Throughout November, Milwaukee Record is revisiting a full decade of Milwaukee music, assembling (and ranking) the 10 best Milwaukee albums of each year. The retrospective will wrap up in December with our list of the 25 Best Milwaukee Records of 2019.
10. The Scarring Party – Losing Teeth
Beginning with 2006’s A Concise Introduction and ending with 2015’s belated End Times, Milwaukee’s gone-but-not-forgotten The Scarring Party stubbornly refused to sound anything like a modern concern. In 2010, that refusal took the form of the excellent Losing Teeth, a collection of macabre character sketches rendered in vaudeville-esque vocals and kitchen-sink instrumentation. Singer-songwriter Daniel Bullock shines on songs like “Raymond Dogboy,” and the stellar ensemble work from Isa Carini, Christopher Roberts, and William Smith ensures Bullock’s twisted tales linger in the mind long after their subjects meet their equally twisted fates.
9. Worrier – Source Errors Spells
Dance-punk outfit Worrier wasted no time establishing itself in Milwaukee after relocating from Fond du Lac. Source Errors Spells, the group’s debut album, is a delectable collection of jittery and yelp-y math-rock frosted with electronica and good old fashioned noise. It’s a record that’s easily accessible yet impossible to pin down—poppier tunes like “Let Down Your Hair” and “Lost Ships” are joined by more complex numbers like “Black Death Princess” and “The Single Stitch.” Worrier never released another full-length record, but Source Errors Spells remains a generous and winning offering.
8. Get Rad – I Can Always Live
Though its shows are few and extremely far between these days, hardcore force Get Rad has managed four releases—spanning a combined 32 songs—in the past 10 years. 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.”
7. Def Harmonic – Figs
Jason Todd (a.k.a. JTodd) and Lia Manley-DeRuiter (Lunaversol9) have been kicking out futuristic jams as Def Harmonic since the tail end of last millennium. Through the years, the rappers and producers have collaborated on a number of interesting and evocative releases that have pushed the boundaries of the hip-hop, dance, and trance genres—including material released as recently as 2016. However, the duo hit its stride at the end of 2010 with Figs. Over the course of album’s nine tracks, JTodd and Lunaversol9 blanket undeniable beats with space-age production and rousing rhymes that, together, craft a dazzling and dynamic soundscape that’s as compelling now as it was almost a decade earlier.
6. Sugar Stems – Sweet Sounds Of The…
Formed in 2007 from a Dusty Medical stew of bands like The Goodnight Loving and Catholic Boys, the Sugar Stems were a sticky-sweet confection of earworm melodies, boy-girl harmonies, and chiming guitars. The 14-track Sweet Sounds Of The… landed in 2010, stuffed with infectious bubblegum-smacking tunes like “Goin’ Down,” “Beat Beat Beat,” and “I Gotta Know.” The great Can’t Wait and Only Come Out At Night soon followed, all similarly candy-coated and underscored with a playful sourness that gave the Sugar Stems their bite.
5. .357 String Band – Lightning From The North
The forefathers of the “Streetgrass” genre, .357 String Band is an act that’s still referenced, emulated, and looked upon wistfully today—almost a decade after the influential outfit broke up. More than a year before they called it quits with a sold-out Turner Hall show in 2011, .357 saw fit to release an impactful parting shot in the form of what would be its final album, Lightning From The North. The effort is one hell of a farewell, complete with 14 formidable offerings that are expertly executed in .357’s patented fast-picking, vocal-sharing, no-bullshit style—best expressed in timeless touchstones like “Ride Again” and “Milwaukee, Here I Come.”
4. Goodnight Loving – The Goodnight Loving Supper Club
The eclectic feast featured on the cover of The Goodnight Loving Supper Club is a good indication of the music featured therein. Over the course of 14 bite-sized tracks, Goodnight Loving serves up rock, folk, British Invasion-esque psych, Apples In Stereo-esque psych, and ’50s-indebted ditties like the aptly titled “Earworm.” Does it all zip by in approximately 30 minutes? Yes it does. The group, which had been knocking around town since 2003, disbanded soon after the release of the record; Supper Club proved to be a fitting dessert.
3. Jaill – That’s How We Burn
Back in 2010, Jaill was viewed as a point of local pride, Milwaukee’s connection to the venerable Sub Pop Records. That’s How We Burn, the group’s Sub Pop debut, finds Vinnie Kircher and company making a splash with 11 now-hallmark installments of Great Lakes surf rock. The summer-y jaunt piles four-chord compositions atop Kircher’s shrill, slacker-poet vocals to easily earn the national attention. From the buzzing “Stroller” to the ratty title-track closer, Jaill’s coming out party was well attended. A second Sub Pop record, Traps, followed in 2012.
2. Kings Go Forth – The Outsiders Are Back
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, and featuring members of De La Buena, the expansive, intergenerational outfit—which disbanded less than two years after this record’s release—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.
1. Call Me Lightning – When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free
Like many great albums (hell, like many Call Me Lightning albums), the trail leading up to Blood was filled with tales of label disputes and production delays. But the album that finally emerged on Dusty Medical Records in 2010 bore no sign of internal strife. It boldly cast the group as a sweaty, screaming, beer-soaked version of The Who, a stadium band shoved inside a sweltering basement. The first three songs (“Called To The Throne,” “Beyond The Beasts,” “Bronze Hell”) bleed and smash into each other; the title track opens with its heart on its sleeve before spinning into a full-blown assault; “Old Cactus” raises (and then smashes) its glass to one of the city’s most enduring clubs. All throughout, singer Nathan Lilley’s raw declarations of pain and doomed love slash through the din, never better than on the chorus of the opening track: “Even if I’m called to the throne / Even if I cannot stand to be alone / I will not take you when I go.” Four years later, Call Me Lightning released its (apparent) swan song, Human Hell, but When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free still stands as the group’s—and Milwaukee rock’s—crowning achievement.