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. (50-31) (10-1)
30. Cousins, Bathhouse (2013)
Cousins has been a huge point of Milwaukee pride since 1972. But enough about that shitty sub chain. Cousins the band managed strikingly better output in less than two years time, and without the aid of warm lettuce and false claims regarding bread quality. The shoegazing Bathhouse was only out two months before Cousins called it quits. Still, the foggy and premature swan song’s significance will sustain much longer than its short-lived creator ever did.
29. The Sugar Stems, Can’t Wait (2012)
The search for the perfect pop song is a frustrating and elusive one; strange, then, how easily The Sugar Stems stumble across multiple perfect pop songs on the endlessly enjoyable Can’t Wait. “Greatest Pretender,” “Make Up Your Mind,” and “Love You To Pieces” all find the power-pop group firing on all bubblegum-covered cylinders, with singer Betsy Heibler injecting just enough lyrical sourness to keep things from getting too tooth-achingly sweet.
28. Blessed Feathers, Order Of The Arrow (2013)
While the origin story of former West Bend pizzeria-co-workers-turned-formidable-nomadic-folk-couple is appealing on its own, Blessed Feathers make good on the could-be indie flick synopsis in Order Of The Arrow. Betwixt minimalist guitar- and banjo-stoked backing, Jacquelyn Beaupre rounds out gorgeous harmonies with Donivan Berube on songs like “Real Song For Emily” and “Salvation Army.” They somehow manage to simultaneously conjure warmth and wistfulness, with sparse acknowledgments of Berube’s Jehovah’s Witness upbringing and eventual excommunication.
27. AUTOMatic, Art Imitates Life (2012)
Rapper A.P.R.I.M.E. and producer Trellmatic tap the oft-tapped well of golden-age hip-hop on Art Imitates Life, a jazzy, gloriously infectious album that never comes across as mere, well, imitation. Opener “In The Land” embodies the looping and circular logic suggested by the record’s title, while the psychedelic, electro-flavored “Move” (featuring guest vocals from Elle Razberry and Jon Frost) takes the duo even further beyond their Native Tongues influences.
26. Buffalo Gospel, We Can Be Horses (2013)
Americana may continually blow in and out of fashion, but the expertly realized and deeply felt Americana of Buffalo Gospel defies any weather-bound tastes. The group’s lovely We Can Be Horses opens with the breezy, rollicking “Song Of The Ox,” though much of the album is spent in quiet rumination: Ryan Necci and the incomparable Heidi Spencer make for fine vocal partners on the lilting “Hoarse As A Crow” and the mournful “When God’s Away On Business.”
25. Milo, Milo Takes Baths (2012)
“I don’t have a hip-hop career, I have a hobby,” a monotone Rory Ferreira ominously lurches in “The Confrontation At Khazad-dûm,” the opening track of the then-Milwaukee rapper’s Milo Takes Baths. Since that 2012 release, Ferreira (or “Milo”) has relocated to Chicago, become an integral component of the budding Hellfyre Club hip-hop collective, and wholly negated the aforementioned lyric. Not unlike former Bucks star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milo will always be ours—his heady and endearingly unsure Daria– and Sigmund Freud-referencing Takes Baths is a fading arena banner.
24. Surgeons In Heat, Surgeons In Heat (2012)
The self-titled Surgeons In Heat full-length—which, oddly, is a follow-up to an EP by the same name and with five overlapping songs—could just as easily appeared on our best albums of the 1970s list… if Milwaukee Record and the internet existed then. Details! The timeless power-pop trio (and possibly reincarnated Soul Train backing band) soars with clean, crisp instrumentation and the smooth falsetto of founding member Johnathon Mayer, whose voice puts his more famous namesake to shame.
23. Faux Fir, Fashionable Life (2013)
Fashionable Life is the rare album with the uncanny ability to bring one to a specific place and time in their life. Strangely, it’s a party at a roller rink on another planet, and in the distant future. Still, the danceable 10-song teleportation from electro-pop quartet Faux Fir has a place on Earth in this, the roller blade epoch. Outstanding production and great hooks—best employed in should-be arena jam “Failure Prose”—renders Fashionable Life Faux Fir’s best.
22. Vic And Gab, Love Of Mine (2013)
Victoria and Hannah Gabriela polish their deceptively sweet guitar-pop to a high shine on Love Of Mine, an album that nicely distances them from too-easy comparisons to another sister act, Tegan And Sara. From the subdued shimmy of the title track and “Trying To Love You” to the jangly bounce of “Let You Down” and “When You Walk Into The Room,” Love Of Mine captures Vic And Gab at their most dreamy and lyrically sly.
21. Head On Electric, Sleep Slaughter Sheep (2012)
Head On Electric’s sprawling Dusty Medical debut betrays a garage band in punk’s clothing—or is it the other way around? Either way, Sleep Slaughter Sheep is an alternatingly brash, speed-fueled, and tripped-out journey through a weird, paranoid world where the Pixies reign supreme and songs like “Through The Cobwebs” aren’t complete without charmingly cowpoke intros. There’s a little bit of everything in Sleep Slaughter Sheep, and a nasty surprise around every corner.