As demonstrated in our recent rundown of the 25 best Milwaukee albums of 2017 (not to mention our list of 10 standout Milwaukee EPs of 2017), a dizzying amount of great music was made and released in our fair city this year. And—surprise, surprise—a wealth of great music videos were released, as well. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2017 (finally, oh god, finally), join us as we take a look back on some of the funny, weird, creative, and downright impressive visuals set to music this year.
Blonder — “Lucky”
Much like the band’s recorded output, the video for Blonder‘s “Lucky” applies a time-consuming and meticulous approach to a simple concept, with exceptional results. Drummer Eric Risser (who also recorded Blonder’s 2017 album, Blender) made and shot the stop motion visuals, which encompass some of the lyrics and themes. Both Blender and the record’s first video seem basic from a distance, but upon closer consideration it’s clear something special rests beneath the surface.
Dad — “Holy Water”
Dad’s previous music videos have found the cheeky Milwaukee rapper playing a Revolutionary War re-enactor, a Catholic priest exorcising a demon, and the very demon being exorcised by that Catholic priest. The deliciously sacrilegious “Holy Water,” however, finds Dad in full Christ-like mode. It’s the kind of clip (directed by Cellar Dweller, a.k.a. Brian Jude and Matt Bordman) that makes good old fashioned blasphemy fun again: There’s Dad, resplendent in flowing robes, walking on water. There’s Dad again, still decked out in those robes, taking a Jet Ski for a spin. There’s Dad, baptizing his followers not long after dropping lines like “I’m damp, I’m dripping, I’m soaking.” There’s also a dolphin sound effect.
Direct Hit! — “Snickers Or Reese’s”
During a year in which productive Milwaukee pop-punk phenoms Direct Hit! put out a seven-inch, contributed six songs to a split, and re-released a 2011 record that quickly went out of print, the band also managed three music videos. One was a shared visual experience with PEARS and another was for our Public Domain video series (more on that later). The final one—for Domesplitter opener and DH! set standard “Snickers Or Reese’s”—takes the cake. The Adam Santiago- and Derek Shreves-directed effort has a higher level of production (and easily the biggest fake blood budget) of any video on this list, which is evident as a soldier systematically hunts down band members and lights shit on fire.
Dirty Dancing — “When We First Met”
In the wonderfully weird video for the just plain wonderful “When We First Met,” Dirty Dancing frontman Eric Schoen ingests a tab of a mystery drug emblazoned with the song’s title, leaves his house (never a good idea), and embarks on an increasingly glitchy trip through Milwaukee. Along the way, he zones out to the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra at the Shops of Grand Avenue, watches himself play a show at High Dive, shares an underwater kiss with SIN BAD’s Audrey Pennings, and does battle with 8-bit versions of ex-Sheriff Clarke and Brother Ron. As one does. It’s a chemically enhanced voyage that’s one part Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and one part ode to The Wizard (the Nintendo one with Fred Savage).
The Fatty Acids — “Digested”
The Fatty Acids will celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2018, solidifying themselves as a truly veteran (and truly loved) Milwaukee band. Seriously: remember when these guys were the new kids on the block? In the video for “Digested” (from this year’s excellent Dogs Of Entertainment), the Fatties go back to a time when they literally were kids, editing together a treasure trove of old home movies to form one of the sweetest, most tear-jerking videos of the year. Dig those stop-motion Star Wars battles! Dig toddler Matt Pappas wearing giant headphones! Dig that sax solo!
Guerrilla Ghost — “Let’s Get Physical”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Milwaukee project that has piled more work into 2017 than Guerrilla Ghost. Since late April, the experimental hip-hop duo of rapper Chuck Jones and guitarist/producer Martin Defatte has released a flurry of contentious and politically pointed singles between their steady diet of live shows and music videos. The “Let’s Get Physical” video allows Jones and Defatte to take a breather from filming, instead opting to put puppet likenesses of the pair in front of the camera. The ambitious approach was realized by Chicago-based Rare Fruit Collective over the summer, and carried home with some editing assistance from Defatte.
IshDARR — “Sanity”
On July 4, 2017, Milwaukee rapper IshDARR became the first local hip-hop artist to nab a headlining slot at Summerfest. He didn’t disappoint: The show was absolutely packed, the energy was insane, and the then-20-year-old proved just why he’s the biggest thing going in town today. (Who else in Milwaukee can boast streaming numbers in the millions and a movie gig with Matthew McConaughey?) If you missed IshDARR’s big break at the Big Gig, it’s all here in the video for “Sanity.” “My Summerfest show is going to be crazy,” IshDARR said before the set. No kidding.
Brett Newski — “I’m Paranoid”
In “I’m Paranoid,” the second single from 2017’s The Worst Of Brett Newski: Songs To Sink The American Dream, the tireless guitar-rock troubadour rattles off a list of all the things he doesn’t trust: neighbors, bosses, water, cops, news, TV, banks, “the Army, the guns, and the tanks.” Happily, since it’s Brett Newski, all that unease is accompanied by an impossibly poppy and head-bopping alt-rock jam, not to mention an eye-popping animated video. Created by Johannesburg, South Africa-based animator Michael Way, the “I’m Paranoid” clip contains shout-outs to apropos movie classics like They Live, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (the one with Donald Sutherland), Donnie Darko, and more. Cartoon Newski also gets abducted by aliens, and ends up in a witch’s cleavage.
NO/NO — “Whatever”
“Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature.” Thus reads a sign over a covered bridge in Milwaukee’s Grant Park. In the stunning video for NO/NO’s equally stunning synth-pop killer “Whatever” (from last year’s Sound And Light), singer Cat Ries enters that wild wood and ends up in a place both wonderful and strange. Regally caped and sporting whited-out eyes straight from the Black Lodge, Ries vamps and pulsates in a snow storm, assumes a crucifix pose, and, at one point, sees red smoke pour out from her body. It’s a gloriously decadent video (directed by NO/NO bassist Ryan Reeve) for a gloriously decadent song.
Paper Holland — “Jazz”
It’s been more than a year since Paper Holland released their long-awaited (and well worth it) follow-up EP, Fast Food. The band is focusing on new material, but before they did so, they decided to say farewell to Fast Food with a hilarious video for “Jazz.” (It’s actually “Jazzy Jeff” but they probably changed it for YouTube licensing reasons or whatever.) The Mason Berkshire-shot work features ComedySportz veteran and viral Old Milwaukee beer-passer Tim Higgins playing the role of a disgruntled director, who bosses the band around with winning results.
Sat. Nite Duets — “St. Yuppie”
“I am the patron saint of young professionals / I’m in love with you / Everything you do.” So goes the opening salvo of Sat. Nite Duets’ “St. Yuppie,” a whip-smart piss-take on LaCroix-drinking, luxury apartment-living, young urban professionals and the cities that love them. Taking things to a delightfully absurd extreme is the song’s video, directed by Kurt Raether. In it, we see the titular St. Yuppie crash to Earth in a fiery comet, take a few disciples under his robed wing, preach the virtues of the Holy WiFi Hotspot, feed a lowly fisherman with sushi, and turn water into bottled water. Ah! But is St. Yuppie an angel from above or below? Find out in the video’s final dance sequence, set in a place even Dante couldn’t imagine: The Ninth Circle of Condos.
Something To Do — “Tina Fey II”
During a show at Riverwest Public House, Something To Do asked people in attendance to take out their phones and start filming. Though shooting concerts is usually a taboo practice, Wisconsin’s premier ska band wanted to collect footage to use for a music video. “Tina Fey II,” off last year’s Not Making A Sound, received the video treatment that combines phone footage from 13 onlookers (and two stage-mounted GoPros), masterful editing by guitarist Chris Holoyda, and Something To Do’s patented energetic stage presence to forge a visual spectacle with a sum that’s greater than its grainy, out-of-focus, oft-vertical parts.
Soul Low — “Amputee”
Soul Low’s Cheer Up is one of the great Milwaukee albums of 2017, pairing aggressively upbeat pop tunes with decidedly melancholy lyrics. One of the few tracks to match music to mood, however, is “Amputee,” a dreamy, pensive tune with lyrics like “Just because your touch feels good / Doesn’t mean it always will.” If that’s too heavy, then the song’s sweet, comedic video should help take the edge off. Directed by Milwaukee filmmaker Harper Robison, the “Amputee” clip takes the song’s title literally, depicting the trials and tribulations of a headless body as it checks out a movie, tries to get into a bar, and goes bowling. Cameos from overly curious dogs and lots of rolling mannequin heads are also included.
Space Raft — “Vacation”
Over the course of three weeks last November and December, Space Raft played a flurry of shows in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic. Though we’re jealous we weren’t able to come along, we’re thankful drummer Tyler Chicorel saw fit to capture some of the European excursion on film. The “Vacation” music video is a perfect audio complement for the warm, fun, and visually pleasing footage. Over the course of the seven-minute song, the band (and Dusty Medical owner Kevin Meyer) takes in the sights, tests the capacity of an elevator, drinks, drives from gig to gig, bonds with the locals, and drinks some more.
WebsterX — “Blue Streak”
Past WebsterX videos have found the hip-hop star portraying an alien, a man reborn from the earth, and a third-eye-sporting painting. In other words, they’ve been big, narrative productions. So it’s somewhat refreshing to see a (relatively) pared-down WebsterX video that focuses almost solely on light, mood, and performance. Directed by frequent collaborators Damien Blue and Cody Laplant, the “Blue Streak” clip narrows its focus without skimping on the handsome production. Pulsating warehouse lights—neon and otherwise—dominate the video before giving way to a midnight drive on top of a Plymouth Prowler. WebsterX, of course, remains front and center, rising from the depths and claiming his “right now” moment.
Public Domain — various artists and videographers
This might come off as being a tad self-serving, at least until you take into account how little Milwaukee Record actually has to do with our monthly video series in which features musicians set up at Colectivo Coffee to adapt some of the world’s best-known songs in ways they’ve never been heard before. After we book a band, set a shoot date, and make sure the song that month’s artist select is actually in the public domain (we’ve had to deliver some bad news a few times), we leave the project in the more-than-capable hands of the musicians and our incredibly talented director Cheston Van Huss.
Between the imagination each performer brings to the project and the visual prowess Van Huss (as well as support from Travis Whitty, Wes Tank, Sam Kirchoff, Michael Swan, and Grant Steskal) brings to the table, our 19 Public Domain videos we’ve posted in as many months are quite possibly our biggest point of pride in Milwaukee Record‘s relatively young history. Thanks, Cheston, the bands, the sponsors, and anyone else who’s helped make this weird idea a reality. There’s another installment coming before year’s end and 12 more on the way in 2018! Watch the entire series here.