Milo’s “Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!” is a mosaic of poetic images and ethereal sounds.
Milo enlists the help of the great, Black American writer James Baldwin on the opening track. Baldwin’s thoughts on poetry, taken from recordings made several decades ago, bookend the song. Below is the entire quote from the end of the song (it was too good to break up):
I wanna suggest that the poets are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t, statesmen don’t, priests don’t, union leaders don’t. Only the poets, that’s my first proposition.The second proposition is what I really want to get at tonight. And it sounds mystical. I think in a country like ours, in a time like this when something awful is happening to a civilization, when it ceases to produce poets and, what is even more crucial, when it ceases in any way whatever to believe in the report that only poets can make.
This quote establishes so much. First there is the matter of Milo as the poet of our times. A character in a book by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano once said that the only thing to do during times of socioeconomic upheaval was to become an undercover poet. That’s Milo albeit he’s not undercover. He is however digesting the times we live in and creating an artistic response.
The Baldwin quote also establishes that we live in difficult times, a time where poetry is at risk of extinction. Baldwin was most likely referring to the 1960s and the battle for civil rights for Black people, but the quote still resonates today.
Finally the Baldwin quote establishes the role of the poet: to tell the truth. What shouldn’t be overlooked is Baldwin’s self-awareness. He acknowledges that his views might be mystical. He knows that the truth a poet exposes is not the clear, precise (so-called) truth offered by scientists and politicians and school teachers. And knowing this, Baldwin still argues for their import in society.
Having established the album’s thesis, Milo moves on to give us pieces of his psyche. On “note to mrs.” we get a free form song made of stanzas of love poetry written to his wife. On “paging mr. bill nunn” Milo delivers his version of an elegy for a seminal figure in his pop-culture existence.
Songwriters and poets are often struck my inspiration without warning. Although Milo has workman-like tracks that were formed over weeks of painstaking revisions, he also has flashes that revealed themselves through the fog. Of the tribute to Bill Nunn, Milo said “…woke up on the morning bill nunn passed on and had to make something. carved the beat out of a solid and looming dark cloud…” Even his explanations are lyrics to unwritten songs.
There are other flashes throughout the album. “sorcerer” was written and recorded in one setting. “Rapper”, the last song on the album, features Busdriver and continues the one-off aesthetic. The first verse is a freestyle that Busdriver spontaneously composed.
“Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!”
Milo and producer Kenny Segal combine ethereal beats and sparse lyrics on “Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!”. The craft comes through on songs that were composed in an instant and on songs painstakingly fleshed out over time. “yet another” is the song closest to traditional hip-hop on the album. Here Milo shows his versatility by delivering straightforward bars in contrast to his glitch-hop style found elsewhere on the album.
“Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!” buzzes and hums with an inherent mysticism. Milo suggests religious imagery in many of his lyrics with references to manna, the belly of a whale and J.Z. Smith.
“take advantage of the naysayer”, as well as other songs, approach the sounds or themes of afrofuturism. Milo drops references to Dubuffet, Nabokov and Zadie Smith. Like a poet, he chose his words with discretion. Each line of the album contains a mystery waiting to be unpacked.
Of course the album is not for everyone. Nor is it a breezy summer listen. It is however an artist’s interpretation of the times. It’s a beautiful, soothing album made by a unique voice. In that sense it’s an album for our time and any time.