It was the year things kinda-sorta-not-really-but-mostly got back to “normal.” It was also an incredibly strong year for Milwaukee music! Here are our favorite Milwaukee LPs, EPs, songs, and more released in the last 12 months.
MATT’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LPs OF 2022
Being put on hold is at the heart of Volume Two: Thank You For Your Patience, the wickedly wonderful second record from Milwaukee musician Harrison Colby and his Beat Index solo project. A self-described “album of on-hold music for automated phone systems,” Patience doubles as a spot-on homage to ’70s funk and soft rock. “I Don’t Wanna Get Over You” is all black-light disco strut. “Feels Like A Lifetime” toes the line between dreamy yacht rock and X-rated incidental music. “Yesterday’s News” bops along in a bubblegum-snapping haze. Colby has been one of the city’s best songwriters since his days with The Delphines and NO/NO, and his knack for effortless hooks—and for crafting a thoroughly realized concept album—is on full display here.
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.
The title of Hughes Family Band’s debut full-length is a somber hat-tip to its tragic backstory. Nathan Hughes, the band’s co-founder and one half of its namesake (joining brother Ian), died in August 2021. Though the group was only a few years old and had released only a handful of singles, it had already established itself as a rollicking, good-time honky-tonk country band of the highest order. And while it’s difficult to separate One Last Night from a gnawing feeling of what could have been, it’s hard to imagine an album more joyous, more giddy, more fun, more alive. “Off The Line” and “Golden Light” represent the record’s irresistible one-two opening punch. Warm, funny, and filled with shots of piano and sax, these dive-bar rave-ups practically leave a cloud of gravel-parking-lot dust in their wake. The record’s final track, “Shake It (Hootenanny Reprise),” ends things with a back-room, after-hours shout to the heavens. Rest assured the heavens are listening.
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.
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.
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LPs OF 2022
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 tremendously blends chugging post-punk instrumentation, blunt and booming vocals with larger-than-life gothic synth backing over the course of 11 tracks that, together, deserves consideration as one of the city’s best records of the year.
Maybe there’s word in another language (possibly German?) for a piece of art that simultaneously reminds you of your own fleeting mortality within the unjust constructs of a dying planet AND makes you want to tap your toes. Since we can’t locate that term offhand, we’ll happily settle for the feeling we derive from Dinner Set Gang’s debut album, Are You Someplace Else? The latest project of Josh Evert and Derek De Vinney (both of The Fatty Acids notoriety) quickly chased its La Fata Turchina EP it put out in August with a full-length at the end of October. Featuring standout singles like the lightly psychedelic/fully apocalyptic “Jellyfish” and bleak/beautiful anti-consumerist anthem “Awful Things,” as well as warmer takes on the march to oblivion such as “Lord Of All The Gods” and the album’s title track, Are You Someplace Else? confronts the modern state of affairs on Earth and pairs the ongoing dumpster fire with delightful music befitting a distant and better world.
It’s safe to say that Guerrilla Ghost is having itself a year. Back in April, the politically pointed industrial hip-hop duo released its excellent third album, Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here. That release was quickly followed by a multi-artist remix album, Reimagined Hellscapes. Finally, Guerrilla Ghost wrapped up its productive year with its third—and best—release of 2022 when the duo put out Dying last month. Though that album quickly followed up its predecessors, it finds Guerrilla Ghost confidently taking its socially centered sound to new terrain. Tracks like “Eight Of Cups” and “Hanged Man” see Bad Graphics Ghost showcasing lyrics and a delivery that’s as brash and nimble as ever. Meanwhile, his bars about America’s ongoing collapse are bolstered by Tron Jovi’s top-notch production that perfectly suits the seriousness and severity of the songs’ subject matter.
Imagine you’ve seen the name Long Mama on show lineups here and there and you’ve heard quiet rumblings about the band for a few years but, whether a result of distraction or sheer ignorance on your behalf, you never actually took the time to really listen to Long Mama until this year. Well, if you’re anything like this totally made up person who definitely is not us, you’ll be firmly won over by the band within the first 45 seconds of their latest album. Once set into motion by the remarkable record’s subdued-yet-poignant title track, Poor Pretender—largely buoyed by the exceptional voice and lyrical chops of bandleader Kat Wodtke—is a 10-song assemblage of slow tempo soliloquies that manage to build worlds and cut straight to the core in four-minute intervals. Okay, we admit that we’re the person who didn’t truly take note of Long Mama until Poor Pretender, but they have our attention now.
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 record—which the accomplished Milwaukee guitarist and drummer put out under the “Vectors Of Resonant Prescients” project name—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 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE EPs OF 2022
Many bands boast of their “unclassifiable”-ness, but few put their money where their mouth is like Large Print. On the band’s two 2022 EPs—In The Clouds and In The Dark—dreamy shoegaze indie tracks give way to Velvet Underground-esque droners, which in turn give way to caffeinated electro bangers. In The Clouds opener “Afterthought” is a jittery rocker with echoes of Sonic Youth, while “Blueprint” channels the droll and shamble-y Pavement. Overall, In The Clouds is the lighter, more languid of the two EPs; In The Dark opener “Blonde Ambition,” meanwhile, features bursts of discordant guitars and lyrics about “sitting in the back row watching dirty movies.” The fantastic “Dried Fruit” may be Large Print’s best song yet, a haunting and autumnal meditation on “deck[ing] the halls with cobwebs and moth balls.” Holding the EPs together is a staunch devotion to all things analog. But don’t mistake a DIY vibe for a lack of ambition: Large Print’s means may be modest, but its music reaches the sky.
Back in 2021, Milwaukee was introduced to Mere Of Light—a.k.a. the ethereal and mystical bedroom-folk project of musician Elise McArdle. The five-track Fell Tales was filled with lilting harps and half-whispered vocals, nature field recordings and light electronic flourishes. A year later, many of those features return on the excellent Haptica, a four-track EP recorded and produced by McArdle using only a digital recorder, some mics, a folk harp, a synth, and some guitar and drum machine work from Eddie Chapman. “Shapeshifter” is a gently pulsing prayer, “Green Hymn” is a nostalgic ode to the magic of the seasons (“Sure, I hate the fucking Midwest / But oh god, you know it’s so green”), and “Cruel Sister” is a haunting and Pentangle-inspired take on a traditional English murder ballad—itself based on a folktale about a young girl drowned by her jealous sister. Nothing sounded quite as otherworldly as Mere Of Light in 2022.
After years of releasing occasional singles and standalone videos, long-running sister act REYNA finally collected a handful of their impeccably crafted pop songs in an EP, You Could At Least Say Goodbye. The title track to the loose concept album is one of REYNA’s finest offerings to date, a bubbly and pastel-colored relationship kiss-off that’s both bittersweet (“I think I’m letting myself go”) and funny (“Bitch, where’s my phone?”). The aptly named “2 a.m. Serenade” plays like a woozy TLC jam, while “Orgullosa” and “Todo To Nada” double down on the group’s Beach House dream-pop vibe. REYNA has long been an unimpeachable singles act, but You Could At Least Say Goodbye proves sisters Vic and Gabby Banuelos are just as untouchable when it comes to albums.
One of the most fascinating developments in the long and winding career of New-York-by-way-of-Milwaukee musician Juiceboxxx has been his willingness to question his own life choices. “Have I wasted all my life in the basement?” the forever basement-playing Juiceboxxx wondered on 2020’s It’s Easy To Feel Like A Nobody When You’re Living In The City. That self-interrogation takes center stage with RUSTBELT, the new post-Juiceboxxx incarnation of John Chiaverina. “I should have started working full-time then, but I doubled down on being a clown” Chiaverina laments on “Fade The Mix.” Musically, RUSTBELT’s self-titled debut goes all in on heart-on-its-sleeve Midwestern pop, as evidenced by the transcendent “When I’m Feelin’ Manic.” “Most days I’m so empty, I can barely make it through,” Chiaverina sings. “But when I’m feelin’ manic, ooh, that’s when I think about you.” R.I.P. Juiceboxxx. Long live RUSTBELT.
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE EPs OF 2022
Since the last time Hot Coffin released an album (way back in early 2016), two United States Presidents have left office, there’s been a worldwide pandemic, the Milwaukee Bucks won a title, and like 12 celebrities took turns playing Colonel Sanders in KFC commercials. Though much has changed in the world since the last time Hot Coffin put out any music, we’re pleased to report the band is still as outstanding as ever. The Prize brings about a potent four-pack of tracks that are as brash, blistering, and brutal as you’ve come to expect from the slow-working rock and roll outfit. Let’s hope this EP is the sign of more material to come…ideally before the year 2028.
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 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 Visitations backing band, Allschwang 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.
While Immortal Girlfriend has been part of some of the city’s most memorable releases in recent years, its members—brothers William and Kevin Bush—have also found time to explore new musical terrain in their separate solo endeavors. William’s Black Challenger project was first to go public with a pair of albums in 2020 and 2021. Last month, Kevin finally unveiled his own solo work when he released music under the MATTHÚ moniker. MATTHÚ’s debut EP, Montana, is the product of years’ worth of experimentation in the brainchild’s two main musical interests: synthesizer and acoustic guitar. That combination is on display over the course of Montana’s six tracks, during which barren guitars and delicate vocals meld perfectly with lush and vibrant electronic accents. Bush also played drums on the EP to bridge the divergent sounds. His ear for production, his immense instrumental ability, and his surprisingly great voice (as the guy in Immortal Girlfriend who doesn’t sing!) makes Montana an expansive and deeply personal EP that’s easily among Milwaukee’s best releases of 2022.
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—returned with two more members, a decidedly more expansive sound, and its catchiest melodies yet on its new 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.
Ryan Necci—the founding member, bandleader, and namesake of Ryan Necci And The Buffalo Gospel—now calls Tennessee home, where he’s fashioned a career as a professional songwriter. Thankfully, he continues to collaborate with his Wisconsin-based Buffalo Gospel bandmates on live outings and in the creation of new material. Necci and company’s latest effort, Battle Cry, picks up where Buffalo Gospel left off on 2018’s wonderful On The First Bell with mournful country music musings like “Crying Wolf” and “Lend Me Your Heart,” before building on their sound with the boisterous and radio-ready title track and impassioned EP-ender “Bloodlines.” Necci may have moved away to help others bolster their catalogs, but we’re glad he—with the help of his Milwaukee-based band—is adding to his as well.
MATT’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2022
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2022
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RECORD THAT MADE HIS “FAVORITE MILWAUKEE MUSIC OF 2022 (SO FAR)” LIST IN JULY BUT HAD TO BE BUMPED BECAUSE WE’RE ONLY DOING OUR FAVORITE 5 IN THIS LIST, PT. 1
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 16-MINUTE SHORT FILM MADE BY A MILWAUKEE BAND TRYING TO MAKE THE MOST OF HAVING ALL ITS GEAR STOLEN OF 2022
Inspired by the real-life theft of their musical instruments and equipment (with some exaggerated, fictionalized, and satirical aspects thrown in), Diet Lite’s short film entitled “This God Damn City” features the band’s members embarking on a mission to locate their stolen gear. With the “help” of some private investigators—one of whom is played masterfully by local promoter and Breaking & Entering writer Ben Slowey—the band takes to the streets to find their instruments, and they learn some valuable lessons about themselves in the process. The 16-minute short is one part gritty ’70s cop drama, another part Tim & Eric sketch, yet another part Milwaukee-made music video, and 100 percent outstanding.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RECORD THAT MADE HIS “FAVORITE MILWAUKEE MUSIC OF 2022 (SO FAR)” LIST IN JULY BUT HAD TO BE BUMPED BECAUSE WE’RE ONLY DOING OUR FAVORITE 5 IN THIS LIST, PT. 2
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.
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE EX-PATS WHO PRETTY MUCH HAD THE MOST INCREDIBLE YEAR EVER OF 2022
This past weekend, SistaStrings—a duo made up of classically trained siblings and Milwaukee natives Monique and Chauntee Ross—performed alongside Brandi Carlile on Saturday Night Live. That was an incredible opportunity on its own, but it was also the cherry atop the Ross sisters’ incomparably awesome 2022. This year alone, they’ve performed at large-scale music festivals and played in arenas and historic venues all over North America while supporting world-renowned talents like Allison Russell and Brandi Carlile. Along the way, they’ve performed at the Grammys, played late-night shows, sat on stage during Joni Mitchell’s recent live return, and somehow found time to release a dual album with Peter Mulvey that was released on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records back in August. Phew! That’s a lot of stuff packed into 12 months. Though SistaStrings have earned a break, something tells us this is just the beginning.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE COVERS ALBUM THAT FEATURES A MR. ROGERS SONG OF 2022
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.” Sadly, Brat Sounds’ followup to Dust Covers, the all-originals Nothing, represents the band’s final release. It’s you we liked, Brat Sounds.
TYLER’S FAVORITE NEW MILWAUKEE ANTHEM BY A MUSICIAN WHO DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE BUT WE LIKE AND SUPPORT THEM ANYWAY OF 2022
She might live in Los Angeles now, but Grace Weber earned some cred in her former hometown in 2022 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!
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE RELEASE FEATURING THE FOUNDING DRUMMER OF VIOLENT FEMMES OF 2022
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 SONG THAT WAS ORIGINALLY ADAPTED FOR OUR “PUBLIC DOMAIN” SERIES THAT WAS RE-RECORED AND RELEASED ON VINYL OF 2022
In the summer of 2018, we enlisted Milwaukee music mainstay Trapper Schoepp to select a song from the public domain and adapt it for our creatively named “Public Domain” music video series. He picked “Fare Thee Well” (a.k.a. “Dink’s Song”). Along with the help of a backing band and the filming and recording know how of videographer Cheston Van Huss, he transformed the more than century-old song into something that both honored the song’s past while also modernizing it. Well, more than four years after that video was released, Schoepp decided to put a new recording of his take on “Dink’s Song” onto wax. This time around, Trapper is joined on the song by Chicken Wire Empire members Ernest Brusubardis and Ryan Ogburn. With all due respect to everyone involved in the live version, “Dink’s Song” sounds even sweeter this time around.
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