When Miles Elkington was a kid in the northernmost reaches of Australia, his parents worried there was something badly wrong: Why was their son so nice? At least it was a pleasant problem—Elkington was charismatic and compromising, an instinctive mediator no matter the situation. But why, they wondered, couldn’t he express anger? Did he simply not have it? Did he
not experience frustration the same way as most everyone else on the planet?
Elkington, we can safely say, has now grown into the fullness of his feelings. You Make Me Feel Beautiful—his incandescent and addictive debut EP as Milku, his playful portmanteau of a name—perfectly harnesses the embittered anxieties and hovering despair of being in your mid- twenties right now, the world teetering at recession’s edge while still spinning beneath the pandemic’s long shadow.
It might take a moment, however, to spot those lamentations amid the spangled synths and ebullient drums Milku deploys so magically here, as pure and bright as crystals glittering beneath summer sunshine. Here is the kid who grew up camouflaging his heaviest emotions, now expressing them as an adult with a thrilling sense of subversion.
Milku’s first masterpiece with this juxtaposition is, of course, “Alone,” his first single and already something of an online hit. Above resplendent piano, stuttering beats, and corkscrewed bass, he sings of being gorgeous and vivacious, the sudden star of any room he enters. He wants it to be this way, obviously, to be the life of a party he didn’t even start. Why, then, as he sings in a hook that will stick so deeply the first time you hear you’ll never forget it, is he sad? “If you’re so great,” he offers “then why you all alone?” Milku chronicles his misadventures, whether (accidentally) kissing a stranger with COVID to make himself better or foolishly taking advice from people who suffer the same emptiness. In an age of beaming for the ’gram in exquisite places and cropping out any whiff of sadness, “Alone” is an anthem about being seen fully beneath that façade of fun, a song of solidarity for those who feel left out by their compulsion to stand out.
This frisson and contrast thread together the five razor-sharp tracks of You Make Me Feel Beautiful. Above the rubbery disco of “Diamonds xx”, Milku sings of all the delights he’d offer a partner, from euphoric drugs to sheer joy. But in his exquisitely honest falsetto, he wonders if he’s truly capable of that kind of love, if he has what it takes. And above the stuttering slap bass and spiraling keyboards of “Beverly Hills Cop,” he confesses to his own insecurities, his voice cloaked by a panoply of processors, as if he’s shying away from his actual feelings. But then the chorus hits, a true explosion of color and candor: “You make me feel beautiful,” he sings to his friends, the very ones who make him seem less alone. Hopefully, that sensation sounds familiar to you, too.
Another memory from Elkington’s childhood, a foundational one for the genesis of the tantalizing music he now makes as Milku: When he was newly a teenager, riding around in the backseat of his parents’ car, he’d ask them to play a tape he’d made labeled “Techno Mix.” It was his self-made compilation of the DFA scene of the early ’00s. He was still that quiet kid, learning to play acoustic guitar alone in his bedroom, but he loved those booming beats and bent sequences. He’d demand that his dad turn up the volume until they could barely take it. Here was that endlessly nice kid, finding the language for expressing himself fully. His compulsive debut, You Make Me Feel Beautiful, turns the same trick—it brightens up the dark just enough to make you too feel seen.
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