40. Midwest Death Rattle, Midwest Death Rattle (2012)
Midwest Death Rattle’s self-titled album is technically a debut, in the same way Judd Apatow’s This is 40 can be called a stand-alone film. Unlike the overwrought Knocked Up semi-sequel, though, the indie-pop project reassembled from the exact same parts as Revision Text is much better in its second iteration. While not groundbreaking, Midwest Death Rattle manages to meld ghastly organs and subversive lyrics into an altogether poppy package, highlighted by Nick Perow’s robust voice in songs like “666/8” and “Run! Shark!”
39. Heidi Spencer And The Rare Birds, Under Streetlight Glow (2011)
It’s hard to overstate the power of Heidi Spencer’s gorgeous, instantly recognizable voice. At turns vulnerable, withering, and playful, it’s an instrument brewed in coffee shops and open mic nights, but clearly intended for a larger stage. The consistently lovely Under Streetlight Glow was written during Spencer’s days as a film student, and it shows: Standout tracks like “Alibi” and “Hibernation” conjure up hushed, sepia-toned romances and widescreen, golden-hour regrets.
38. Brief Candles, Fractured Days (2011)
“Shoegaze” can sometimes be a dirty word, bringing to mind never-ending drone and endless pedal fiddling. Brief Candles make shoegaze safe again on Fractured Days, sculpting their unabashedly My Bloody Valentine-indebted sound around a solid pop mold. Moody sonic washes like “10 Weeks” and “Knock ‘Em Dead” set the tone, but it’s the more bouncy (“Sink Or Swim”) or bittersweet (“The Sentiment”) tracks that make Fractured Days complete.
37. No Future, MMXXIII (2013)
Though No Future has managed maybe a dozen shows tops since its 2010 outset, the hardcore band’s significance comes through its pedigree. The group boasts former members of Poison The Well, Since By Man, Decibully, Red Knife Lottery, Bosio, and Managra. Debut album MMXXIII only serves to bolster the cachet the cast already brings to the project through nine songs of intricate guitar parts and a chugging rhythm section, all doused in brutal, guttural vocals.
36. Call Me Lightning, Human Hell (2014)
Call Me Lightning has the weird distinction of being both one of the city’s best bands and one of its least active. Much to the surprise of many who’d been waiting for new material since 2010, Lightning’s long-awaited fourth full-length, Human Hell, struck without warning in March of 2014. The effort lands closer to 2004’s Soft Skeletons than anything, with 10 abrasive and boisterous songs (that crescendo in “Not Too Late” and “Live Forever”) that, together, function as a satisfying victory lap for the veteran rock vehicle.
35. Absolutely, Learns To Love Mistakes (2011)
Summoning the ghosts of ’90s Midwest emo and hardcore, Absolutely’s winningly sloppy Learns To Love Mistakes succeeds as both a history lesson and a map of things to come. All the retro-emo signifiers are there—angular guitars, heart-on-sleeve vocals—but there’s something thrillingly new when singer George Anachey howls “Do I have to repeat myself?” on “Yosemite.” Happily, Learns To Love Mistakes is less repeat, and more refresh.
34. The Scarring Party, Losing Teeth (2010)
Macabre dance hall music scored with tubas, banjos, and nasally vocals may sound like a gimmick gone awry, but The Scarring Party’s creepy and kooky Losing Teeth rises far above shtick. The “end-timey” vaudeville act adds up to more than it’s kitchen-sink parts (dig the typewriter percussion), mainly thanks to singer-songwriter Daniel Anthony Bullock’s penchant for wickedly clever, Tim Burton-esque characters studies like “Wing” and “Raymond Dogboy.”
33. Jaill, Traps (2012)
On the surface, Jaill’s second Sub Pop release is a bright, Day-Glo summer affair, full of surf-y guitar and other light garage-psych touches. But listen closer and you’ll detect an undercurrent of melancholy running through songs like “Waste A Lot Of Things” and “Perfect Ten”—a longing, perhaps, for a time when getting high and fucking off for a day didn’t carry with it real-world consequences. Then there’s the lilting acoustic feel-bad anthem “Horrible Things (Make Pretty Songs),” which stands as Traps, and Jaill’s, crowning achievement.
32. L&R, …Still Untitled (2011)
Logic and Raze may seem like a hip-hop odd couple—the black-and-white dynamic is the least unlikely thing about them—but their disparate styles coalesce perfectly on the wide-ranging …Still Untitled. Mile-a-minute wordplay and lyrical soul-searching reside side by side on tracks like the joyous “H.I.G.H.,” a song that includes a shout-out to Milwaukee’s fallen Capitol Court. …Still Untitled does manage to touch on serious topics like mental illness (“Off My Rocker”), but it’s first and foremost a ballsy, good-time party record.
31. Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back (2010)
A bracing shot of 21st century neo-soul, Kings Go Forth’s debut for Luaka Bop sounds like the work of seasoned pros—which, of course, it is. Spearheaded by rare-vinyl extraordinaire Andy Noble and ’70s soul player Black Wolf, the expansive, intergenerational outfit joyously blasts through funk rave-ups (“One Day”) and reggae-flecked jams (“1000 Songs”). Unsurprisingly, the production is terrific, flawlessly channeling a retro and timeless sound, bringing soul back to the people.