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. (Here are the 10 best Milwaukee albums of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.)
10. IshDARR – Old Soul Young Spirit
Special stress should be given to the “Young” in the title of IshDARR’s debut full-length album, as the rapper was all of 19 years old when it was released. Not that you’d ever know it: “Right Now” bounces along as a bold statement of purpose, “Only You” gets surprisingly tender and romantic, “Too Bad” hits the town with an undeniable club stomper, and “Remember” looks inward and grapples with relationships and early success. Highlighted by IshDARR’s soon-t0-be-famous charisma, Old Soul Young Spirit is accurate on all four counts.
9. Tigernite – s/t
Three years before the majestic Sublunary, glam-rock juggernaut Tigernite took a bite out of Milwaukee with its thrilling debut full-length. Opener “Million Years” kicks the doors open with a scintillating and sloppy guitar solo before it gives way to the arena-caliber pipes of singer Molly Roberts that serve to fuel the powerful vehicle on its wild ride. With ultra-catchy hooks and dazzling ax-wielding, “Witch” is an instant classic, while “Drag” highlights the band’s softer side and its penchant for elaborate production.
8. Kia Rap Princess – The NOLIMIT LP
Trying to pin down Kia Rap Princess is a fool’s game. On the loaded 17-track NOLIMIT LP, the Milwaukee MC is both boastful and proud (“Amazin,” “Number One”), frantic and pissed (“Different Thangs,” “NO LIMIT”), tender and vulnerable (“What Love?” “My Words And Thoughts”), and the life of the party (“In This Party,” “Love Me”). She’s also a hell of a songwriter: the stunning “Number One” is the greatest Rocky montage song never released, and the deliriously cool “Apply Pressure” is one of the great Milwaukee singles of the decade. If there’s one message pulsing through The NOLIMIT LP, it’s this: Recognize the royalty.
7. Light Music – Ocean’s Daughter
The sole release from electronic indie-rock outfit Light Music is carefully wrought with importance placed on atmospherics and fabricating an aural universe in which one could reside for approximately 40 minutes. From the cascading piano of “Nessun Dorma” to singer Shae Lappen’s voice-nodding to Jeremy Enigk and Bono in “True Colors” and “Jack Of All Trades,” respectively, and well-placed implementation of horns, strings, synths, and auxiliary percussion throughout, Ocean’s Daughter begs to be heard in its entirety.
6. Dogs In Ecstasy – Welcome 2 Hell
Everything about Dogs In Ecstasy’s overstuffed, hilarious, and willfully weird Welcome 2 Hell practically screams “’90s!” The cover looks like an early CD-ROM screen saver, the music is heavily indebted to synth- and pop-minded groups like The Rentals and The Pulsars, and it all has the fizzed-out attention span of MTV’s Liquid Television. Then why is Welcome 2 Hell such a breath of fresh air? Maybe it’s the Dogs’ sly comments on modern technology (“The world moves so fast, I’m just trying to keep pace / How will my daughter ever love me when the software doesn’t recognize my face?” from the tag-me-in-a-post-obsessed “I’m A Man”). Or maybe it’s because hook-a-second songwriting is forever fresh.
5. Piles – Planet Skin
Fifteen months after their self-titled debut LP, Piles resurfaced with Planet Skin. Bleary opener and album standout “Blue Glue” sets the tone with a barrage of gauzy guitar, distorted bass, and a deluge of downcast vocals that all loom especially large in “Mude” and “Panthron,” and persist through the duration of the hazy, crestfallen composition. Muffled yet melodic, Planet Skin is a hastened drive through foggy terrain that careens from garish to gorgeous in alternating two- to four-minute intervals.
4. Kiings – WWYDF
After both enduring the occasional frustrations and artistic constraints, middle school friends-turned-collaborators Sean Foran and Chris Siegel joined forces to form Kiings. In no time, the electronic duo garnered local interest with inventive re-dressings of material first popularized by Field Report, Phox, Christine Hoberg, and others. The group’s debut, WWYDF, manages to fuse a cacophony of influences into one cohesive package. With backing music personally played and programmed by the production pair, the record finds isolated vocal tracks from unthinkable groupings like Christopher Porterfield and Milo (“Garden”); WebsterX, Bliss & Alice, and King Courteen (“1984”); and Hoberg, Colin Plant, and Pizzle (“The Time Will Come”) coalescing to form sleek and altogether beautiful music.
3. Group Of The Altos – R U Person Or Not
A newfound embrace of vocals highlights Group Of The Altos’ follow-up to to their 2011 debut, from the howling, unhinged soul of “To Savior” to the mile-high stomp of “On Wreck.” Then there’s the surprise turn from rapper Klassik on “Fucks With Us,” which ends up sounding like the most natural thing in the world. Musically, Person is the tightest album in the Altos’ discography, full of end-of-the-world trumpets and primal drums (“Learning To Share”) and funky, off-kilter riffs (“Forgiveness Rules”). Coursing through it all (and especially on the lovely “Coplight”) is an otherworldly sense of a band expanding, reckoning with death, and reaching out in the darkness, hoping to find something resembling life.
2. Midnight Reruns – Force Of Nurture
Even before Midnight Reruns’ great self-titled record came out in 2013, the band had written the glut of material that would eventually have a home on its next record. Recorded live—with sparing overdubs—over the course of a few nights in the New York home studio of Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Guns N’ Roses), Force Of Nurture is a partially polished continuation of the delightful dinginess of a band often tabbed with the “slacker rock” tag. For all singer-guitarist Graham Hunt’s drug references and self-loathing sneers, Nurture totes its fair share of pop appeal (try not signing along with “Canadian Summer”), outstanding instrumentation (the guitar solo of “Ain’t Gonna Find”), and periphery punk cred (“Force Of Nurture”) to forge one of the best Milwaukee records of the decade.
1. Klassik – Seasons
Want ambition? Seasons is humming with it, collecting tracks from Klassik’s four previously released seasonal EPs (Summer, Fall, etc.) with LP-only material. Want expertly crafted compositions that blur the line between hip-hop, jazz, and R&B? “STAGESlayer” and “Hi Klass” are space-y and nimble genre-shifters that swoop and soar, “STRNGRS” and “Ultimate” show off Klassik’s rapid-fire delivery and pitch-perfect lyrics, and the title track makes a confident case for the artist as a falsetto-voiced crooner. Seasons may track the changes inherent in a lifetime, but there’s a supremely chill and confident production permeating the entire album, demanding that the entire project be listened from front to back.