Along with the city itself, the Milwaukee music scene has grown by leaps and bounds during the last four-plus years. Local artists have been consistently releasing albums that stand toe-to-toe with national releases. Bands have created an environment where collaboration and friendly competition are welcome, and where the very best music naturally rises to the fore. To say that the Milwaukee music scene is on its way to becoming a force to be reckoned with would be misleading; it already is a force to be reckoned with.
To create this ranked—yes, ranked—list of the 50 best Milwaukee albums of the 2010s (so far), Milwaukee Record staff compiled their own best-of lists and reached out to a handful of local music writers and fans for their choices. Full-length albums or EPs released between 2010 and the present day were considered fair game. The results provide a soundtrack to the last four years, and a glimpse of things to come. (30-11) (10-1)
50. Whips, Year One (2013)
Rife with religious references regarding sinners, saints, sleeping with the devil, and the absurdity of prayer, Year One minces few words in providing an unforgettable first impression of Whips. The Bay View four-piece, which includes members from Red Knife Lottery, Call Me Lightning, and The Academy Is…, has quickly garnered favorable attention and impressive opening gigs, thanks to this tremendous five-song EP. It’s all buoyed by blistering guitars and the undeniable vocal chops of Ashley Smith (née Chapman). Bring on year two, already!
49. Hugh Bob And The Hustle, Hugh Bob And The Hustle (2012)
There’s nothing inauthentic about Hugh Bob And The Hustle’s winning self-titled debut, which mines classic country gold and Wilco in equal measure. The record serves as an origin story of sorts for frontman Hugh Masterson, chronicling his roots in far-flung Ashland County, Wisconsin, and his eventual move to the relatively big lights and big city of Milwaukee. “Blame Me” is perfect for a friendly bar-time dust-up, while “Milwaukee Man” could easily pass for the city’s official anthem.
48. Get Rad, I Can Always Live (2010)
Hardcore force Get Rad has managed four releases, spanning a combined 35 songs, in this young decade. However, none of Get Rad’s output has eclipsed its second full-length album (by hardcore terms, with just 23 minutes of material and only two songs longer than two minutes) I Can Always Live. While brief, the band makes great strides with the borderline poppy “Sparks,” emotive album-ender “I Want to Kill a Priest,” and an anthemic ode to pizza, “Drug Of Choice.”
47. Juiceboxxx, I Don’t Wanna Go Into The Darkness (2012)
Occupying the danger zone between rap and basement-show-punk, Juiceboxxx has long fended off accusations of being a tweaked-out novelty act. The hard-charging I Don’t Wanna Go Into The Darkness puts those charges to rest once and for all with 10 tracks of spazzy party-rap (“Pump It”) and raw electro-rock (“Expressway To The Darkness”). This is as close as you’ll come to seeing Juice up close and personal (very up close and personal) at one of his balls-out live shows.
46. The Championship, High Feather (2012)
Following a near three-year period that saw bandleader Joe Crockett favoring solo outings, members departing, and the longstanding folk-rock staple pushed to the brink of extinction, The Championship recouped and returned strong with High Feather. The eight-song effort sidesteps the band’s previous take on AM radio and, instead, takes a decidedly more somber approach. With crushing offerings like “Reckless Heart” and “Lonely Stranger,” High Feather not only marks The Championship’s return, it displays its growth.
45. Testa Rosa, II (2011)
The so-called “evolution” of modern music finds artists clumsily cramming genres and influences together to create something new. While the world awaits the next musical mishmash (auto-tuned Gregorian chants?), albums like Testa Rosa’s II will always have a place because, simply put, they sound pretty. The glut of that sonic beauty is pumped in through the pipes of vocalist Betty Blexrud-Strigens. II doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it globs a thick coat of audio Armor All on an eternally accessible album.
44. Temple, The Conscience Of The King (2013)
With members portioned throughout close to 10 other acts, post-punk quartet Temple could lazily be pigeonholed as a sideband were it not for the sheer quality of its only proper release, The Conscience Of The King. The 10-track debut hinges on the exposed voice of Jamie Yanda—whose vocals alternate from sweet to morbid throughout—and spastic time signatures that unconsciously cull from late-’90s emo acts like Cursive and Saves The Day, with a dash of At The Drive-In.
43. Like Like The The The Death, Ghosts Of Dead Bros (2012)
Taking its name from a Silver Jews song, while sounding nothing like Silver Jews, LLTTTD is noisy post-punk for listeners leery of noisy post-punk. The group’s debut is a solid mix of yelp-y vocals and jagged guitars, but it’s the near-perfect earworm “Holy Ghosty” that sets the album apart from the pack. Part Pixies and part Superchunk, the song proves that above all, LLTTTD’s secret weapon is flawless, pop-minded song-craft.
42. Decibully, Decibully (2011)
Had it been released three weeks later, Decibully’s meticulous, long-delayed 2009 LP, World Travels Fast, would certainly occupy a lofty spot on this list. Still, the local legend’s self-titled parting shot—hastily released online the day after Decibully’s under-publicized final show—is that of a band with many more great songs left in the tank. Even in its unmastered form, Decibully is a fitting outro, with bustling falsetto-slathered indie-pop numbers like “Blood We Bleed” and “Forever.”
41. WebsterX, Desperate Youth (2013)
Sam Ahmed had apprehensions. At 21, the aspiring emcee finally set aside his self-doubt and focused years of verses into Desperate Youth. Ahmed’s 16-song debut under the WebsterX moniker is an ambitious introduction that meanders between the brooding Odd Future-esque “Blue Dreams” and the airy and upbeat “Drift Off,” with a lyrical lapel of Milwaukee pride proudly displayed throughout. With Ahmed’s local love reciprocated and his best work still to come, Desperate Youth signals better days for Milwaukee’s widely overlooked hip-hop scene.