Believe it or not, 2022 is more than halfway over. Weird! What’s not weird: the full-fledged return of live music and the continued talent of the Milwaukee music scene. Here are just a few of our favorite 2022 Milwaukee releases—records, songs, videos—so far.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RECORDS/EPs OF 2022 (SO FAR)
Since co-founding and eventually leaving Fresh Cut Collective more than a decade ago, Adebisi Agoro has moved to New York City, moved back to Milwaukee, and released numerous records under his BLAX and Armstrong Ransome monikers. His latest BLAX record, Angeline, is maybe his best yet. The ebullient “A Roller Skating Jam Called Liberation” borrows its title and vibe from De La Soul, but its truth-seeking, praise-filled mission statement is BLAX’s own. Elsewhere, the jittery “Technical” manages to get in shout-outs to The Wiz, Ludacris, and Julius Caesar in its short runtime. “Shine” samples the hazy Curtis Mayfield song “The Makings Of You,” and the lovely “Does She Know” showers even more praise on an unnamed woman.
L’Resorts sixth LP finds Vinnie Kircher (Jaill) and Martha Cannon (Lady Cannon) perfecting both their breezy, exotica-tinged sound and their own back-and-forth banter. “If you’re keeping him, can you tell me why? / All your stories end that he’s not so bright,” a miffed Kircher sings in opener “Keeping Him.” Cannon’s reply? “I don’t ever have to wonder who is the smartest.” Beyond that self-described “Midwestern Sonny and Cher” dynamic, Explorers offers a wealth of musical pleasures. Tracks like “Blasting Off” and “Remember” bubble and fizz, while “I’m So Mean” and “Rolling On” languidly stretch their limbs in the warm summer breeze. “Pieces Of My Love” ends things on an upbeat and peppy note with both singers’ voices blending together like an umbrella-spiked cocktail.
Following the release of 2021’s excellent Mint Bag (Bag Full Of Mints), members of Milwaukee indie-rock band Negative/Positive packed up and headed to college. It was a bittersweet sendoff: The group formed in 2013 at the inaugural Girls Rock Milwaukee camp when its members were only 11, 12, and 13 years old. Will the three-track I Will Spend My Entire Life Savings On One Cool Hat EP (recorded pre-college) serve as the group’s swan song? If so, it’s a fine one: Opener “Memory Foam Skin” channels a Pod-era Breeders vibe, “Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll, And Yo Gabba Gabba” combines jittery and verbose verses with lighter-hoisting choruses, and “The Original Soft-Hearted New York Man™” ends things with a desperate and haunting howl. “Can you see me? Can you see me?” singer-guitarist Ava G. repeats in the closing moments of the song. And just like that, it’s over.
Rat Bath has been scampering around the Milwaukee music scene since 2019, specializing in what the band calls “spooky country core.” That sound is certainly on display throughout the group’s debut LP, Rat From Hell. The 11-track record careens between noisy, full-barrel cow punk and chaotic, witchy hardcore, with everything in between. Opener “The Tale Of Dead Ol’ Fred” establishes the record’s epic narrative (a battle between a witch and a demon, natch), while “Bone Eater” slices the air with Pixies-esque guitars. Rat From Hell‘s quieter moments are among its best, especially the dreamy and sad “At Least You’re Lonely Too” and the plaintive and sweet (but not too sweet) “Sweet Puppet”—the latter featuring guest vocals from Johanna Rose.
At first listen, young garage band Retoro doesn’t appear to reinvent the wheel on its second album, Hairlush Boutique. This is a record with clear classic punk and proto-punk influences, and a record filled with wonderfully catchy songs. No muss, no fuss. Things start off strong with the shambling and droll “Nihilistic,” followed by the caffeinated and head-bopping “Zoo.” But there are touches that go well beyond bratty punk rock. The jittery “Phone” plays like a scuffed-up Devo song, while “Living To Die” and “Entitled” find Retoro stretching out and adding some psych and jam-band vibes to the mix. No matter the vibes or influences, Hairlush Boutique is a solid slice of terrific songwriting and winning performances. No muss, no fuss.
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RECORDS/EPs OF 2022 (SO FAR)
Another year, another incredible release from Marielle Allschwang. Though the trend of one of the state’s most skilled and prolific songwriters putting out great music continues, her latest comes from a very different place. While serving as the inaugural artist in residence for an empowerment organization that serves survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking, Allschwang—in her own words—”collaborated with four survivor-writers who created poems that explore their experiences of joy, resilience, and renewal in the aftermath of sexual trauma.” With the harrowing stories of those survivors as her guide, and with the instrumental accompaniment of her backing band, Marielle Allschwang & The Visitations combined that emotional source material with carefully crafted arrangements she thought could “hold and honor the words and voices” of the storytellers. Somewhere To Swim, a four-song EP, is the end result. It’s powerful, vulnerable, difficult, and beautiful all at once.
After Convert’s “Slow Choke” earned a mention on last year’s Favorite Milwaukee Music list, the project featuring former and current members of Burning Sons, Get Rad, and Assault & Battery chased that promising single with a downright outstanding full-length. Saves admirably blends chugging post-punk instrumentation, blunt vocals, and larger-than-life gothic synth backing over the course of 11 tracks that, together, is sure to garner consideration as one of the city’s best records of 2022.
Though she was born and raised in Milwaukee and got her start as an artist here, Lakeyah moved to Atlanta about three years ago. Does that disqualify her from being a local artist? Maybe. As you all debate that, we’ll just be over here enjoying the hell out of the up-and-coming rapper’s No Pressure (Pt. 1). The five-song EP is all killer and no filler, highlighted by the infectious Latto-featuring track “Mind Yo Business” and strong Song Of The Summer candidate “I Look Good.” No Pressure (Pt. 1) is Lakeyah’s best work yet…at least until Pt. 2 comes out and her climb to worldwide consciousness continues.
Just over two years removed from the release of the band’s self-titled debut album, Mertles Acres—a band founded by Direct Hit!’s former rhythm section—returns with two more members, a decidedly more expansive sound, and its catchiest melodies yet on its just-released EP. With six soaring, summer-suited songs and a sub-20-minute runtime, The American Dream is meant to be listened to loudly and on repeat.
Last year, Kevin DeMars left town for a few days, holed up in a Sheboygan Falls home he rented, and buckled down to record an album. He returned with Microfiche. That album—released under the accomplished Milwaukee guitarist and drummer’s “Vectors Of Resonant Prescients” moniker—is a serene instrumental effort that’s rife with delicate finger-picking on 13 soothing-yet-intricate songs. If the world is moving too fast, take about 35 minutes to relax, reflect, and embark on an aural getaway with Microfiche.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2022 (SO FAR)
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2022 (SO FAR)
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2022 (SO FAR)
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2022 (SO FAR)
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE COVERS ALBUM THAT FEATURES A MR. ROGERS SONG OF 2022 (SO FAR)
Looking for a good cry? Then look no further than Brat Sounds’ Dust Covers, a (mostly) covers album that features a beautiful, lo-fi, home-recorded rendition of Mr. Rogers’ “It’s You I Like.” In addition to that tear-jerker, the record include “Clay Pigeons” by Blaze Foley, “Blues Run The Game” by Jackson C. Frank, “Tell Me Why” by Neil Young, and “One Man Guy” by Rufus Wainwright. Oh, and two (excellent and equally lovely) Brat Sounds originals: “Cursive Letters” and “Liminal Space.”
TYLER’S FAVORITE COMPLICATED LOVE LETTER TO RURAL WISCONSIN THAT’S WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY AN INTERNATIONALLY LOVED DRAG QUEEN OF 2022 (SO FAR)
“This Town” captures both the sweetness and the underlying darkness Milwaukee drag superstar Trixie Mattel experienced as a kid growing up in northern Wisconsin. In addition to a song with lyrics about Friday fish frys, corner bars, passing time with late night drives, and feeling like she can no longer go home after changing her name, Mattel also released an accompanying music video that further illustrates the song’s heavy subject matter, with home video footage of the songwriter as a teenager with beautiful footage of modern Wausaukee.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RELEASE FEATURING THE FOUNDING DRUMMER OF VIOLENT FEMMES OF 2022 (SO FAR)
Violent Femmes founding drummer Victor DeLorenzo has never stopped making music since stepping away from his legendary band in 2013. His long-running cello-and-drums project with Janet Schiff, Nineteen Thirteen, has been putting out increasingly weird and wonderful music for nearly a decade. This year, the duo released a terrifically moody and cinematic single titled—what else?—”Cello And Drums Forever.”
DeLorenzo followed it up with the excellent A Free Society, the debut album from newly formed supergroup Night Crickets. Featuring DeLorenzo, Darwin Meiners, and Bauhaus and Love And Rockets bassist David J, the record is effortlessly cool. Opener “Black Leather On The Inside” sets the table with a dreamy, percussion-heavy head-nodder marked by the occasional Velvet Underground-esque flourish. The lovely “Candlestick Park” finds Meiners and company paying tribute to both the Beatles and the long-gone titular ball field—a.k.a the “Ashtray by the Bay.” DeLorenzo takes over vocal duties on “Little Did I,” offering up a song that sounds like a modern-day take on War’s “Low Rider,” of all things.
TYLER’S FAVORITE NEW MILWAUKEE ANTHEM BY A MUSICIAN WHO DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE BUT WE LIKE AND SUPPORT THEM ANYWAY OF 2022 (SO FAR)
She might live in Los Angeles now, but Grace Weber earned some cred in her former hometown recently with her delightful “414” song, as well as an accompanying video that’s overflowing with regional reference points and that features an appearance by (also former) Milwaukee rapper Mudy. Watch it if you haven’t done so already. It’s good!
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