The Essential Milwaukee Albums of 2010
Architects of the Aftermath – Architects of the Aftermath
On their self-titled debut, Architects of
the Aftermath play thrash metal the way it sounded before death-metal clichés
turned the genre into an exaggerated, almost cartoonish parody of itself. There are no over-the-top satanic references
here, and no goofy graveyard vocals—just roaring tempos and naked aggression.
Call Me Lightning – When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free
By now Call Me Lightning is far removed from
the spastic art-punk that landed them on Frenchkiss Records during the middle
of the decade, but they’ve hit upon a sound that’s even more audacious. Their
third album is an untamed homage to The Who’s stadium-rock opuses, but for all
their untamed bluster, there’s a melancholic undercurrent to their fantasies of
ordinary men called to greatness, a lingering disillusionment with a real world
where such legacy-defining high adventure only exists in fiction.
Conrad Plymouth – Conrad Plymouth
On their self-titled EP, Conrad Plymouth
ring a lot of mileage out of lush yet understated Americana, so when “Fergus
Falls” closes the EP in a rousing swell of triumphant cheer and unabashed
splendor, the payoff feels particularly earned. All folk-rock bands should have
such a keen instinct for when to go big and when to stay small.
Def Harmonic – Figs
The Milwaukee hip-hop duo Def Harmonic has
been recording arresting space-funk for over a decade, but they’ve never made
an album that floors as consistently as Figs.
Here the group tempers their usual universe-surfing bluster to share their most
emotionally vulnerable set of songs yet, as producer J. Todd’s hard-bumping
grooves take on the frosty chill of ’80s synth-pop.
Drugs Dragons – Drugs Dragons
Drugs Dragons’ self-titled debut is all
muscle, a swaggering, riff-heavy tribute to the bawdy horror-punk and
shock-rock of The Cramps and The Misfits. Drugs Dragons wisely resist the
temptation to play these songs about grave dwellers, flesh eaters and deformed
freaks for kitsch, instead pounding out each with skin-crawling fervor.
Eric & Magill – All Those I Know
Recorded with guest contributions from
dozens of players from Milwaukee and friends from neighboring indie-rock
scenes, the debut collaboration between former Camden band mates Ryan Weber and
Eric Osterman is at once intimate and expansive, a cozy little bedroom pop that
gives way to unexpected grandeur. It’s a record destined to attract a fair deal
of attention outside the city as it receives a broader promotional push next year.
The Goodnight Loving – The Goodnight Loving Supper Club
Trading off two- and three-minute songs, the
singers and songwriters in Milwaukee’s good-time rock ensemble tag-team their
way through a set of jangly rock ’n’ roll, early garage-pop, dusty country and
oddball rockabilly. As overstuffed as its title promises, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club seems bound to overreach
eventually, yet it never does; the party just keeps chugging along merrily.
Jaill – That’s How We Burn
Jaill’s debut album for the independent
powerhouse Sub Pop is gloriously devoid of the disaffected detachment and
cool-kid pretension that marred so many other similarly sunny, beach-minded
guitar-pop albums in 2010. “I know everyone is hip!” Vinnie Kircher beams
sincerely on the album’s first single, summing up Jaill’s mantra of
Kings Go Forth – The Outsiders Are Back
On their high-profile debut, released to
considerable fanfare through David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, the Milwaukee
10-piece Kings Go Forth recreates the raw, live-to-tape aesthetic of early-’70s
soul music. That’s the easy part, really; much more impressive is how they
resurrect the propulsive grooves, pleading vocal arrangements and exhilarating
energy of a music form that had been all but lost to time.
KingHellBastard – Remember the Name
KingHellBastard’s latest EP affirms why
they’ve emerged as one of the city’s most prominent hip-hop groups: They record
the kind of punchy, party-friendly alternative rap that hip-hop fans used to
complain never gets made anymore, and they’ve got a fantastic ear for beats.
Local producers Reason, the White Russian and LMNtlyst are at the top of their
Klassik – Death of a Beatmaker
Shades of Kanye West, Kid Cudi, John Legend
and Daft Punk run through the debut EP from producer/rapper/singer Klassik, but
its primary influence is jazz. Drawing from the decade he spent studying the
genre, Klassik composed these tunes around shifty jazz chord progressions
before converting them to electronic MIDI beats. The resulting sound is as
current as anything on the radio, but much denser and brainier.
Scarring Party – Losing Teeth
For their third album, old-time-music
subversives The Scarring Party push their sound in ever-more extreme
directions, transplanting the huffing tubas and carnival accordions of 1920s
folk and music-hall jazz into sinister, bleakly funny tales of savages and
grotesqueries. Had this record somehow actually been released during
Prohibition, it surely would have been burned en masse.
Signaldrift – Two Agents
Sleek and accessible, the latest release
from the electronic-music duo Signaldrift doesn’t waste a minute of its
hour-long run time, cycling through a restless pastiche of ’80s synth-pop, dub,
kraut rock and post-rock. At a time when leisurely downtempo is in vogue,
Signaldrift has made a record that bucks trends and grabs listeners by the
Worrier – SOURCEERrORSSPELLS
Worrier’s debut album is dance music for
those who dance spastically, a cacophony of nervous energy, breathless grooves,
shout-along choruses and twitchy, polyrhythmic guitars. Propulsive, infectious
and maybe a little annoying (but only in the best way possible), it’s the type
of great art-punk album that’s been in woefully short supply over the last
Yo-Dot – Dot Balistrerri
A loose conglomerate of some of Milwaukee’s best rappers, the Umbrella Music Group released many worthwhile albums and mixtapes in 2010, but few quite as distinct—and certainly none as hard—as Yo-Dot’s Dot Balistrerri, a fierce hit of Mafioso rap tailored around Yo-Dot’s gritty voice and cutthroat, street-toughened storytelling.