managed to worm their way into my ears in the middle of the woods in wisconsin. since learning computer music for me involved a lot of mimicry, i started out making pieces of music that weren’t meant to be instrumentals; i wanted someone to rap on them. i didn’t know any rappers for a long time, so that kinda stifled that intention. but then i met milo, we made a rap record together, and all of a sudden all i want to do is make rap beats again.
you relocated from rural wisconsin to a slightly more urban setting in california. how did the change in scenery impact the music you were making?
it was everything. more important than moving from a rural area to an urban area, I moved from a place where i felt somewhat isolated to a place where i was flooded with like-minded individuals and the crazy set of interactions that happen when this happens. i would say that a large bulk of the things that happened that feel really meaningful to me have happened over the past three years. some things are certainly a result of my proximity to los angeles, like going to low end theory, but most formative to me are the experiences that i had as a result of being thrown into this crazy social environment and learning to navigate it. i think those played a big role in my understanding of making music for other people as opposed to just myself. it made me think of what i (and my contemporaries) do as art, a realization that has focused my creative process enough to create things that people might actually want to listen to.
also, moving out of the country opened up the world to me. things that i once knew only through the internet were all of a sudden very real and tangible. i think it broadened my scope in a huge way, and i hope i continue increasing my understanding of the nature of this strange life we lead together as i go through my time here. likewise with my understanding of music.
people familiar with your work know you as the producer behind milo’s mixtape things that happen at day. how did that relationship begin?
i didn’t even meet the dude in person until december 31st, 2012. he sent me an email after reading a review of open mike eagle’s latest record that I wrote and listening through my soundcloud in like, june of 2012. i got home for the month of august and made him two beats, which ended up becoming “legends of the hidden temple” and “sweet chin music”. After the “sweet chin” beat, he proposed things that happen at day, which was a counterpart to the already mostly-finished things that happen at night. i had never approached a project anywhere near as long and conceptually involved as things that happen at day, so figuring out what the hell those beats were going to sound like and then actually making them was a really seminal process for me. i made the beats during august, and then spent half the fall semester mixing the record. i had no fucking clue how to mix a rap album, but through an epic process of trial and error, i managed to make an album that, after mastering, was actually listenable production. milo is maybe the best dude ever to make rap music with, because you send him a beat and like, an hour later he emails you back with some crispy clean vocal stems. that was how we bridged the distance gap (i was in california and he was in green bay as i was mixing the record), was by sending beats and stems back and forth through mediafire and facebook, etcetera. then i sent him like ten different drafts of each song on the album until i got it right.
since then, i’ve spent some time with milo in real life, and that’s been the coolest thing. i respect and admire him a tremendous amount. i’m a little baffled why a rapper as good as him likes my silly little beats, but i think we have a lot of chemistry together. i am doing everything in my power to support his artistic intentions, which are monumental and important for people to place their ears upon. i would love to be the 40 to his drake, so to speak. we’re gonna have a lot of time in august to pick each other’s brains, which will be the coolest thing.
rumors swirl that you’re working with milo on his upcoming album cavalcade. can you say much about that right now?
yeah it’s a thing, it’s done, and i really want people to hear it. the lead single should be coming out very soon. like, hopefully next week.
it’s a rap mixtape. people on the internet occasionally like to say stupid things like, “oh this dude can’t flow” or “blah blah blah this is spoken word.” the thing about milo is, if he wanted to put up the same facade as everyone else, he could certainly make a blisteringly effective “traditionalist” rap album. instead, he chooses to unfold his narrative with this utterly unique style of lyricism and delivery that he believes is the best way to convey whatever meaning he chooses to code into a rap song. it “unpacks” in a really really interesting way, which lets you listen over and over without getting bored (one of the qualities of a song that i treasure). i wanted to make a mixtape that let him flex his more “rapperish” abilities in songs that had the same depth has his previous material.
it is also a record for his grandfather. his grandfather’s favorite band is america, so at milo’s request, every song samples an america song. from a production standpoint, that stipulation ended up defining the work that i did. we agreed early on that it was necessary to distance ourselves as far as possible from “twang rap”. as a way of avoiding that, i spent a lot of time taking the samples and recasting them to create a new musical object that was imbued with characteristics of the source material but felt at home in an entirely new context, that of the cavalcade song. to do this, i created each song using one america sample and one other recognizable sample. by using a diverse selection of other samples (everything from dvorak’s “american quartet” to james blake’s “retrograde” to heard ’em say) and a bevy of modulation effects to the samples, i was able – hopefully – to create a set of beats with as much cohesion and stylistic variety as those qualities will allow in the presence of each other.
having this menage of hip-hop production as a musical canon that influenced me, my rap beats have become this pastiche of pretty much every hip-hop style that has found some time in the limelight over the past two decade, and that is super evident in the productions on cavalcade. it feels appropriate that our take on rap music is this amorphous, as to some extent, both milo and i approach rap from an outsider’s perspective. it’s loud, roughly calculated, and flawed, but hopefully, a beautiful narrative that pulls on the listener’s empathy strings and makes you pause and think.
i also happen to know that you’re a classically trained violinist and cellist, and you know your way around quite a few other instruments. do you find having a structured background in music particularly advantageous when producing tracks for milo or working on your own stuff?
i wish i could attribute any skill I may have at beat-making to some natural wellspring of talent, but that’s not the case. from the age of five and on, my mom sacrificed soooooo much of her time making me practice, and my teachers taught me how to think about music in a really interesting way. at this point, i feel like my productions are a coagulation of all of the things i’ve learned about music over my life. some of these things have been independent artistic discoveries, but a lot of them are things i’ve learned from other musicians.
speaking on the concept of structure, i think i was lucky to get out of the music world and not go to conservatory. i have a pretty rudimentary knowledge of “music theory,” but like, i know what music theory is, and so i feel like i have created my own sort of music theory that is part traditional stuff, part weird cage-ian beliefs about sounds and context and looser definitions of music, and part mix engineering.
i love shlohmo; i think he makes beautiful music with a computer that has tremendous amounts of emotional power for lots of people. if i am not mistaken, he had little to no musical background before he started making beats, but his past with visual art translates extraordinarily well into musical production. i think there is a sort of sculptural aspect to making music with a laptop that has more in common with work in the visual arts than traditional music performance, what i was taught.
i guess what i’m getting at is that my musical background helped make my learning curves with music less steep, but it took time for me to develop and understanding of the potential of my macbook and other cool little electronic instruments. it’s more than playing stuff in tune at the right time, which i spent much of my life trying to do. the computer does that for you. what i needed to learn was how little details of arrangement and mix engineering contribute to authorial style, vibes, these more ephemeral, hard to define concepts that really dictate people’s enjoyment of music. these are more both artistic and technical concerns that i didn’t get resolved during my classical music education.
your twitter handle is an homage to philip glass, and you’ve name-dropped steve reich a few times. what draws you to minimalist composers like the aforementioned?
part of it is a joke; the day things that happen at day came out, milo and i were talking about ol’ philly g and he told me to change my name to that. it seems like a trope: that the kid who makes hyper-intellectual rap songs with a classical background would sit around listening to his collection of philip glass records (i don’t do that fyi). it’s mostly just rapperish braggadocio, saying that i’m bringing this carefully studied, super conceptual style to the rap game. it also kinda points out how little i have to do with the “rap game.” basically, don’t take it too seriously.
i do really respect that type of composer. i think a piece like “4’33”” is genius shit. what a move as a composer, to mind-fuck an audience like that, make them listen to an audience listen as a piece of music. i like those things that break down artistic conventions, make you realize that the standards by which you perceive music are absolutely constructed. i’m really drawn to twentieth-century art because a lot of it was spent grappling with what art itself is rather than, like, painting some religious scene really really well. i foresee a movement like that spearheaded by musicians, because, let’s face it, every kid with ableton is making supercomputer music that has the potential to break in a radically innovative way from what we now perceive as music. synthesized music is in effect an abstraction, a representation of pleasing tonalities that arise from the totality of the western canon. as people explore new frontiers musically, the results of this will become pleasing and i think music will become a pretty foreign entity within a few decades. i think you can already see it a little bit in the rise of both textured and hyper-compressed (speaking of compression in the mix engineering sense) music. or maybe i smoke too many spliffs and think too much.
i changed my twitter handle to “cavalcade producer” because, as a rap producer, i’m really into hiding behind the narrative expressed in the rap songs that i produce. i’m almost happier if people think milo made his own beats. that’s kinda on some warhol shit.
what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?
well, i definitely have the whole power 106 (la’s mainstream radio rap station) memorized because i don’t have a aux cord in my car and i’m too far from long beach to get good reception on 93.5 kday (the classy old school hip-hop station.) although i respect the musicality and understanding of pop music that goes into making those songs, it’s hard to deny that most of contemporary radio rap is completely vapid and has like less than zero value to society. i still bump mikewillmadeit shit though. also, really really hood shit. i feel guilty listening to that because in reality i’m so unfamiliar with the existence that is being described that it feels touristic in an uncomfortable way, but at least i know that.
are there any upcoming projects you’re working on that people should know about?
umm, sort of. right now i’m mostly mixing down other people’s stuff because it feels good to actualize someone else’s project and i learn a lot from, like, making someone else’s music sound good. i’m gonna mix the hellfyre club mixtape which should drop by the end of the summer. i’ve made a slew of beats that may or may not end up as rap songs. i made a beat that is going to be on busdriver’s next album, which is sweet.
i’m getting a live set ready for a tour that i can’t talk that much about, which is really exciting. i saw mount kimbie the other night and that was so inspirational because they do a tremendous job of translating their studio work into a live setting, which is really hard. they seem like a band when they play; their performance has this element of visual musicianship and improvisation that i feel is lacking in a lot of really ableton-heavy live sets. i’ve done a lot of performance in ensembles and doing solo stuff with stringed instruments, so it feels weird that i can’t “perform” my compositions in the same way. i’m trying to overcome that barrier, but it takes some work since, frankly, there are so many elements in the beats that i make that it takes some considerable stripping down and re-arranging to get everything under my control. at this point i’ve accumulated enough gear that, using an ipad as a control surface, i should be able to play my beats entirely with live-triggered samples, drum machine sequences, and live synth work, which will be a lot of fun.
oh, and my dad is an old folk singer, and i have a couple really cool recordings that he did way back in the day that have never been mixed or mastered. i’m going to pick like four songs, do a faithful remastering of them, and then an edit of each one taking a bunch of creative liberties. a sort of, long ep i guess. finally, i’ve been working on a more vocal-heavy ep called architectures 1-3, which i may never finish. i’ve got “architecture 1” done though. it took me nine months to make. the vocals are a combination of my singing and resampling of milo acapellas, taking words and phrases and then re-arranging and manipulating them to sound like a crazy, otherworldly new vocal element that still has some lyrical substance.
all the talk on cavalcade is real; the album is done and almost ready to go, and word on the street is that a single will drop sometime next week. we’ll have that covered for you when it happens. in the meantime, check the links below for all things riley lake.