In the post-everything world of 2018, there’s little distinction left between “albums” and “EPs.” And yet distinguish we do, dedicating our annual 25 best Milwaukee albums list to releases with five or more songs (most of the time). But damn, that leaves out a lot of great music. Here’s some of it.
Detenzione – VOL. II
Though Detenzione’s latest release technically had enough songs to quality for our best albums list, we felt like a six-song, sub-10-minute record simply wasn’t long enough to earn a spot there. However, VOL. II (the follow-up to last year’s debut called—you guessed it—VOL. I) is right at home on this collection of standout EPs. Vocalist Dan Agacki and a stacked band consisting of members of Holy Shit!, Tenement, and Winter Bear plow through a half-dozen gruff and grimy hardcore songs with a mixture of raw intensity and intricacy that’s befitting of a project with such an impressive punk pedigree. With just 12 self-recorded songs in their 17-plus-minute catalog, Detenzione is quickly making a name for itself in Milwaukee and Japan. Here’s hoping we get to hear VOL. III sometime next year.
Flat Teeth – Winter House
Flat Teeth have been writing and rehearsing in some capacity since 2016, but the unknown Milwaukee indie outfit—which features current and former members of John The Savage, Paper Holland, The Invaders, and Twelve Ounce Prophet in its ranks—waited until this fall to officially introduce themselves in the form of live outings and a first release. That release, the six-song Winter House, finds the project with disparate influences and associated acts landing somewhere in the regions of rock and pop-punk, with a hearty dose of emo added in for flavor. Flat Teeth cover a lot of ground over just six songs. Though they have only a few shows to their credit so far, the vast experience the band’s members had/have in other projects is evident on this impressive aural introduction that’s chock full of rich harmonies, colorful organ accents, twisting guitar work, and singer-guitarist Nik Stoehr’s expressive Bright Eyes-like warble.
Indonesian Junk – Darkness Calling
Death. Taxes. Another snotty, glammed-up record from Indonesian Junk. These are the three certainties in life, folks. One is grim, the other grimmer; happily, the third makes the whole thing worthwhile. “I heard you was back in town / I’ve been waiting to take you down / ‘Cuz when I find you, you’re gonna get beat up,” sings Daniel James on Darkness Calling opener “When I Find You.” If there’s a better introduction to Indonesian Junk’s dirtball, CBGB-circa-1974 swagger, we’d love to hear it. From there, it’s on to the KISS classic “C’mon And Love Me” (complete with a sneaky “Detroit Rock City” outro), the desperate “I Could Die,” and the anthemic trashiness of “See The Light.” It all adds up to another bracing hit of Indonesian Junk goodness.
Midwest Death Rattle – Square Wave
Midwest Death Rattle really upped the ante with the release of Post-Apocalypso. The ambitious, quasi-conceptual 2016 record elevated the indie rock outfit from mid-tier local band to a certified must-hear Milwaukee mainstay. With growing awareness and appreciation also come increased expectation and anticipation. What would Midwest Death Rattle do next? Was Post-Apocalypso an anomaly or a sign of even more promising things to come? The answer seems to be the latter, as Square Wave—a five-song EP Midwest Death Rattle put out way back in January—is an encouraging indication the band hasn’t even come close to hitting its creative peak. The effort starts strong with the sleek and dance-able title track, which gives way to the organ-infused sass of “Party’s Over,” the murky sludge of the hypnotic “Funeral Flags,” and the fittingly named spooky smoothness of both “G-G-G-Ghosts” and “Danger.” The only flaw we can find with Square Wave is its brevity. The EP was supposed to be one of two digital releases Midwest Death Rattle would release this year. Instead, it’s a fantastic five-pack of material that will hold listeners over until (hopefully) more music in 2019.
Nickel&Rose – Americana
What do you see when you think of Americana music? Maybe some acoustic guitars, some banjos, a fiddle. Ironic and non-ironic cowboy hats. Beards. Bluegrass. Lots of flannel. Also: a whole lot of white. That last bit is challenged by “Americana,” the lovely, sad, and at-times scathing title track from Nickel&Rose’s latest EP. Written by Carl Nichols, the song highlights the largely forgotten role of African music in Americana and roots music. “Well I thought this was for everyone, not just a few,” Nichols sings. “But I guess you won’t be satisfied ’til it all belongs to you.” Later, on EP closer “Hard Day’s Work,” singer and upright bass player Johanna Rose looks for beauty in the “broken people of the world,” and ends things on a hopeful note: “Today we know who we are.” Americana proves Nickel&Rose know who they are, even if their genre of choice struggles to find itself.
No No Yeah Okay – Cabal
No No Yeah Okay formed in 2014 and quickly endeared Milwaukee to its indie-leaning electronic style by way of 2015’s Dual, which garnered its fair share of local airplay and streams in the hundreds of thousands. Despite its promising start, which continued into 2016 with lofty festival slots and other exciting opportunities, No No Yeah Okay’s status as a band floated into the territory of “maybe” among locals of late, as the quartet’s recorded output and live outings slowed significantly. As it turns out, they were just busy. The group’s sophomore EP, Cabal, has an overriding concept of identity, and that seems to shine through in the five-song release’s sound. Every song seems to flow effortlessly into the next, each one adhering to the tenets of relaxed and lush instrumentation that are accented with light percussion (finger snaps and bongos included) and woven together with singer Colin Plant’s soulful vocals.
Platinum Boys – We Don’t Dance (Anymore)
We Don’t Dance (Anymore), Platinum Boys’ follow-up to last year’s BUZZ, is a potent three-pack of songs from the rowdy Milwaukee rock outfit. Title track and EP opener “We Don’t Dance (Anymore)” starts the seven-inch off strong with chugging guitars and a revelrous melody that seems to work in direct opposition of the song’s anti-dancing sentiment. “Keep On/Keepin On” keeps the party going with the band sharing vocal duties on optimistic lyrics about letting the “good times roll every single day.” Wailing guitars and frantic drum fills punctuate closer “Oblivious Obvious” to cement this 10-minute effort’s “all killer, no filler” standing.
Sat. Nite Duets – Smoke Local Twine
Sat. Nite Duets are a band’s band. Over the past 10 years (!), the ever-dependable Milwaukee group has crafted an idiosyncratic songbook filled with, among other things, ill-fated shows and tours, long-in-the-tooth rockers, and, um big worms. So what further rock and roll adventures are Sat. Nite Duets ready to share? On the three-song EP Smoke Local Twine, it’s getting high in a buddy’s basement circa 2009 (“The Golden Twine”), giving shout-outs to “all you bozo rocker clowns” (“Smoke”), and saluting local idiots (“Local Idiot”). Musically, it’s vintage Sat. Nite Duets, though the horror-rific “The Golden Twine” initially sounds like a John Carpenter score crossed with one of those 1,001 Spooky Sound FX tapes. May Sat. Nite Duets continue to put their band stories to song for another 10 years.
Shle Berry – Parallels
Milwaukee rapper Shle Berry has always been a distinctive voice in the city’s music scene (Summer 2017 was the “Summer of Shle,” after all), but that voice reaches new heights on the excellent Parallels. Berry states her thesis right off the bat in the dreamy, Renz Young-produced opener “Shoot Me Down”: “I think you change people’s opinions by opening up your heart, and showing the parallels between you and another person.” From there, Berry croons her own heart out on the radio-ready “Fall4You,” comes out swinging on the Mike Regal-produced “Sugar Free,” and celebrates her own artistic growth on “Favorite.” “If you wonder what I’m thinking then just listen to these songs,” she raps on the latter. “I’ve upgraded the whip but I have driven through my wrongs.” Upgrade is an understatement.
WebsterX – Restless Summer
If things seemed relatively quiet for WebsterX in the first half of 2018, the tireless Milwaukee rapper put any doubts about his productivity to bed by summer. WebsterX’s self-described “Restless Summer” featured not one, but two art and music installations/events, and a three-song EP that ranks among the artist’s most raw and immediate. “I need to make music / I cannot take this shit anymore,” Webster X howls on opener “Feels,” which—among other things—bemoans the digital distractions of our online lives. The Q The Sun-produced “No End” soars with a triumphant refrain, while “Ain’t My Fault” finds the emcee unwilling to apologize for his own talents and passion. “I got ideas for days,” he says. Restless Summer proves that point, and then some.