It was one of those years: a year absolutely loaded with great Milwaukee music. So while this list covers nearly 40 different artists, it’s hardly exhaustive or complete. Instead, take it for what it is: a brief look at some of our personal favorite Milwaukee LPs, EPs, and songs of the year (sponsored by Lakefront Brewery). Twenty-twenty-three was a keeper. Here’s to 2024!
MATT’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LPs OF 2023
Thanks to sold-out shows in big venues (Turner Hall) and canceled shows in unlikely venues (Culver’s), Bug Moment was one of the most buzzed-about Milwaukee bands of 2023. The group’s breakthrough record, The Flying Toad Circus, finds singer-songwriter Jasmine Rosenblatt and company (Gray Edward, Elias Dorsey, Aidan Hoppens) in buzz-worthy form. Though the bulk of the record trends toward the moody and atmospheric, standout tracks like the post-rock-leaning “Lagoon” and the alt-rock-chugging “Teeth” show off the band’s instrumental power. “It’s Getting Dark, And You Left Me At The Circus,” meanwhile, is a muscular grunge banger filled with slash-and-burn guitars and slash-and-burn lyrics (“All your fucking lies / Now I wish you hell”). Yes, Bug Moment is currently having a “moment,” though that moment is certain to stretch into the future.
Less than halfway through the debut record from Milwaukee punk-rock trio Jinksie, singer-guitarist Wendy Norton and singer-bassist Amelinda Burich shout out what could be either a sentiment of kinship or a veiled threat: “We’re just like you! We’re just like you!” The eight tracks that make up Jinksie’s self-titled record make good on that mixed-message statement. There’s the shambling and anthemic opener “Go On.” There’s the wickedly chugging “Slide,” featuring on-point slippery vocals from Burich. Album standout “The Passage” boasts a trifecta of soaring vocals, punk background shouts, and a nasty guitar solo. The track is followed by the ridiculously great Ramones-esque “Step Away,” a highlight amongst highlights. All told, Jinksie’s self-titled introduction is alternately fun and menacing, bubble-gum-popping and knife-wielding.
How do you follow a fantastic 2022 concept album about a witch defeating a trauma-signifying demon? If you’re Milwaukee cow-punk/queercore/”y’allternative” band Rat Bath, you release a “murder country rock opera” about a star-crossed vampire and a time-traveler. Call Me A Monster is an absolute blast, and finds the ever-busy Rat Bath doubling down on its country leanings. Opener “Sweeter Than Blood, Softer Than Skin” features Fred Kenyon, Cora Bequeaith, Róisín Shields, Ivy Escobedo, and Nikki Nelson delivering a shit-kicking hootenanny of the highest order. “Mercy I Cried” is a dusty ballad that’s both haunting and theatrical. Meanwhile, the quasi-title track “Calling All Monsters” alternates between cow-poke gallop and fiery freak-out. “They will haunt you, they will keep you, they will eat you from underneath your skin,” Kenyon sings in the closing moments of “Calling All Monsters.” The song, album, and band, too, get underneath your skin.
At the time of its release in 2022, the fantastic (and fantastically titled) “Jesus Christ Stop Yelling I’m Right Here” was the only song available from self-described gothic-punk four-piece Scam Likely; a year later, the song is just one highlight in an album stuffed with them. The 10-track Getting Worse opens with the occasionally jagged, occasionally soaring “Sushi At Gunpoint.” Singer Charlee Grider is terrific here, spitting out lines like “I changed everything you asked me to” and “Spare me that stupid fucking smile.” Even better is instant-classic single “Domestic Bliss.” Featuring a woozy goth-romantic vibe and a guitar line that channels New Order’s “Age Of Consent,” it’s the track that has us most excited for the future of Scam Likely—and the future of Milwaukee music in general.
Back in 2021, Vincent Van Great teamed up with Amanda Huff for the effortlessly fun and sexy Troublemakers EP. That vibe carries through to Van Great’s fantastic 2023 solo release, Ladies Please. The infectious pop/dance-floor/R&B opus makes no bones about its intentions: “See You Dance” gets hot and heavy in the club (“Hips in the dress looking flawless / On the dance floor looking gorgeous”), “Girls” takes the action back to the bedroom (“I’m gonna take you to the moon / Super Mario boom”), and “Forever Girl” floats in the clouds while professing its love (“Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday / My love will never, ever fade away”). Some stellar guests appear on Ladies Please, too, such as Huff, SistaStrings, Klassik, Genesis Renji, Paper Holland, and even comedian Lahna Turner. The record is a winner, and Van Great has never been greater.
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LPs OF 2023
Last year, following close to a decade spent living and creating in Los Angeles, hip-hop/jazz musician Emmitt James moved back to his native Milwaukee to join the city’s thriving arts scene. With adequate time to get acclimated, the versatile artist made his presence known in town with regular live outings and a new album that confidently thrusts his eclectic skill set and his distinctive sound to the forefront. That release, Undeniably Ground-Breakingly Excellent, lives up to its name as James shows listeners what he’s picked up in his time away with 14 songs worth of top-notch lyricism, nimble delivery, genre-merging production, and even four offbeat interlude “acts” thrown in for good measure.
With all due respect to HOSTS, a band that’s apparently been kicking for roughly a decade, we’re embarrassed to admit we hadn’t heard of them until this year. That extremely belated introduction came as a result of hearing Wade Low. Released in June, the album—the group’s fourth full-length!—is half an hour of excellent Americana that’s parsed out between seven tremendous songs that seem intended to be enjoyed together as one cohesive package. De facto single “Marginal Man” comments on the wonder and lingering mysteries of existence. Later, the title track tiptoes into motion before an instrumental swell and bandleader Miles Patzer’s incomparable growl help bring the single to a memorable crescendo. Before album’s end, standouts like the emotive and atmospheric “Make It Last” and a gorgeous nearly seven-minute sendoff called “North Avenue Waltz” cement Wade Low as a record on which HOSTS should be riding high.
Piles’ 5:53—the comeback record from the post-punk project we took for dead—features the band’s winning formula of driving percussion, muddy bass lines, and blistering guitar work, but it also shows measurable musical growth and an interesting perspective shift. Tracks like “Ice Age” and “Be The Way” manage to exude warmth and optimism through catchy melodies and upbeat lyrics, while songs like “Paris” and “In The Morning” are among the most relaxed songs in the band’s catalog to this point. Yeah, we erroneously assumed Piles was through, but 5:53 makes us extremely glad we were wrong.
Siren Songs seems to be an exercise in building something new and relevant with old tools. If that was indeed his aim, accomplished Milwaukee troubadour Trapper Schoepp did just that. In addition to being recorded at Johnny Cash’s family cabin in Tennessee, the 12-track album also draws influence from the past through the use of open tuning, a noticeable reverence for traditional folk and Irish music, a loose nautical theme, and storytelling elements that were inspired by oft-overlooked historic events. By eschewing flashy production, turning his songwriting approach outward, and reaching into forgotten pockets of the past, Schoepp has crafted something new, different, and as good as anything he’s ever done to this point with Siren Songs.
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of Wildered. To be honest, we only learned about this Americana duo-turned-shapeshifting musical collective back in spring. Coincidentally, our awareness perfectly lines up with the release of Emezov, an otherworldly and ambitious album the Milwaukee outfit put out in early June. Using a folk-y foundation fashioned by singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Nate Bjorge and Joshua Miranda, the 13-song record seamlessly blends acoustic instruments and heartfelt vocal harmonies with sleek synth backing and futuristic production to forge something that’s admittedly kind of tough to pin down, but very easy to enjoy. And if you feel innovative electro-indie-folk might not be your thing, Emezov also features a pretty damn solid cover of “Your Love” by The Outfield.
MATT’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE EPs OF 2023
Talk about a long-overdue comeback: Milwaukee punk outfit Chinese Telephones formed way back in 2004, and released a self-titled full-length in 2007. And, well, that’s it. Live shows certainly haven’t been unheard of in the ensuing 15 years, but new music has. UNTIL NOW. Yep, Chinese Telephones—a.k.a. Justin Telephone on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Daniel James on lead and rhythm guitar, Andy Junk on shirtless bass and backing vocals, and Logan Stang on drums—returned in 2023! The four-track Outta My Hands is terrific: Opener “Radianna” is an instantly winning callback to the Chi-Tels sound of yesteryear, while “Come And See Me” and “Tamping Down My Soul” take things in a decidedly more power-pop direction. And hey, there’s a cover of The Dictators’ “Loyola,” too! Welcome back, Chinese Telephones!
Milwaukee singer-songwriter Martha Cannon has spent the past few years busying herself with tropical pop band L’Resorts, but her long-running Lady Cannon project is where she truly shines. This year’s Take It Out On Me is a heartbreakingly gorgeous collection of frank, soul-baring songs. “I don’t want to forget you but I might as well / You made it perfectly clear I could go to hell,” Cannon sings in opener “Ashamed.” Later, in the jaw-dropping “Cranberries,” Cannon delivers some of her most evocative lyrics yet: “In the passenger seat I keep watching his hands, wondering what they would feel like running up my leg / And I know that it’s wrong so I keep in my space, scared to death he can read it all on my face / And I think oh hell, girl, you’ve done it again / Why aren’t you ever happy with the good love you have?” Cannon has teased the end of Lady Cannon; here’s hoping there’s more music to come.
The five-track Limonada finds REYNA—a.k.a. sisters Vic and Gab Banuelos—not only embracing newfound love, but celebrating their artistic independence. Free from past heartbreaks, love has blossomed; free from major label ties, REYNA has released its most intimate record yet. Make no mistake, the sisters Banuelos delivered some fantastic high-polished dance-pop in their early REYNA years. But on Limonada they feel less constricted, less expected to deliver songs designed to send festival crowds into a frenzy. “Serotonin” borrows the swooning hook from “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and conjures up a cozy tribute to falling in love and snuggling up while watching movies. “Optimist” and “Limoncello” double down on that dreamed-for domesticity: “I wanna bring you cereal, Apple Jacks in bed,” Gab sings on the former.
In the ongoing cultural and political war against the LGBTQIA community, Milwaukee transgender screamo group Riotnine makes a statement with Death Before Detransition. The four-song EP opens with the blistering and cacophonous “Isolated, Exiled”; amidst a scalding downpour of emo-leaning guitars and blown-out drums, singer Daniel Calderon screams and howls against the status quo: “Our existence, isolated / Our existence, exiled.” “Eliza” is the arguably record’s strongest track, kicking off with a twinkling emo guitar line but eventually giving way to a barely controlled full-band thrash. Post-punk stops-and-starts and an unlikely late-song change-up only strengthen the track’s power. The title track, meanwhile, boasts an extended acoustic and horn-laden intro before bringing in the noise and throat-shredding vocals. Closer “Skramzgender” is both the EP’s longest and most accomplished song. Careening from stomping Metallica-esque breakdowns to full-on walls of noise (and everything in between), it puts Riotnine’s musicianship front and center.
Sex Scenes, Milwaukee’s favorite feedback- and beer-drenched punk group, is new and improved—and supremely pissed off—on the three-song, five-minute Fed Up. In the new-and-improved department, Sarah Turbo takes over vocal duties for the band; joining her are Milwaukee music scene vets Harrison Colby, Connor LaMue, and Gregg Twigg. The quartet commences Fed Up with the teeth-kicking title track, a 90-second shot of alternately thrash-y and chugging punk goodness. “I can’t take it / I’ve had it up to my neck,” Turbo howls. “This drama, this static / I’ve had it, I’ve had it.” Second track “I’m Not Your T.V.” finds the singer blasting an enamored admirer (“I’m not your T.V. / You should entertain me / I’m at my job / Leave me alone.”) Finally, “The Harder I Try” mixes Turbo’s bleak lyrics (“I’m giving up / Because there’s nothing left to give”) with a glowering slab of hardcore. And yes, it’s all over in five minutes.
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE EPs OF 2023
Even though the band’s singer-guitarist William “B.J.” Seidel left Milwaukee this summer to embark on a yearlong excursion all over the world with his family, Dramatic Lovers left listeners with a parting gift to help hold us over during his absence. The aptly named Hiatus EP brings about a bleary and beautiful quintet of dreamy indie-pop numbers to one 18-minute release that seems more instrumentally subdued, yet presents far more lyrical warmth than past Dramatic Lovers releases. We don’t know when (or even whether, to be perfectly honest) the band will play together again, but we’re glad to be waiting out the return of Dramatic Lovers with the downright lovely Hiatus EP.
Milwaukee made it just six days into 2023 before Grey Genius delivered one of the year’s best EPs. Hold This 4 A Min: II—the fast follow-up effort to the similarly named first installment the singer/rapper released last December—starts with Grey Genius (a.k.a. Kristane Thrower) saying, “I’m just trying to be pivotal / Coming from a place where they can’t wait to get rid of you.” While it’s only four songs long and has a total runtime that narrowly exceeds 10 minutes, the second EP builds on its Hold This 4 A Min predecessor with personal lyrics, memorable hooks, and an altogether outstanding sound we feel makes Grey Genius an indispensable up-and-coming talent that Milwaukee should hold onto for dear life.
Honey Creek’s reinvention EP, Self Preservation, features four songs and comes in at a lean and mean runtime of 11 minutes. “Burnt Bitter” and “iQuit” kick things off in grand fashion by doling out a deluge of booming bass and percussion, a wall of intricate guitars, and a steady diet of shimmering synth. Both of those tracks, as well as the two that follow, exhibit top-notch vocal interplay between Chris Merisalo and Ellee Grim as the dual singers work together on some captivating hooks. Between the uptempo and summer-suited sound, the outstanding harmonies, and introspective lyrics, Honey Creek’s new era is underway and it’s a resounding success.
Last year, we stumbled upon Shontrail by way of the Milwaukee-based singer’s “Warm Heart” single. That standout song—which earned a spot on our Favorite Music Of 2022 year-end list—was part of Shontrail’s Silver Star album that showcased his artistic range, delicate melodies, and songwriting style that can’t quite be confined into any single genre. As impressive as the debut album was, it was just the tip of the iceberg. This year brought the release of Lost In Limbo, a 20-minute serving of material that (contrary to the title) illustrates an artist who is noticeably more focused and confident than he was this time last year. Lead single “Red Rabbit” is an ethereal post-punk gem, late standout “Everyday” is a wistful march in the direction of better days, and “When I’m Alone I Get Real High” is the undisputed Milwaukee Summer Song of the Year.
The bad news: Soup Moat has called it quits and Milwaukee is now left without one of its best projects of the past 10 years. The good news: Even though the band has come to an unceremonious end, the self-described purveyors of “heavy, silly sludge” saw fit to leave listeners with a parting gift in the form of a posthumous release. That self-titled swan song (which is actually four songs) sees Soup Moat breaking new sonic ground with a wall of squealing guitars, gang vocals, and even an odd cameo from a former Wisconsin politician before calling it a day. Over a span of 16 minutes, the quartet showcases just how far it has come and how much the project has evolved over the course of the last decade. So long, Soup Moat. Thanks for all the tunes.
MATT’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2023
TYLER’S 5 FAVORITE MILWAUKEE SONGS OF 2023
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LP THAT BEGS TO BE SYNCED UP TO DUNE (LYNCH OR VILLENEUVE VERSION, YOUR CHOICE) OF 2023
Like a signal traveling through the unfathomable vastness of space, it’s been a long journey for Astral Hand. The heavy cosmic-psych band emerged from the shadow of another Milwaukee band (Calliope) way back in 2019. The rebranded outfit released a couple of tentative singles, but plans for a full-length album were put on hold due to the pandemic. Finally, in 2023, Astral Hand unleashed its debut record, the towering Lords Of Data. Tracks like opener “Not Alone” and “Navigator” stomp and pummel their way through the galaxy like a sentient monolith; lead single “Contact” enters the Stargate with a winning mix of psych-drenched guitars and vocals; and “End Of Man” goes full speed ahead with a sci-fi-tinged thrash. The record even makes time for a moody and mysterious instrumental, “Crystal Gate,” which seems destined to score a future alien invasion.
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LP THAT’S REALLY GOOD, BUT CAME OUT LESS THAN A WEEK AGO OF 2023
Capital B, the long-awaited sophomore effort from The MilBillies, just plain rules. It features 12 tracks worth of fast-picking, toe-tapping bluegrass. It has tremendous hook-laden singles in the form of “Never Ever” and “Wisconsin Rain.” It has horns! And it displays the exponential growth of one of the city’s most active projects. There’s really only one minor drawback to this album: the thing has only been out for, like, five days. We wouldn’t want recency bias to oust another deserving LP from the list, but we also don’t want to entirely ignore an exceptional album simply because it was released in the month of December. Thus, it lands here in a place where we can recognize its quality (and the possibility it could go down as one of 2023’s best Milwaukee releases when we look back on it later) while also taking time to see where it ultimately lands.
MATT’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE LP MADE BY A BAND NAMED AFTER A LONG-VACANT SUPPER CLUB OUTSIDE OF BEAVER DAM, WISCONSIN OF 2023
Somewhere on Highway 33, between the bustling Wisconsin towns of Horicon and Beaver Dam, stands a 40-foot pyramid. Well, it’s a long-vacant supper club in the shape of a pyramid, but close enough. Taking its name from the loony landmark is Milwaukee band The Nile Club. Like its namesake, the group is delightfully bizarre and unlikely—heavy and sludgy one minute, jammy and melodic the next. Want menacing shout-alongs AND groovy math-rock workouts? How about horns, organs, sea-shanty psychedelia, AND heart-on-its-sleeve emo? You can find it all on The Nile Club’s excellent, eclectic, and never-dull 2023 record Wake Up With A Sense Of Pride. The fantastic “Forever Is A Word” is worth the price of admission alone.
TYLER’S FAVORITE TAYLOR SWIFT COVER BY A MILWAUKEE BAND OF 2023
Since it’s the year 2023 and we’re a publication that covers music sometimes, we’re pretty sure we legally have to write about Taylor Swift on our year-end list. (Just kidding. Oh, please have mercy on us, Swifties!) Actually, we’re happy to pay homage to this Milwaukee-tinged cover of Swift’s “Blank Space,” to which Gold Steps gave the pop-punk treatment a few months ago. We’ve honestly had this rousing rendition of the 1989 favorite in our head on and off since we first heard it at Bay View Bash in September. No, not Taylor’s version…this one.
MATT’S FAVORITE PROMISE RING COVER BY A FELLOW MILWAUKEE ARTIST OF 2023
What more do you need to know? It’s Rustbelt—a.k.a. the Artist Formerly Known As Juiceboxxx—doing an electro- and Auto-Tune-drenched version of The Promise Ring’s classic 1997 title track “Nothing Feels Good.” It rules! What else rules? Rustbelt’s 2023 EP, You Got Nowhere To Go But You’re Going There Tonight.
TYLER’S FAVORITE MILWAUKEE-MADE LAP STEEL COVER OF A MR. MISTER HIT SINGLE OF 2023
Whether you know the song from its decades of radio play or from its tasteful use in all of the sex scenes from MacGruber, you’ve surely heard “Broken Wings” before. However, you’ve never heard the Mr. Mister hit quite like this. Last month, Milwaukee’s own Velocihamster—which calls itself “the world’s only lap steel metal band”—took an innovative and altogether awesome approach to breathe new life into the 1985 soft rock classic, with project mastermind Sean Williamson playing everything on the track except fretless upright bass. We can’t wait to see what song Velocihamster covers next.
MATT’S FAVORITE SUPER-SIZED MILWAUKEE LP THAT COMES IN JUST UNDER AN HOUR OF 2023
Since releasing the delightful Seems To Be The Way It Tends To Go in 2021, Diet Lite has played more than 100 shows, gotten its gear stolen, made a video/short film about getting its gear stolen, produced a full-length tour documentary, and released two EPs. Those EPs—plus 10 more songs!—make up the group’s excellent 2023 record Into To Pudding. Breezy and jangly lead single “Debora” perfectly shows off Diet Lite’s newly fleshed-out sound, with Dylan-esque organ flourishes and mile-a-minute lyrical runs. “Tom Tom Club” is a beefy slab of punk rock, “Flying Cars & New Fronts” is a jittery jam filled with spacey interludes and herky-jerky riffs, and both “An Iron + The Sun” and “K.O.” wouldn’t feel out of place on an indie-leaning “drinkin’ with the boys” playlist. The head-bopping and surf-y “Madison City Parking Ticket Groove,” meanwhile, is an undeniable album highlight.
TYLER’S FAVORITE “FOUR-DIMENSIONAL TRIPLE DOUBLE ALBUM” THAT ALLOWS LISTENERS TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN ADVENTURE OF 2023
Nuisance’s SAND, STONE, GLASS features 19 songs that were fashioned exclusively with the virtual instruments created by Ryan Weber. However, each song has three different versions, with William Seidel’s gauzy vocals serving as the only recurring through-line for each composition. Moreover, listeners are encouraged to play all three iterations of the albums simultaneously in order to hear a fourth version of the record. Confused? Fortunately, Nuisance saw fit to make a video explaining the strange album(s) in greater detail. And really, you don’t need to understand it to be captivated by it.