The 'Urgency' of Xposed 4Heads
New album by Milwaukee band stresses the importance of ‘us’
The title of Xposed 4Heads’ newest album, Urgency Squad, conveys a message through its initials: It’s about the United States—aka the “U.S.”—and, at the same time, it’s a way of talking about us: all of us below the 1%.
Clearly, beyond all the humor and synth-pop retro robotics, the Milwaukee band has a lot on its collective mind. In a way, Urgency Squad brings the band back to its ’80s roots in spoofing the greedy mores of the Reagan era. But back in the day, Xposed 4Heads was more a concept than an actual band, and it manifested itself through a series of satirical cassettes that received much airplay on WMSE. After decades of dormancy, the 4Heads regrouped in 2012 for “Lest We Forget”—a night of punk-new wave memories at Turner Hall. “It was supposed to be a fun one-off,” says vocalist Mark G.E., “but we got offers.”
G.E.’s prankish spirit was all over their 2015 album, Choose to be Human, featuring the current lineup of veteran local players Kelp Chofs and Carter Hunnicutt on synthesizers alongside guitarist Bob Jorin and drummer Andy Stilin. The music on Urgency Squad continues in the Devo vein with analogue electronics upfront, deliberate monotones and irresistible melodies pulled along on snappy electro-charged beats. If the ’80s Xposed 4Heads was essentially G.E.’s one-man musical comedy, the 21st-century iteration is fully a group effort. “Everything supports everything else,” Hunnicutt explains. While the lyrics belong to G.E., “we spread the music around,” Hunnicutt continues.
Every 4Head member is a multi-instrumentalist and engineer with production ideas, albeit G.E., Jorin and Hunnicutt concur that Chofs is often the member most responsible for the final sonic resolution of each number. “We all have home studios—we can all write songs from start to finish, but we’d miss out on that chemical something that comes when live musicians work together,” Hunnicutt says.
“It’s maturity,” Jorin begins, “that makes us broad-minded. Instead of serving our egos, we serve the music. We ask ourselves what the songs need and we end up with something bigger than any of us could have done on our own.”
The importance of us-ness is the vital current running through the lyrics of Urgency Squad. The album snaps at complacency, the mindless reactions inside the echo chambers of the worldwide web, the fake news and fake cheer of a society of dislocated individuals divided by a false consciousness of reality. “I worked hard to combine catch phrases, marketing terms, clichés, in a way to make them satirical,” G.E. says. His lyric to “Right Sized” concerns the corporate lingo employed when firing people—it’s supposed to make the victim feel good to know that with his departure, his workplace is no longer over-staffed. “Fly in the Ointment” is the album’s fight song. “Mediocrity is like an infection,” it warns, urging listeners to resist, to change the rules, to become “the irritating flaw,” “the kink in the system,” “the disappointment… the fly in the ointment.”
Heavy thoughts are delivered entertainingly, on record and on stage. An Xposed 4Heads’ show involves costumes, props, shtick—it’s a performance. As G.E. puts it: “There are no songs for leaving the room to get beer. Our show is a crescendo that keeps going up, up, up.”
8 p.m., July 15 at the Miramar Theatre, 2844 N. Oakland Ave. The Quilz will open the show.