milo, a toothpaste suburb

Blake Gillespie

milo, a toothpaste suburb [Hellfyre Club]

The introductory notes to milo’s a toothpaste suburb are not composed with an urgency to connect, in fact it feels as though we arrive at the record in medias res. It’s not until milo speaks that our attention is requested. Is this the amateur oversight of a debut album or purposeful like a moat protecting the castle that only invites those who possess the patience for an exploration of the human condition? Consider it a potpourri of possibilities. “salladhor saan, smuggler” is not a perfect introduction to a toothpaste suburb—at first. In three minutes milo purges sessional therapy through finite details of poverty and crushing insecurity only to arrive at a battle cry of “you can’t tell me why / because you never fucking knew.” Directed at the naysayer of creative pursuit, milo is still the troubled, young philosophy dropout who in 2011 addressed his guilt in pursuing a rap career dedicated to the memory of his departed friend with “this is beyond my fucking limits” and still mustered the brazen declaration “I swear to goodness I have no fear of failure.”  As his official debut, a toothpaste suburb has the arduous task of restoring that bridge despite the massive output and obtained legion of dedicated followers since I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here. 

Once inside a toothpaste suburb, milo settles in with “yafet’s song”; nocturnal and cosmic the production throughout the record feels deliberately sleepy like an actual suburb where upkeep of peace and quiet are rules one and two. He’s consistently hesitant to disturb the tranquility of his habitat (which is also an imaginary place, like Open Mike Eagle’s 4NML HSPTL), downplaying his philosophical musings with “I just thought you’d like to know”—translating to “it’s okay if this is not for you.” This is milo’s m.o. throughout the record because the deeper into his cul-de-sac you go, it’s revealed this album is dedicated to a small collection of confidants, real and imagined.

Sonically, a toothpaste suburb laps his previous records thrice over due to the producer corp and professional engineering touch of Daddy Kev. The production credits by iglooghost, Tastenothing, Riley Lake, and greyhat are unlisted on Bandcamp as though it was a shared anthologizing of their collective sound. It speaks to the album’s greatest strength, it’s almost entirely without an off kilter disturbance, the exception being “argyle sox (may Hellfyre live longer than any of us)”. It must be noted that while milo is one of the most compelling individuals to ever put his voice to music—a toothpaste suburb having the false interpretation of a conscious exploration of the self—it is indebted to his inner circle of producers and rap peers. 

milo feels that debt and dedicates, whether consciously or unconsciously, the debut to those that have mattered most in his formative years. His generosity is not to the listener but to his ex-girlfriend, his friends, and his Hellfyre collective; it’s to Schopenhauer, to David Foster Wallace, to Kang Min-gyu, and always to his friend Rob. On “ought implies can and I cannot” he longs for the power of the necromancer to bring back the people who helped him make sense of the world and the journey from “you are go(o)d to me” to “objectifying rabbits” (featuring Open Mike Eagle) explores a relationship off limits to mass appropriation. It’s simply not possible to send your girlfriend “objectifying rabbits” with a note that reads “this reminds me of us”, despite the enticement of “I made you something pretty with my words today / I heard you gasp because you lacked the words to say”—she won’t understand the reference to a father hanging in Trafalgar Square.

The problem with a toothpaste suburb is that lurking past every empowering and gut-wrenching utterance that milo offers as a universal discovery, he thwarts the bread broken, by reminding us that we are not actually having his experience.

The difference between milo on I Wish My Brother… or the Things That Happen At Day//Night EPs and milo now, is he’s grown up to feel alienated by the white-bred fondness of his fan base and become reactionary to it. This not to say that milo is militant as it’s not in his wiring. But, there exists moments in which he elects to address his creed exclusively, which brings “salladhor saan, smuggler” back into consideration. Beyond the three minute invitation to his imaginary suburb of doldrums and harmony, he discovers an otherness declaring it an alcove, describing it through reference to an Open Mike Eagle b-side of “the room with Wolf Mother wallpaper.” It is here he incants Freestyle Fellowship’s “We Will Not Tolerate” nearly in full, a manifesto written a year before his birth on what it means to be a black man in Amerika. Again, as much as we want to internalize the Fellowship’s “we will not tolerate FEAR!”, not everyone can follow the spelling of “O-R-D-I-N-A-R-Y…” to completion. milo knows this. He’s not angry with us for our transgressions or impositions, but he’s not hiding his desire for alienation. a toothpaste suburb is both an imaginary place in his mind and a criticism of those “safe places to live” advertisements for white flight.

The detractor to a toothpaste suburb is that we are not milo and we are not part of his inner circle. We can have an alignment of interests or put in the legwork to appropriate them as our own, but we’ll still be tourists just passing through. He has the capacity to invite us into his world and make us feel less alone, empower us with a new language to metabolize this complicated existence, but he’s not a yogi, or a shaman, pedagogue, or savior. On closer “gaudeamus igitur (for Kang Min-gyu)” he repeats the final words of the album twice “who had the courage to keep on hoping”, the first feels attached to his self-professed “rap game Mowgli / with a nose bleed / who had the courage to keep on hoping”, while the repetition is a rhetorical ellipses. Unclosed, it is up to us to determine the identity of “who” or answer the call ourself.

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