Seasoned producer, performer and songwriter. Milan Ring is a powerful woman who can sing, spit bars, and shred the guitar.
Her rap sheet includes studio sessions in LA with Chance the Rapper, The Social Experiment and SZA (which she covered for Like A Version), collaborations with Sampa The Great and B Wise, as well as renowned international rappers Mick Jenkins, Saba, BJ The Chicago Kid and Isaih Rashad.
She is hugely respected and apparently can do anything, but Milan Ring is still criminally underestimated.
I have hope – his debut album Too Good to Ignore – should change that.
This week’s featured album is a masterfully executed showcase of world-class RnB and neo-soul that’s just as vibrant as genre leaders like SZA, Solange and Ari Lennox.
It also places the Sydney artist in a thriving local scene of contemporaries like Becca Hatch (of which she was the spearhead of Like A Version), Ngaiire (another collaborator), Budjerah and Miiesha. All amazing voices with important messages to share.
The record argues for one of the best Australian soul / RnB albums of 2021, and if Milan Ring isn’t in the category of the same name at the 2022 ARIA Awards, then something’s done.
Remarkably, she wrote, recorded, produced and mixed I have hope in his own studio in Marrickville, on Gadigal Land in Sydney’s Inner West.
The significance of this achievement strikes as soon as you hit play on the relaxed “Hide With You” opening and hear its precise blend of live instrumentation and digital elements. Her songs are rooted in lush arrangements – slinky bass supporting a jazzy piano, evocative guitar work and healing, heavenly stacks of vocal harmonies are recurring signatures. But the electronic beats, synths and augmentation also give everything a futuristic flavor.
As a producer, she has a big ear to give a song just what it needs without overcooking it. She could have shown herself or let go, but Milan instead uses her skills to make often very revealing statements about her emotional state, mental health, personal relationships and experiences with substance abuse.
‘I didn’t go out to play / I just went out to get drunk ‘ she states on the highlight of the serpentine album “Pick Me Up”, which takes place in a hazy club setting with a twisty chorus that brilliantly evokes the feeling of feeling courtesy of liquid courage.
‘I love the way you lift me / I like my face better when you tell me I’m hot ‘
The vibes are strong, but it’s also a clever commentary on âpickup culture and insecurity; needing too many glasses to feel safe, âMilan told Richard Kingsmill on Triple j 2021. A song about losing our self-esteem in the way we are viewed by others and the crutches we are use to feel confident.
‘BS’ is just as intelligent, bringing a soft touch to the very human urge to stop living. ‘I have to face this bullshit everyday ‘ goes the watery hook, skillfully mixing raked guitars with a hip hop thud and a Latin infused shuffle. Che Lingo, the rapper from south London signed on Idris Elba’s label 7Wallace, takes up and extends the theme.
This lifts yet another creative bowstring of Milan Ring: she is an excellent curator. I have hope spotlights other rising stars like the Chicago MC Jean Deux, bringing a super sultry presence to “Pick Me Up,” and the proud Malyangapa, female Barkindji Barkaa, who goes beast mode on her deeply personal lines on “Let It Glide “.
Sydneysider BLESSED helps Milan create the album’s most cinematic moment, ‘Sydney Hue’, which takes a night shot through the concrete jungle they call home.
“This [song] always played in my head like a movie, âsays Milan. “The city of Sydney, the blue hour, when the sun goes down and the remaining light shines through the tall buildings, streets full of life and yet so lonely.”
The song captures the scene perfectly: awe-inspiring yet disturbing, a combination of haunting and effortless cool that culminates in an eerie guitar duel, where the couple’s six strings stretch across the horizon.
Technically, Milan Ring started playing music at the age of six, when she first took keyboard lessons. But it was her teenage fascination with the guitar that really launched her career as we know it.
âI was really obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and knew I wanted to buy a Stratocaster. She scrimped, saved up and bought her first Strat when she was 17, “which I still have to this day.” It’s all over this record.
Growing up, she played in all kinds of groups (âall up to 16 musicians playing world and jazz musicâ) while nurturing her own musical discovery: Aaliyah, Prince, Nas. âMy mom always played Jill Scott, Erykah Badu. I think it all got into my pores and came out later without me realizing it.
We hear those influences and that story on the track “Fluttering,” a “playful and nostalgic comeback of baby Milan” as she uses 50c popsicles from the corner store to cheer herself up. The song then played from 1994 to 2006, and a teenage boy from Milan moved on to harder stuff, smoking a ‘little bud … every recess and lunch ‘ to face the troubles of his life.
On the next track ‘Dreaming’ she keeps looking for freedom in all the wrong places, ‘fill my own prescription up there on the moon ‘ and reveals:
‘I was kicked out of school and the judge blamed me / I was 16, they just didn’t hear me /
Then I was 19 and I crashed through the screen / I rolled in my 20s, obscuring what I had seen ‘
During the conversation, she is relatively cautious about the specific hardships she endured, but admits “that there were certainly a lot of challengesâ¦ friends who have passed awayâ¦ a lot of drug and addiction issues in my school. also. It was quite difficult to see and be around.
She would also hear “a lot of anti-Asian rhetoric,” which was deeply upsetting for someone of Chinese, Indian and Australian descent. âWe’re very impressionable when we’re younger and these things you can start to believe; you hear it in your head.
As the title of I have hope suggests, however, that the 30-year-old is now in a much better place. âI can say with joy that I am a happy and hopeful person now, but it really took me a while to get there. It takes a lot of practice and daily routine to work on it.
Through her art, she also proudly reconnects with the multicultural heritage that she “completely rejected” for too long in high school. âFor me, it was really important to bring out this part of my culture, my Indian heritage. I’m so proud of it nowâ¦ I feel like I’ve come back to myself in a way.
The album cover depicts Milan, his beloved instrument cradled on his knees, like a luminous being, at peace and surrounded by the temptation of strained MudrÄs – a ritual hand gesture system which have been used for âthousands of years in meditation, dance, art, worship. They have very deep meanings and themes.
Milan studied MudrÄs with the Sydney-based South Asian dance collective Bindi Bosses crew, which helped her develop the use of ancient gestures through the singles and music videos on the album.
âIt was a great process. They came on the set [and] choreographed during the day. They are not easy either; âYou have to have strong hands,â she explains. âI think my guitar hands seemed to be fine, but I’m definitely a beginner. I’m sure very trained dancers would see a bit of a crease in my mudrÄs [but] I train very hard.
A relatively unprecedented spectacle in Australian popular music, the MudrÄs provide a unique layer of understanding of the complexities of I feel hopeful. The Aarala mudra, referring to the consumption of poison, points to the self-sabotage that boils through ‘BS’. The Chethura mudra binds sadness and broken promises to ‘Sydney Hue’, while the mudra Allapadma stands for royalty and beauty, which has a contradictory meaning for “Pick Me Up”.
These cultural ties and a âdiverse community of friends from all walks of lifeâ are a source of strength and support for Milan Ring. In recent years she has also sought “professional help in dealing with particular traumas” and found healing in “my own self-discovery: spirituality, psychology reading, philosophy. It really anchored me and made me see the beauty of this life and feel connected to everyone.
“This album reflects a bit of that trip and how I found my way out of the dark days.”
Most of all, you don’t need to have been through what Milan Ring has or share his spiritual interests to enjoy his music.
I have hope is a first album accomplished in every way, drawing on the skills of its author and the experiences of where she has been and what she has learned. But it’s also exciting to think about where she is heading and how promising her potential musical future is.
The release of his debut album is a âdream come true,â says Milan. âAnd I feel like it all happened at the perfect time – when I was ready to finish a job like this. I’m really proud of it.
And it absolutely should be. I have hope is a huge accomplishment. And when she sings the main line on “Hopeful” over and over again, her voice extended and ascending in layers on a calm and gentle instrument, her hope becomes a celebration. And you can’t help but feel it too.
I have hope is now available through Astral People. Milan Ring is shooting the album from April 2022. Dates / details here. Hear Milan Ring talk about the recording, his legacy and his recovery with Richard Kingsmill in 2021.