Much like film noir, “gonzo” journalism, and CSI shows, three-chord rock and roll is easy to replicate but hard to perfect. Any band can slap together some ’60-inspired surf guitars and a handful of bubblegum melodies and hope for the best; slapping them together well is a different story. Thankfully, Milwaukee is loaded with bands that seem to have a knack for the genre, from the gone-but-not-forgotten Goodnight Loving to the still-awesome Sugar Stems. Now, after four years of live shows and virtually no recorded output, Phylums can be added to the list. The group’s just-released debut LP, Phylum Phyloid, is a glorious, giddy slab of Nuggets-indebted rock that hits every note—often just three per song—just right.
Considering the band’s musical style of choice, it should come as no surprise that its members hail from other local groups like Goodnight Loving and Head On Electric (and, perhaps a bit more surprising, hardcore stalwart Holy Shit!). Also telling is the fact that Phylum Phyloid is being released by Dirtnap Records, home to Goodnight Loving and Sugar Stems. Then there are the songs themselves: Opener “Can’t Get Through” barrels along at a delirious, mile-a-minute pace, tossing off self-deprecating lines like “Playing in a basement is lousy replacement / For having any kind of fun” like penny candy at a parade. Peppy hangover anthem “Cold Coffee” is highlighted by a swirling organ, “Crummy Side Of Town” marries a Beach Blanket Bingo vibe with urban malaise, “Stutter Bug” scores big on an appropriately stutter-y chorus and some booming hand claps, and “I Gotta Know” tosses some Devo-esque mechanical strut into the mix. “Go Home,” meanwhile, closes things out with a clanging, infectious ode to the band’s love-it-or-hate-it hometown.
Holding it all together is something rather unusual for Phylums’ retro sound: lyrics and themes that are anything but fun. According to the band, these ideas include, among other things, “alienation, the afterlife, speech impediments, and the frustrating beauty and monotony of modern life.” Phylum Phyloid may be head-bopping garage-pop, but there are plenty of real concerns banging around up there.