Angst-ridden strings lean on a heartache-laden horn melody in “Tell Me More” as if to try and encapsulate the very nature of contemplation inside of a slow-churning ballad that runs a little under four minutes in total length. The keys reflect the nuanced pain of a distant violin’s whimper as we enter the first few bars of “Lost Coffee,” but the deeper we get into the song’s mischievous harmonies, it feels less like a dirge and more like a smoky tribute to classic film noir. “Ghosts of the Keynote” rumbles with the swing of an old fashioned jazz tune, but its heavy-handed backend references punkish garage rock far more than it does a retro-style New Orleans sway. The guitars blister us with a raw, unchecked heat wave that they unfurl in the wake of a glowing vocal intro in “Idiot,” and compared to the muted seduction of the percussive track in “No Speak So Good,” both songs are startlingly engaging (though they utilize two completely different structures). This is Kashmir the Great, the new EP from Milquetoast & Co., and while it’s as diverse a record as they come, it’s also one of the finest that I’ve heard all summer long.
Kashmir the Great is a harmony-driven extended play that relies on emotive melodies more than it ever does concise lyrics in telling us a grand story that is as familiar as a troubadour tale and still strangely unique, especially against the avant-garde backdrop that 2019 has provided it with. This record doesn’t see Milquetoast & Co. retreating from their experimental ways; if anything, they’re running head-first into the flames of eclecticism here and emerging as victoriously as a group can in contemporary alternative music. From the percussive plunge of “Ghosts of the Keynote” to the howl of “Idiot” and the daydream-like poetry of “Tell Me More,” the band is using every weapon at their disposal in Kashmir the Great, all with the hopes of relating a definitively American narrative to us. It’s multifaceted, splendidly jarring where it counts the most and gripping both physically and emotionally more often than not, and I don’t believe I’ve been able to say that about another record in its class this year.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where this next chapter in the career of Milquetoast & Co. takes them, because if this record marks the beginning of a new slew of explorative releases that will take their signature sound as far as it can go, then I have a feeling that we’re going to be seeing this group’s moniker in the headlines a lot more often as 2020 comes into focus. There’s so much to take in on this extended play that, for some listeners, experiencing all five of its songs at once might be a little too engrossing, especially if they’re not accustomed to left-field melodies, but I recommend doing so just the same. This is a one of a kind record from a one of a kind band that every credible music critic should be talking about this September.
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