In R.E.M.’s sad-sack classic “Everybody Hurts,” Michael Stipe offers some sad-sack comfort to his fellow sad sacks: “When you’re sure you’ve had enough / Of this life / Well hang on.” Might we suggest a Milwaukee version of these lyrics? When you’re sure you’ve had enough, when the remaining shreds of true-blue Milwaukee identity are being buried beneath luxury apartments and T-shirt-friendly flags, when the night is at its darkest and you’ve already exhausted the joys of the polka escalator, just remember that Milwaukee has a polka hip-hop band.
Yes, November Criminals have been kicking around town since 2011, crafting weighty, socially conscious material from two disparate genres—one of which prominently features accordions. Emcees Brümeister, Spade One, and NTSC claim their peculiar concoction is entirely irony-free, and count A Tribe Called Quest and Gogol Bordello among their influences. Indeed, one listen to the recently released The Great War and you’ll hear just as many tunes that take shots at the world today (“Tell me just how sore your asses get / When he lowers the tax for the one-percent”) as you will songs that sound like those “Weird Al” polka medleys.
The Great War is November Criminals’ second full-length endeavor, following a self-titled record from 2015. Its blend of Cake-esque funk, Ren Faire geekiness, and earnest hip-hop may be an acquired taste, but it all comes together surprisingly well. Take a listen below, see the band live June 4 at the Cactus Club, and be thankful that Milwaukee—often lost in its relenting pursuit of change—still has room for something this weird, this distinctive, this, well, Milwaukee.