Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The A.V. Club’s Top 15 Milwaukee albums of 2010

By DJ Hostettler, Steven Hyden, Joel Shanahan, Matt Wild, And Erin Wolf December 13, 2010

When it came to compiling our favorite Milwaukee albums of 2010, The A.V. Club faced a dilemma: How do we narrow down all the worthwhile music coming out of this city down to just a Top 10? It just didn’t seem like an adequate number of records to fully express our enthusiasm for what local musical artistes were up to this year. So, we decided to be a little indulgent and expand our list to 15. Even now, we feel like we’re just scratching the surface of all the great rock, rap, folk, punk, metal, and whatever-else-kind-of-music that came out of MKE this year. But here are our choices, in alphabetical order. Happy listening.

1. AUTOMatic, Transistor

The strain of retro conservatism running through Milwaukee hip-hop can be pretty tiresome no matter how much you happen to love A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. But no matter how stridently nostalgic rapper A.P.R.I.M.E. and DJ Trellmatic of AUTOMatic get for the late ’80s and early ’90s on Transistor, there’s no denying how consistently pleasurable and disarmingly straight-forward this record is. A.P.R.I.M.E. is one of the city’s most likeable MCs, with a smooth and clear flow that locks in with Trellmatic’s soul and jazz backdrops with a casual, laid-back assertiveness. Who cares how good things were back in the day when people are still making rap records this good in 2010? [Steven Hyden]

2. Jonathan Burks, Loudmouth Soup

There’s a guy like Jonathan Burks in every bar in Riverwest and Bay View. He’s downing one cheap domestic after another, he hates whatever new indie-rock band you’re into this week, and he just cued up five straight Rolling Stones songs on the jukebox. He's really fucking funny and a little sad at the same time; you’ll end up either hugging or slugging him by the end of the night. And, as evidenced by Loudmouth Soup (one of two albums released by the singer-songwriter this year), he’s got enough life experience to fill up loads of songs with honky-tonk spirit and arena-rock volume. (On “It’s On,” Burks even finds room for punch-drunk hip-hop.) Loudmouth Soup is like the party the night before Sunday morning comes down; for Burks, the bottle can’t cure depression, but it sure can tell it to fuck off for a few hours. [SH]

3. Burning Sons, “Masquerade”

Burning Sons’ veteran core of Dan DuChaine, Matt Budda, and Carl Steinhagen made their furious and knowing chemistry the driving force behind young newcomer Dillon Hallen’s young and fractious vocals on the explosive 4-song “Masquerade” 7-inch. Iconic Californian punk label Mystic Records made the record its first release in ages, giving it the proper treatment with white wax and stellar, gothic cover art. This is chest-thumping, ear-bending hardcore to show some genuine local pride over. [Erin Wolf]

4. Call Me Lightning, When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free

It took me a long time to adjust to Call Me Lightning’s evolution from jittery, angular noise-rockers to Tommy-inspired fist-pumpers, but hearing the material in recorded form helped it click. The lyric sheet didn’t hurt, either—missives like “You see, all things told / You live too long / You’ll surely die alone,” from “Follow Me,” show that old age and mortality seem to have been on Nathan Lilley’s mind a lot the last few years. All the more awesome then to frame those musings in the context of rousing, shout-along anthems that laugh in the face of Father Time. The last line of the album? A defiantly spat, “I don’t give no two shits.” Indeed. [DJ Hostettler]

5. Catacombz, Mother One Tongue

While it’s unfortunate that the brain-warping sonics of Catacombz’ Mother One Tongue are jailed within a cassette shell, the low-budget media format doesn’t make the band’s melting of Drive Like Jehu into Can any less enjoyable. Mother One Tongue keeps its jagged riffing and rippling synth-lines warm and repetitive as its thunderous rhythmic section rolls out a series of massive, head-bobbing blitzkriegs. Here’s hoping Catacombz can stick it out another year and transcend the tape business. [Joel Shanahan]

6. Crappy Dracula, Almost

I was raised on a steady diet of artists like They Might Be Giants, Dead Milkmen, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, so the mere existence of Milwaukee’s most demented goofball punk band, Crappy Dracula, makes my heart swell. Besides indulging in some of the funniest, most absurd live stage banter I’ve ever encountered, the group’s 2010 vinyl LP, Almost, was one of the year’s best records. Songs like “Hospital Waste Management (Facility Party Tonight),” “Songs Against Architects,” and “Art, Explained!” are perfect examples of the bratty, art-damaged punk rock that Crappy Dracula so deliriously excels at. Gloriously lo-fi and bursting with musical and lyrical hooks, Almost is an album nowhere near as “crappy” as its prankster-creators might have intended. [Matt Wild]

7. Drugs Dragons, Drugs Dragons

Drugs Dragons are punk rock at its dirtiest and most primal—a gunk-covered Cramps fronted by a Timmy Vulgar who hasn’t bathed in months. Their self-titled debut not only mines the earth that the Clone Defects and Chrome buried themselves in, but rolls around in it too, caking it over the drums and guitars like a film of nightmares and acid flashbacks. Don’t bother looking for technical proficiency or accomplished musicianship here—Drugs Dragons just want to creep the shit out of you, and their Dusty Medical full-length debut takes care of business. [DH]

8. Eric & Magill, All Those I Know

Pretty and vaporous, All Those I Know is an apt little stone of an album—dense and light all at once, skimming across still and deep pop waters, agile and mobile, hovering and etching familiar stories in the subdued colors of tranquil indie pop that make this album the perfect warm antidote for wintry evenings. When a chorus of voices corralled by Ryan Weber and Eric Osterman sing out, “Winter has come / for the young / I’m too old / for this shit,” on “Old Man Winter,” it hits home in a very wry, Midwestern way. [EW]

9. The Fatty Acids, Stop Berries, Berries and Berries, Berries

From the cumbersome title on down, the Fatty Acids make it clear on their debut that they’re not the sort to color within the lines. On “Howl,” vocals shout and synths scatter; the Fatty Acids are out to have fun, and if you’re not into it, who effing cares? It’s a repetitious but enjoyable slink into tripped-out pop, a la MGMT, on “Nobody is Filming,” which wavers back and forth between amped-up and tuned out. [EW]

10. Fuckface, Fuckface

Thanks to Latest Flame records, the legacy of Fuckface has finally been yanked from the mouths of Milwaukee oldsters and jammed into a proper, if highly belated, release (with bonus tracks, no less). Coming from a time where “experimental noise rock” really meant experimental noise rock, Dave Szlowinski’s mighty vision shunned cymbals and snare drums, instead calling on “metal percussionist” Karl Paloucek to grind sheet-metal and other assorted shit. Equal parts sludgy and demented, this Milwaukee artifact will help give a sourly underrated band a bit of closure. [JS]

11. The Goodnight Loving, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club

There’s been no shortage of young and scruffy garage rock bands in the last several years, but The Goodnight Loving has quietly amassed one of the most impressive discographies in the whole genre, playing wild and wooly old-school rock ’n’ roll that goes out of its way to hide how well crafted it is. The band’s fourth record, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club, is relatively slick compared to past releases, and the sonic clarity expertly highlights the band’s always-fantastic songwriting, particularly the cowpunk stomp “Ain’t It Weird,” which is like prime mid-period Beatles with Roger Miller lyrics, and “It’s A Long Way To A Bad Way,” a twangy road song with a spaghetti western guitar riff snaking through kicked-up dust clouds. [SH]

12. Jaill, That’s How We Burn

Who could’ve ever guessed that Jaill would end up being one of the city’s breakout bands? Before the band’s Sub Pop debut, That’s How We Burn, Jaill seemed like the city’s biggest underdogs. But nobody ever told that to leader and chief songwriter Vinnie Kircher, who entered the big time by penning a record full of snappy, radio-ready pop. How does Jaill burn? Brightly and warmly, and the fuel is one hook after another, which Kircher generously supplies like a man who knows he has plenty more where that came from. [SH]

13. Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back

The formula behind The Outsiders Are Back is so simple and yet so incredibly right on that it’s sort of unbelievable that it’s not done more often: Take a big soul band with an experienced singer with roots in the genre’s golden age and record them sounding as live and raw as possible. The Outsiders Are Back pulls off the concept with winning results; arguably the city’s biggest musical export of 2010, Kings Go Forth would deserve its status as standouts in the neo-soul movement even without the enthusiastic endorsement of NPR and the New York Times. It’s not like you need pundits to tell you to move your ass whenever KGF kick up punchy numbers like “One Day”; music that communicates directly to your soul tends to speak for itself. [SH]

14. The Scarring Party, Losing Teeth

I was immune to the “end timey” charms of The Scarring Party ever since it released its debut album, A Concise Introduction, back in 2006. I bristle when groups rely too heavily on shtick, and at first blush, The Scarring Party is almost nothing but shtick. But by the time I got around to Losing Teeth, I was converted. What changed? Maybe it was the record’s crystal-clear and unfussy production, or maybe it was the realization that singer-songwriter Daniel Bullock’s mischievously macabre tales are so damn funny. Either way, Losing Teeth is one of the year’s most polished and accomplished Milwaukee albums. Its 12 character sketches masquerading as old-timey pop songs represent the sound of a group honing its craft to a fine, deadly point. [MW]

15. Sugar Stems, The Sweet Sounds Of The Sugar Stems

Packed with shimmering chord progressions, soaring harmonies, and jangling guitar solos, Sugar Stems’ debut, The Sweet Sounds Of The Sugar Stems, glides down a slide of whipped cream and chocolate syrup that leaves the listener sticky for weeks afterward. In a sense, it’s as if Sweet Sounds—while not doing anything terribly innovative—is wandering down the path that Brew City power-popsters The Shivvers paved decades ago, to great affect. [JS]

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