Within the past five years, music has shifted more than it has since the late 80s. Indie rock has experienced a reawakening, kids from middle school into college crave trap music at their parties, and classic hip-hop has all but been extinguished. Here another genre gains heavy traction among this unpredictable cycling of music: underground (indie) rap. A far cry from the heavier, barbiturate-focused scene of mainstream rap, it more often resembles poetry concerning thoughts on self-reflection, family, and the current state of the music industry. I believe it’s safe to assume its popularity has been somewhat overshadowed – or even shunned – due to its potential jarring meter, lack of rhyme, and self-aware style. In 2014, indie rapper Milo released his second album, A Toothpaste Suburb immediately snagging my attention. What resides within is a passionate commentary on humanity, “the meaning of it all,” loss, and whatever the hell Milo felt like writing about, all laid over fascinating percussion and synth tracks
It was no secret upon beginning the album that things were going to get a little abstract. The first song, “Salladhor Sean, Smuggler,” seems to personify all that is “strange” and “different” in indie rap, the reasons for which many people reject it. That aside, all it takes is a mite of tolerance to listen to the lyrics and, perhaps most importantly, understand where Milo is coming from. What was his disposition, living situation, or social status as he wrote these songs?
The answer is simply “human.”
A Toothpaste Suburb oozes not only charisma and relatability, but humanity. It is evident that a man sat down in his apartment that he shared with his friends (nothing fancy, certainly), mused about whatever came to his mind, then put it to music to have it adored by a certain demographic. Milo understands that he is nothing more than a biological collection of memories. He affirms this in his song “Yafet’s Place” saying “everything I’ve ever known will crumble into dust. Until that day, I will stay as humble as a slug.” He doesn’t write these existential realizations to scare his listeners, I believe. The music does not allow for despondency, mostly only mindful meditation. It’s evident he fears not his own death, but perhaps only the death of others, as he reiterates several times over in memoriam verses for his (presumed) childhood friend, Rob, who passed away all too soon.
I could not help but notice the raw attention Milo draws to his physical body in his album. In nearly every song, he references his own person, relishing in his temporality. Whether it is being completely nude whenever he deems it necessary, or accepting that he (along with every other being on this planet) is a hairy, bio-waste producing machine that is capable of all sorts of taboo functions. Not only accepting it, Milo is embracing these facts, eliminating the social ideas bequeathed to the human body. The walls of embarrassment are gone, and all that’s left is a deeper understanding with the artist at his most vulnerable state, inviting you to take part in what the music has to offer.
I was fortunate enough to witness Milo live when he did a show at the University of New Hampshire. While gritting my teeth through the earnest openers before the main act, I was rattled to realize the man himself standing right next to me in the crowd, vibing with all the other enamored college kids. He wore denim, a vest and an aviator hat, and for this I had not noticed him until he left to take the stage (admittedly, I never got his attention); the most unassuming man, blending in with his fellow humans. On stage, Milo’s presence was so casual that, for a span of about 25 minutes, he stopped doing his songs (which he mixed himself, on the spot, bent over a table with his effects box) and just shot the shit with the audience, telling stories about his friends’ band and getting way too high by accident. The 6 foot 3(?) vegan did nothing to stand out other than craft personal lyrics and execute them beautifully on stage.
From the mind of “a Squidbilliles animator, rap-messiah agitator, chronic bathroom masturbator”(his own words), A Toothpaste Suburb brings to the table what it means to exist – peacefully or not – with the knowledge of your small place is this word, with added micro-jabs at religion and very direct pop culture references. I was very pleasantly surprised with his material, and if you can appreciate the occasional arrhythmic sequence, surprising lack of problematic women in the lyrics, and meandering nature of Milo’s writing, give it a listen.