Monday, October 24, 2011

THE VOICE: Milo Jones

You don't know Milo Jones. I barely know Milo Jones, and I've met him at least three times whenever he's swung through Los Angeles over the last ten years. He's an unassuming trickster figure, a thin and slight-looking Bostonian who dresses like an R. Crumb hayseed complete with trucker's cap and droopy handlebar moustache. (Up close, you notice he wears eyeliner and glitter.) He intricately finger-picks a tiny catgut-string "two dollar guitar" that looks like a toy stolen from daycare. He sings twisted fables and far-flung covers in a voice that sounds like he has marbles in his mouth and/or clothespins clamped to his lips. Like Nick Drake, his voice can be startlingly intimate, like he's whispering into your ear. Like Beck, you often have no idea if he's joking or serious.

"Hi, I'm Milo. Can I fuck with your ears for an hour?"

Jones has been on the DIY, self-released, crash-on-couches scene since about 2002. We went to see him at the late, lamented Club Screwball, hosted by ex-Germ Don Bolles and alt-burlesque femlin Miss Darcey Leonard. We picked up his CD Sassy Trax at that show and was amused by the cover of a nude Jones that came accompanied with 3D glasses. We had a hard time getting through the CD because the first four songs were so brilliantly sequenced and so uncommonly weird that we couldn't get past them: "Sandro and the French Guy" is a languid croon about (we think) a gay romantic triangle; "Feels OK" is a sinister slice of folk-funk; "Lies" is a whispery confessional that leads into the bittersweet payoff of "The Other Side of You," an irresistably catchy meditation on romantic claustraphobia ("You look good from a distance / Several meters away...") by the obscure French-German duo Stereo Total.

Milo Jones, Daddy's Girl (2002)

Although Jones writes many originals, his forte just might be his unique and eclectic choice of covers. Jones' singing style -- half-drawl, half-croon -- is so singular that, like Cat Power or Eva Cassidy, he can pull off brilliant versions of both the familiar ("Bennie and the Jets," "Be My Baby," "I'm Not in Love") and the obscure (Johnny Paycheck's "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill," Randy Newman's "Snow," Blowfly's "Suck Train"). He also mutates his influences: Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" becomes "Beat On Me," Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train" becomes "Space Ship" and Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" becomes a Roman Polanksi film under Jones' subterranean-globetrotter vision. Time Out-New York paid Jones the highest compliment: "He seems influenced by everyone, but sounds like only himself."

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