Review: M&O, ‘Almost Us’


M&O isn’t a household name, but perhaps the duo should be

M&O • Almost Us US Release Date: April 3, 2014

In an age where many of us music listeners are searching for the next ‘big-thing’ – aka the next breakout artist/band – too often WE think ‘too big’ and end up missing out on a treat that wasn’t so far-fetched to discover. There are a number of independent artists who offers just as much, if not more than our ‘idea’ of what and who the next big-time major label artist should be. Among those artists – the “lesser-known” artists as they could be categorized – is a duo that shouldn’t be slept on by the name of M&O. Formerly known as Milo & Otis, Jamila “Milo” Woods handles vocals/vocal arrangements while Owen “Otis” Hill handles instrumental/production duties. After releasing an EP in 2013 entitled The Joy (it’s available digitally), the Chicago duo return (new name intact) with a second EP entitled Almost Us. Generally credited as an R&B offering, Almost Us is eclectic and definitely transcends R&B and labels in general. Available digitally and physically via music bandcamp as of April 3, 2014, Almost Us won’t leave the listener disappointed.

House” opens Almost Us, exemplifying the popular, newfound alt-R&B sound that is breathing new life into the R&B genre. Like major-label contemporaries including Jhene Aiko or Miguel, the alt-soul cues are definitely in play from both Milo (vocals) and Otis (production). “House” has a chill vibe, alluringly lazy vocals, and exceptional production. Referencing those ‘lazy’ vocals, M&O’s sound reminisces back to Erykah Badu in her prime (Baduizm). On “Run”, Milo definitely has strong opinions lyrically: “I would rather run, far away from you / I would rather run.” Besides another well-penned song and hypnotizing vocals, “Run” features a hard anchoring beat that propels the track forward. The overall production thrives from its creativity and minimalism. A variety of tasteful synths and sound effects once more provide a compelling backdrop for Milo to paint with her voice. The use of cool, soulful background vocals doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Jimi Savannah” has more of a pop/rock-oriented sound about it, definitely contrasting “House” and “Run”. Milo’s voice is incredibly versatile, so the shift from more overt R&B to pop/rock is by no means drastic. As always, Otis is there to lockdown the production exceptionally. Perhaps even more than “House” or “Run”, minimalism plays a driving force, specifically courtesy of guitar and bass lines. “It Was The Song”, featuring Donnie Trumpet, gives Almost Us some tempo to work with aka it’s quicker than “Jimi Savannah”. Additionally, after a brief stint with pop/rock, “It Was The Song” returns M&O to R&B/soul fare. “Hollow” features some of Otis’ most adventurous production as of yet, completely abandoning a specific style or niche. Because of the initial unpredictability, “Hollow” has the listener sitting at the edge of their seat just to see what’s going to happen next. The vocal production on “Hollow” definitely shines, playing into the minimalist sense of the overall production. A slow, grinding cut, “Hollow” ends up being one of the most alluring.

Blue” builds off of the tremendous vocal arrangement of “Hollow”, opening stunningly with layered vocals.   The best way to describe the opening is lush and fluffy – think of a baby kitten (Aw!). After making an opening statement with its vocal salvo, “Blue” develops into yet another compelling, alt-R&B number. “Blue”, like the majority of Almost Us, lacks in vocal histrionics that much of R&B possesses, which reduces some of its heart-wrenching, spirit-filled edginess. That said the vibe and the intensity built from the production sort of makes up for the gospel-tinged runs.

Penultimate track “Neighbor” opens mysteriously as anything else, perhaps even a bit off-putting (if you have preconceived expectations). Vocals once more serve as a gargantuan, unavoidable piece within the production. The difference here is that initially, the vocals aren’t layered like “Blue”. With pacing once more serving as a pivotal characteristic, “Neighbor” eventually rounds out into form as the pieces meld together. If the duo of “Blue” and “Neighbor” seemed bit ‘too far out’, “When Pigs Fly” is more accessible. Even so, “When Pigs Fly” definitely doesn’t supersede the album’s two best cuts, “Home” or “Run!”

Ultimately, Almost Us offers the listener a wonderful exemplification of the new school of R&B, with all its ambitious eclecticism. All eight songs have redeeming value, which is a testament to the musicianship of the duo. That said, sometimes it could be argued that M&O play it the slightest bit too ‘cool’ throughout the effort – sometimes it is a bit too ‘chill’. It is nitpicking – nitpicking that could be easily fixed if there were bit of a ‘push’ or extra bite. Still, if you enjoy your music with some unpredictability and incorporating a couple of styles, Almost Us is certainly the right listening opportunity. Hey, it definitely receives my praise and blessings.


“House”; “Run!”; “Hollow”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Mac Demarco, ‘Salad Days’

41CKDmzB+RL._SL500_AA280_ Salad Days easily proves to be one of the year’s elite albums

Mac Demarco • Salad Days • Captured Tracks • US Release Dates: April 1, 2014

“Oh now, you’ve done it again / no use when you already know how it ends.” Throughout Salad Days, singer/songwriter Mac Demarco seems incredibly down – there is the sense of the constant ‘bummer’. The aforementioned lyrics, excerpted from “Treat Her Better”, would suggest this extreme pessimism from the Canadian artist. However, even though Demarco gets down within Salad Days about various things, he also offers atoning words of wisdoms and relatable truths. It sounds deep…and honestly it is, even when Demarco’s lyrics seem childishly simple (“Blue boy, blue boy”). There is a magic about Salad Days that makes the 11-track, 34-minute affair among the best of 2014 – it’s almost hypnotic.

Salad Days” opens the album abruptly, but makes perfect sense once it settles in. Nonchalantly performed by Demarco, the approach is part of the endearment of the track as well as the album as a whole. Essentially, Demarco delivers the song from the perspective that his life is done, despite his young age: “Salad days are gone / missing hippy Jon / remembering things just to tell ‘em so long.” Even if the “salad days are gone”, Demarco seems like he still has plenty of livelihood left personally. “Blue Boy” seems less concerned about life moving too fast, but trades that concern for being “worried about the world’s eyes / worried every time the sun shines.” “Blue Boy” is incredibly relatable, particularly to the worrywart who is too fearful of any and everything. The realistic and relatable nature of “Blue Boy” is definitely part of the allure.

On “Brother”, Demarco continues to sing in an undertone, definitely part of the ‘script’. “You’re no better off, living your life and dreaming at night,” the singer/songwriter sings both memorably and prudently on the standout. The production has soulfulness about it, even if it isn’t an overt soul cut. Besides stellar lyrics and a fantastic performance, the guitar, particular during the “Go home” portion of the song, is superb. “Let Her Go” follows up sensationally, as Demarco waves the finger about leading “her” on: “Tell her that you lover her, if you really love her / but if your heart just ain’t sure, let her go.” The style/approach remains easygoing and somewhat mellow if you will, but definitely meaningful. “Goodbye Weekend” proves groovier than “Let Her Go”, sporting funkiness about it. Demarco shows some jazziness within his vocals, which is definitely a fine touch. In addition to the jazziness, Mac has swagger too: “Goodbye weekend, so long darling / Macky’s been a bad, bad boy.” Get it Mac!

Let My Baby Stay” is the lengthiest song on this brief affair. Perhaps it rides out a bit too long at the end, but overall, Demarco gets things just right. The rhythmic intensity of the guitars here in particular stands out. A better track is “Passing Out Pieces”, in which the sound is incredibly assertive, despite the lyrics suggesting/questioning otherwise: “Watching my life, passing right in front of my eyes / hell of a story, or is it boring?” Here, Demarco seems to continue to lament his humdrum life, confirming how even the closest people in his life don’t understand: “What mom don’t know has taken its toll on me / it’s all I’ve seen that can’t be wiped clean / it’s hard to believe what it’s made of me.”

Treat Her Better” offers advice that many men could stand to heed to: “Treat her better, boy / if having her at your side’s something you enjoy”. The guitars are dreamy sounding and out of tune – all part of the sound/vibe. “Chamber of Reflection” is definitely a change of pace from everything else, featuring a hard, heavy beat and synths. Bass punctuations brilliantly anchor things down, while an exceptional harmonic progression exemplifies R&B/soul music. Further praising the instrumental aspects, Demarco makes excellent use of space and pacing. The vocals continue in understated fashion, making the listener truly listen closely and think about the lyrics. The chorus is nothing ‘special’ on paper, but perfectly sums up the track contextually: “Alone again, alone again / alone again, alone”.

Penultimate track “Go Easy” contrasts the reflective “Chamber of Reflection” with a slightly quicker, medium groove. Demarco is still relaxed, but his words continue to carry weight whether its “I’ll be right behind you / to pick you up until you come around” or later instance “Honey it can be tough, without your friends beside you / you build it up, just to knock it down.” Moving on definitely isn’t easy, and that seems to be Demarco’s messaging here. “Jonny’s Odyssey” closes Salad Days with ranch dressing – well not literally! “Jonny’s Odyssey” is an enjoyable instrumental cut.

So, just how good is this Salad Days album? Well it’s definitely not anywhere near the ‘bore’ that Mac Demarco describes his life as within it. Salad Days is one of the most intriguing albums of the year because of its subtlety, thoughtfulness, and overall creativity. Demarco definitely isn’t best vocalist I’ve ever heard, and I would wager that few would strike this assertion down, but his vocal style and tone is perfectly suited for this style of music. Most important, the songwriting and overall sound and craft of the songs on Salad Days is exceptional. I’m onboard!


“Salad Days”; “Brother”; “Passing Out Pieces”; “Chamber of Reflection”

Verdict: ★★★★