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Milo & Otis, ‘The Joy’ album review

By Sarah Godfrey,

While Frank Ocean and Miguel were the most visible practitioners of groundbreaking, eclectic soul this year, Chicago duo Milo & Otis did some mold-shattering work, too.

“The Joy,” Milo & Otis’ debut effort, has made the virtual rounds since its May release, and everyone who listens seems charmed by singer/poet Jamila Woods (she’s Milo) and bassist/composer Owen Hill (he’s Otis). As one would expect of a group that takes its name from an ’80s movie about the friendship between a tabby kitten and a pug pup, the music is often adorable, but always has a little bite.

Take “Black Sheep,” which couches social commentary in a twee soundscape. Words from the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” lead into Woods praising her natural hair (“Since I cut my perm off, life ain’t been the same/I been taking long showers and long walks in the rain), but also staving off people who want to lay a hand on her crowning glory: “Don’t touch my [expletive] hair,” she sings — clearly serious, although her voice remains sweet.

“1108 Troy Davis” doesn’t get into specifics of Davis’s controversial 2011 execution, but captures the emotion of the day, as well as the surrounding debate. “Art of the Toast” is a broken-hearted ballad that takes its cues from obscure ’90s alt-soul artists such as Grenique and Bilal, while the title track starts off sounding like an intentionally distorted version of Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings,” then morphs into a surreal slice of dream-pop — just the sort of thing that makes one want to share “The Joy.”

— Sarah Godfrey

Recommended tracks

“Black Sheep,” “Art of the Toast,” “1108 Troy Davis”

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