Victor DeLorenzo and Janet Schiff have invited me over to listen to their new Nineteen Thirteen EP, Sci-Fi Romance. Currently, however, more important matters are at hand. “I should have rescheduled after I realized the Packers were playing,” DeLorenzo says, his eyes glued to his living room flat-screen showing the Packers-Steelers preseason game. “Do you follow football? I hope you don’t mind watching a little. Rodgers is going to play.”
And thus begins my evening with Nineteen Thirteen: the Packers, a Tramon Williams Pick-6 mere seconds into the game, small talk about the missing (and since recovered) East Side comic book shop iguana, anecdotes about Amsterdam streetcars, and idle chatter about those old Channel Master dials that physically turned the TV antenna on your roof. DeLorenzo casually mentions a friend recently interviewed him for Penthouse, and that the piece will appear in the October music issue.
Schiff, who pleads ignorance on the rules of football, suggests we repair to DeLorenzo’s upstairs studio and listen to the album, already. “One more set of downs,” DeLorenzo says. If there’s one thing more pressing than unveiling a new album, it’s watching Aaron Rodgers throw a football in Lambeau Field.
Nineteen Thirteen became A Thing in 2010, when Schiff and DeLorenzo got together for an impromptu show at Riverwest’s Circle-A. (Scott Johnson was also part of the original lineup.) DeLorenzo played drums—the sound of his steel brushes familiar to anyone who had ever heard a millisecond of his old band, the Violent Femmes. Schiff played her prized cello—built in 1913, giving the group its name.
Nearly a decade later, Schiff and DeLorenzo’s Nineteen Thirteen is a low-key Milwaukee staple. The duo boasts a handful of albums and EPs filled with sometimes dark and mournful, sometimes wonky and jazz-damaged chamber rock. Not that a simple genre description can encapsulate Nineteen Thirteen’s sound: On 2016’s excellent Music For Time Travel, for example, Schiff and DeLorenzo go from strange and ancient (“The Reason Why”) to strange and futuristic (“Shock Therapy”) in the space of just a few tracks. It’s a wrinkle in time that nicely illustrates the group’s fusion of the past (a 100-year-old cello) and the present (pedals, effects, samplers).
Which brings us to Sci-Fi Romance, the latest dispatch from the weird and wonderful world of Nineteen Thirteen. There’s the title track, an off-kilter jazz doodle that sets the stage. There’s the sublime “So Fine,” a DeLorenzo-sung outlier that would slot nicely on one of his solo albums. There’s the odd and creeping “Trick Zipper,” which only gets odder and creepier as it goes. There’s the finger-snapping “Hot Garbage,” which features DeLorenzo speaking lines like “Guess what just happened? It rained twice for truth.”
Then there’s the final track, “Whistle Breath.” It’s funky little ditty that gradually transforms into a warm and lovely piece—hopeful, even—and one that wouldn’t feel out of place on a film soundtrack or a chilled-out Go! Team album. And just as quickly as it begins, it ends. Such is life. You can listen to it below, only on Milwaukee Record.
Nineteen Thirteen will celebrate the release of Sci-Fi Romance Friday, September 14 at The Jazz Estate. The first 25 people through the door will receive a free copy of the album. Tickets are $10. Also, the Packers totally won that preseason game, 51-34.