As demonstrated in our recent rundown of the 25 best Milwaukee albums of 2019 (not to mention our list of 15 standout Milwaukee EPs from 2019), a dizzying amount of great music was made and released in our fair city this year. And—surprise, surprise—a wealth of great music videos were released, as well. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2019 (finally, oh god, finally), join us as we take a look back on some of the funny, weird, creative, and downright impressive visuals set to music this year.
Abby Jeanne — “Music Box Dancer”
Hi-Fi Cafe holds a special place in Abby Jeanne’s heart. The Milwaukee singer and all-around musical force has been hanging out at the Bay View “time warp” since she was in middle school. She used to work there and now considers it to be her “office.” And as her notoriety has grown, she’s also taken it upon herself to incorporate Hi-Fi into everything she does. So when it came time to shoot the music video for the title track from her Music Box Dancer, only one location came to mind. The “Music Box Dancer” video features Abby Jeanne spinning and twirling around her favorite Milwaukee haunt. Shot by Cheston Van Huss—who also built the platform the singer rotates on—the video shows the longstanding cafe like it’s never been seen before and also features a handful of Hi-Fi regulars.
Ben Wagner — “Take My Time”
Last year, much of the city learned the inspiring story of Joe Reed. The Milwaukee man had all of his limbs amputated as a child as a result of meningitis. In the years that followed, Reed was abused by his foster mother and suffered from depression. Reed somehow overcame those obstacles in order to fashion a quality life for himself, and to be a source of happiness for his wife, children, his community, and anyone else who encounters his touching story. One person who learned of Reed’s harrowing backstory is local videographer Damien Blue, who asked the quadruple amputee and hometown hero to be part of a music video. Set to the music of Milwaukee native Ben Wagner’s “Take My Time” (off last year’s album, Midwestern Comfort), Blue follows a day in Reed’s life. Beyond going through his morning routine with his family, Reed also visits a friend, he dances to Wagner’s single at Dandy, and he takes a trip to Butler Skateland.
Dad — “Big Dank Hank”
It’s hard to choose just one Dad video (also see: “Big Buck Hunter”), but “Big Dank Hank” is a doozy. BWAAA!
Flat Teeth — “On My Heels”
It’s a story as old as time: Crudely-illustrated boy meets girl. The cross-dimensional couple cruises around on a motorcycle until shit hits the fan and they need to run from the cops. Okay, so maybe it’s not that normal of an occurrence, but that seems to be the plot of video Flat Teeth’s “On My Heels” music video. The visual pairing for the closing track of the just-released Silent Seconds combines vintage black and white footage with animation to create something special and perfectly suited for the grim album-ending song’s edgy feel. Crafted by Knoxville, Tennessee-based artist and media professional Christopher Spurgin, “On My Heels” is what we image would happen if James Dean were to be cast in an a-ha video.
Florida Brothers Band — “Simply Ravishing”
Since Florida Brothers Band’s 2017 outset, the singlet-wearing group (which that features a vocalist who channels Reginald “The Crusher” Lisowski while bellowing lyrics about wrestling) has only gotten better and more compelling. The band’s debut full-length, You Will Hate Us, was in October and, in accordance with that enjoyable effort, the group shot a, well, simply ravishing music video for a song called—you guessed it—”Simply Ravishing.” Filmed by Justin Propp in a Riverwest garage, the video shows the burly boys of Florida Brothers Band stripping down and striking a pose as the album’s gruff and glamorous closing track plays. Vocalist Chris Loker told us the video is a homage to the Fabulous Ones tag team’s music vignettes from ’80s Memphis Wrestling, saying, “theirs really showcased how easy they were on the eyes.”
Fuzzysurf — “Denny”
The concept of the video for “Denny”—the standout single from Fuzzysurf’s outstanding 2019 record, Fuzzy & The Surfs—was directed and edited by Joe Ludwig of Out Of Toon Studios. The no-budget visual effort is simple, but oh-so satisfying. Bascally, after taking a break from band practice to eat some magic mushroom pizza together, the Fuzzysurf boys starts feeling the effects of the fungi and the members are transformed into puppets (made by local comedian and MKE Puppets founder Ryan Lowe). The video also features the band—in its fuzzy new form—hanging out at Times Cinema. Between the goofy concept and the criminally catchy song itself, you’re going to enjoy “Denny.”
Klassik — “Active”
If you’re looking for the most visually arresting Milwaukee music video of the year, look no further than the Wes Tank-directed clip for Klassik’s “Active.” No shot is wasted, whether the camera is peering up through the grass or gazing down on Klassik flying over the city.
Lex Allen — “Let Go”
This is the new Milwaukee flag.
Mark Waldoch — “The Blonde Song”
“The Blonde Song” is a typically thrilling song from Milwaukee singer/musician/powerhouse/treasure Mark Waldoch: big, bold, a little unnerving but ultimately redemptive. The equally visceral video, directed by Jason Puls, features Waldoch donning a giant unicorn head and doing some late-night thrifting. Oh, and burning a bunch of Barbie dolls on a wintry beach.
Mini Meltdowns — “I Wanna Die”
Back in October, Mini Meltdowns—a super group featuring current and former members of Limbeck, Dashboard Confessional, The Promise Ring, The Benjamins, Rx Drugs, and Alligator Gun—released its excellent sophomore EP, Destined For Disaster, into the world. The release was accompanied by the project’s first (and, to date, only) live show, as well as a straight-up amazing music video for the EP’s lead single. Mini Meltdowns decided to pair the music from their brutally honest song, “I Wanna Die,” with animation and inventive visuals that fit the self-referential song’s anguishing overtones. Director Nick Sommer—who also directed and co-starred in the Meltdowns’ standout 2018 video for “Number On Me” and stars again this time around—manages to soften the video’s dark motif through the use of illustrations from John Mcguire and visual effects from Dave Keihl, which the director says “help push the dream sequences to a work of imagination.” There’s also some great live footage…some of which was even filmed underwater.
Reyna — “The Way I Loved You”
[heart breaks in Spanish] [directed by Savannah Ziemann in Spanish]
Saebra & Carlyle — “Rabbit Hole”
It’s been quite a year for Saebra & Carlyle. What started as an “apocalyptic western” duo consisting of longtime friends and project namesakes—singer Saebra Laken and guitarist Carlyle Nowak—in 2017 became a full-fledged band. This year alone, the twosome-turned-quartet released a split 7-inch with Abby Jeanne, put out a split 12-inch EP with King Eye, just released a full-length album, and played a ton of shows in the process. As of August, Saebra & Carlyle now also have a music video and, boy, is it a doozy. The Brian Klewin-directed “Rabbit Hole” video starts with a blood-covered Laken waking up to a startling discovery, which sends the singer scrambling through an aged mansion in a frenzy that’s captured in one continuous slow-motion shot. We’re not alone in our appreciation of the innovative and ambitious visual effort. “Rabbit Hole” was named Best Music Video in The Milwaukee Music Video Show at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival.
Trapper Schoepp — “On Wisconsin”
This is the new Wisconsin flag.
Von Alexander — “Solange”
Von Alexander describes the video for “Solange” as “an appreciation for the Black Woman.” Directed by Milwaukee music video MVP Damien Blue, the clip is beautiful, soulful, and direct. “[I wanted to] capture their essence,” Von Alexander explained. “Their beauty.”
Zed Kenzo — “Fresh”
And the award for the most colorful, neon-drenched Milwaukee music video of the year goes to…Zed Kenzo’s “Fresh,” directed by Andrew Nordstrum. The Gordon Park playground has never looked better.
Various artists, Cheston Van Huss, and sponsors — “Public Domain”
Though we’d feel bad giving our own visual venture one of the 15 slots on the list, we also feel the need to acknowledge and thank all those who have allowed our monthly “Public Domain” music video series to continue and thrive in 2019. First and foremost, we want to thank Cheston Van Huss of Effigy MKE (hire him!) for all the work he’s done. With tight time constraints and equally demanding deadlines, our trusted videographer manages to shoot, record/mix, edit, and hand in an outstanding music every month. This year, Cheston directed all seven “Public Domain” installments of 2019 (and 37 episodes since the series started close to four years ago). Travis Whitty’s gorgeous opening credits and Joseph Huber’s great theme song also made this year’s videos possible.
Of course, all Cheston and company’s efforts would be for nothing if it weren’t for all the musicians who took the time to select, learn, and adapt a song from the public domain. This series wouldn’t exist without all the brave and creative Milwaukee acts (and bands from elsewhere, in some cases) who accepted this challenge. Those participants include: ¡palabra!, Lex Allen, Dusk, GGOOLLDD, The Eradicator, Devil Met Contention, and Chicken Wire Empire.
Lastly, we can’t forget our sponsors. Colectivo Coffee has supported this strange and wonderful video series from day one, and they’ve given us the freedom and resources to do this the way we want. Along the way, Transfer Pizzeria Café came aboard to help us put in more resources and reach even more people. This year also brought Milwaukee Pride and Lakefront Brewery into the sponsorship mix. Huge thanks to X-Ray Arcade for lending us their space and their stage for one of the shoots, and thanks to all of you for watching these videos. They’re very special to us. Be on the lookout for more “Public Domain” episodes in 2020!