Sometimes good things really do come to those who wait. I could hardly believe it while researching this review, but it’s been over five years since W&H first went into raptures over MILK KAN’S ‘Bling Bling Baby’ and commissioned a feature directly off the back of it.
Even then, these startling Sarf London anti-folksters were talking up a good fight. They got this writer’s attention with a press release suggesting their music sounded “like Billy Bragg brawling with Johnny Cash in Bill Hicks’ coffin” and actually had the audacity to follow through on the promise. Frankly, they sounded like they would shortly go through the roof and yet – for whatever reason(s) – it was another three years before their eponymous debut album finally appeared. As to why it slipped through the W&H net at the time, I genuinely don’t know.
Anyway, nuff of all that stuff. It’s 2011 and I’m heartened to hear the Milk Kan boys are not only still here, but sounding more confident and verbally vicious than ever before with their sophomore album ‘The Junk Shop.’ Produced by respected dub master Prince Fatty, it’s a fine, genre-defying catch-all kaleidoscope of sound and captures the vibrant diversity of the band’s Brixton manor in the process.
Crucially, though, while Milk Kan are unafraid to mash up styles and codes, guitars and drums, beats and samples, there’s always a method to their madness and usually a sing-along chorus to follow the freestylin’ and spielin’. The Streets’ Mike Skinner is a name often bandied round as a comparison and occasionally – on tracks like ‘Superbad’ (“I got Leadbelly fingers when it comes to guitar/ George Best style on the Stella Artois”) – it’s a fair cop. Mostly, though, Milk Kan juggle a verbal supremacy all their own, whether taking on sharp, witty conspiracy theory rants (‘Question This’), the evils of consumerism (‘Hotdog State of Mind’) or treating us to a whistle-stop history of street talk on the barnstorming – and unashamedly funky – ‘Slingin’ The Slang.’
Elsewhere, the hand of Prince Fatty quietly steers the tiller on the gentle, blue-beat tinged ‘The View from the Top’ and ‘Medders Stop Drinkin’ White Ace’, where a calypso-infused stroll is the backdrop for a cautionary tale of succumbing to the delights of a dodgy cider substitute which I’m led to believe makes Buckfast seem like Dom Perignon. Urgh!!
Both the Mexicali-tinged spaghetti western Ska of the title track and the frighteningly catchy ‘Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Tunes’ fulfil the album’s ‘radio tracks’ obligation, but the sad and lovelorn ‘Lego’ and the Brenda Lee-sampling ‘The Song the Night Owned’ bring us to a surprisingly philosophical conclusion. The latter is especially unlikely, not unlike the sort of romantic ballad that traditionally brings a Northern Soul club night to its’ slow dance conclusion. It’s sad-eyed and full of loneliness and one in the eye for those who believe this Brixton crew are about merely about spraying invective around like graffiti.
‘The Junk Shop’, then, is quite a bargain basement. Take a walk off the beaten track and visit this startling emporium where Milk Kan’s aural nourishment is waiting to be spilt all over the shop. Second time around, let’s hope the stain spreads into the wider public consciousness.
Milk Kan on MySpace
The Blang Label online