Braids can be classic and you can shape them into unexpected patterns that become sophisticated and stylish. Rainy Milo’s official U.S. debut of This Thing of Ours blends a number of distinct musical styles into a single braid, melding jazz, hip-hop, R&B, dub, electronic and reggae influences. But braids do one other thing — highlight the beauty of the face. In the musical sense, it’s all about highlighting Milo’s voice, which is as much an instrument as any playing around her. Like Amy Winehouse before her, Milo’s modulated jazz-style of vocal phrasing is a kind of beautiful cheating. It allows her to bend and elongate verses and words to her will, line-lengths flex their soul within her vocal slides, love finds its depth in the lean of her expanding vowels, the curvature she gives the word “sure” in the album opener, “Are You Sure?”, adds a sexy, teasing tinge to a song about trepidation in a relationship: “You gave me something yesterday / I swore I wouldn’t lose it / I swore I’d hold on tightly / But then I started to lose grip / Yes, I lost it / Because I always over-think.”
The London-artist’s 11-song LP consists of some new songs and a few she’s streamed as singles over the past years: “‘Bout You” and its tale of grown-up love plays above a pretty jazz flute. “Rats” is about a youthful escape into the grimy late-night London club scene, the song centering around this cheeky verse: “It’s cool if you’re goin’ out, just remember you’re mine.” One of the most sublime tracks is the lovelorn, slow-smoked “Treasure Girl”. It begins with a man appearing almost out of thin air, from the summer heat. The song’s pace is a seductive waltz. The rising passion builds through the powerful vocal harmonies of the song’s most elegant lyrics: “And if your travels take you far away / I hope a piece of me with you can stay / And if you need to chase the rising sun / I hope you’ll think of me when we’re all done”. It really says a lot about the mind of an artist who writes emotive verses like that, especially considering they’re beautifully written in iambic pentameter — the meter of the heart.
The dubbed-out “In This Place”, with its gorgeous chorus, feels thematically connected to “Rats”, both protagonists wanting to avoid being held back. The Chet Faker-produced “Deal Me Briefly” has a slick groove and allows Milo to let loose in a more traditional R&B sense. There aren’t many musicians singing as polished a style of R&B as this. There was Corinne Bailey Rae, and perhaps now Lianne La Havas. Milo’s music is a variation that feels as comfortable playing double-dutch off the stoop as making music about the trials of the heart. “This Thing of Ours” is clearly a fun play on the Italian La Cosa Nostra, but membership to Milo’s club is really about love and the universal notion we’ve all been touched by its immersive joys and its heartbreaks. Note: This Thing of Ours is out via Limey/Big Picnic Records and on iTunes. Follow Milo at facebook, twitter and tumblr. For those of you who may have heard a few of these songs, there’s a new video out via YouTube for the title track. — David D. Robbins Jr