‘From soft, gravel edged vocals to determined, polyphonic pounding rhythms, it’s a stunning, shackle-shattering sound.’
Re-intro to The Milk
First featured on Listen to Discover last year thanks to the epic sound of ‘Never Come Down’, yesterday (17th January 2020) saw the much-anticipated release of The Milk’s album ‘Cages’. A pre-release from this album, it was a completely impressive track that delivered everything you could want. Likewise, perfectly positioned at the midpoint of this latest release – between ‘Knock Me Out for Ten’ and ‘Time Don’t Cost Enough’ – how clear an indication this was of what was to come has been completely realised. So, with this in mind, it will be no surprise that choosing which track to feature was ridiculously hard. However, if I had to choose just one to highlight the unbelievably versatile and unbelievably tight sound that ‘The Milk’ have, ‘Wild Chained Man’ would most definitely be the one.
Wonderfully contrasting to almost every other track on the album, the groove-centred piano riff that introduces us to ‘Wild Chained Man’ feels refreshingly understated. This is, of course, a band that’s full of soulful drama and aims to evoke emotion at each turn. But here they evoke something very different: A sense of movement inducing musicality. Containing more than a hint of bossa nova, the seamlessly interlocking bass notes and syncopated chords are joined by latin-esque percussive rhythms and soft blues-rock guitar. Given the title – and the fact that this could easily be vamped round underneath endless improvisations – it may very well not be what you were expecting. However, while it doesn’t do this, what it does do is prove just how strong the whole track will be.
Establishing this sense of style, the underlying elements provide gentle momentum as the initial lyrics make their way into our ears. Riding above the accompaniment, the mix of gravel edged inflections and true tones that lead vocalist Rick possesses bring beauty and honesty in spades. Contrasting with the lightness of the surroundings, it develops wonderfully while hinting at the later expanse of sound we are to experience. Enhanced by softer backing vocals and gentle injections of piano fragments, hammer-ons and ticking rim-shots, the whole atmosphere feels more refined than wild. This said, a few moments of wildness are about to arrive.
Lifting vocally on the growing melodic hook of ‘I’ll never be uncovered again’ the whole sound bursts into life. Gone is the subtlety and replaced by determination-filled, thumping and crashing drums, hectic piano and the synchronisation of syncopated vocal and instrumental content, the early momentum becomes completely dramatic. It really is quite the sound and containing hallmarks of the other tracks within the album, you realise just how seamlessly sublime the whole sound is. And no more is this strengthened than with the linking instrumental that follows. Allowing for true blues guitar lines to come through, the musical guidance back to the second verse is so showcase-level that you only realise what’s happened afterwards.
Returning to the familiarity of the verse, this time round extra percussion joins to enhance the whole bossa nova feel. Guiro gently scraping in the distance, it is a truly wonderful nod to the inner musical influences of where the track is routed. Meanwhile, the initial groove continues to provide momentum as we head toward the sparser sound of the pre-chorus. Giving us an abundance of contrasts, in a shorter space of time than before, it’s a wonder it doesn’t feel disjointed. But, with every melodic motif, every rhythmical re-occurrence and every emotion-filled vocal phrase heard for just the right amount of time, it’s musically and literally harmonious. As is what follows.
Having proved that even in this generally lighter track they can provide intensity, we get to experience the softer side to it’s fullest. Casting aside the power of the chorus, the most soothing moments of the track begin to evolve. Setting the atmosphere, fading piano reveals rhythmically ticking drums which provide connection with all instrumental elements. Likewise, switching to delicate floor tom provides the perfect balance to the more delicate piano melody which emerges. This is no ordinary melody though. Forming connections with the vocals – when there are indeed none – these touchingly set variations of the chorus melody complete transform the atmosphere. Equally, with the drums growing at every repetition, it is to be transformed once again.
Bringing resurgences of drama, within the space of only a few seconds the subtlety completely disappears. This is indeed the moment that the whole track has been teasing us with throughout. Bursting back into life, with the re-emergence of familiar lines, the chorus returns in an intensely dominating form. Like a man thrashing about to break from his chains, soaring vocals, distorted guitars, recurring piano fragments and pounding drums wrestle each other for dominance. It is indeed an incredible sound. A wild, exploding one. And therefore it is only right that with the atmosphere reaching an unsettling, yet truly phenomenal climax, the shackles completely shatter.