10. Tigernite – Tigernite
Though Tigernite first came on the local music scene with a flurry of memorable festival appearances, a theatrical Mondo Lucha outing, and energetic club shows, there remained an uncertainty regarding how the material that quickly captivated local listeners in a live setting would fare in recorded form. In August, the Milwaukee glam rock quartet put any such doubts to bed with Tigernite, a collection of eight boisterous and brash songs that clock in at just under a half-hour of power. Opener “Million Years” kicks the doors open with a scintillating and sloppy guitar solo before it gives way to the arena-caliber pipes of singer Molly Roberts that serve to fuel the powerful vehicle on its wild ride. With ultra-catchy hooks and dazzling ax-wielding, “Witch” could (and probably should) be in regular radio rotation, while “Drag” highlights the band’s softer side and its penchant for elaborate production. From front to back, Tigernite is one of the most entertaining and fully realized releases Milwaukee has seen all year.
9. Kia Rap Princess – The NOLIMIT LP
Trying to pin down Kia Rap Princess is a fool’s game. On the loaded 17-track NOLIMIT LP, the Milwaukee MC is both boastful and proud (“Amazin,” “Number One”), frantic and pissed (“Different Thangs,” “NO LIMIT”), tender and vulnerable (“What Love?” “My Words And Thoughts”), the life of the party (“In This Party,” “Love Me”), and the all-too rare female voice in a male-dominated game (“Yeen Gotta Get Naked”). She’s also a hell of a songwriter: the stunning “Number One” is the greatest Rocky montage song never released, and the deliriously cool “Apply Pressure” is one of the great Milwaukee singles of the year. If there’s one message pulsing through The NOLIMIT LP, it’s this: Recognize the royalty.
8. Light Music – Ocean’s Daughter
With the possible exception of auto-tuned outlier “Pack Of Wolves,” Light Music’s Ocean’s Daughter is best enjoyed as a complete listening experience. The debut from the little-known electronic indie-rock outfit is, without question, carefully wrought with importance placed on atmospherics and fabricating an aural universe in which one could reside for approximately 40 minutes. Hell, even the gorgeous Ella Dwyer cover art was commissioned with the idea of adhering to an Ocean’s lyric. From the cascading piano of “Nessun Dorma” to singer Shae Lappen’s voice-nodding to Jeremy Enigk and Bono in “True Colors” and “Jack Of All Trades,” respectively, and well-placed implementation of horns, strings, synths, and auxiliary percussion throughout, Ocean’s Daughter isn’t your typical indie-rock release. It’s something bigger. Something that begs to be heard in its entirety.
7. Dogs In Ecstasy – Welcome 2 Hell
Everything about Dogs In Ecstasy’s overstuffed, hilarious, and willfully weird Welcome 2 Hell practically screams “’90s!” The cover looks like an early CD-ROM screen saver, the music is heavily indebted to synth- and pop-minded groups like The Rentals and The Pulsars, and it all has the fizzed-out attention span of MTV’s Liquid Television. Then why is Welcome 2 Hell such a breath of fresh air? Maybe it’s the Dogs’ sly comments on modern technology (“The world moves so fast, I’m just trying to keep pace / How will my daughter ever love me when the software doesn’t recognize my face?” from the tag-me-in-a-post-obsessed “I’m A Man”). Maybe it’s the droll sense of humor permeating the entire proceedings (“Sympathy 4 The Soundguy,” “Thinner In The Big City,” et al). Or maybe it’s because hook-a-second songwriting and boy-girl vocals are forever fresh. Whatever it is, Welcome 2 Hell is a doozy of a delight, and a winning trip through Dogs In Ecstasy’s collective art-damaged brain.
6. Piles – Planet Skin
Piles first came on the scene with last year’s self-titled debut LP, an encouraging auditory introduction to the trio’s self-described “dream punk” style. Some 15 months (and an under-promoted two-song Milwaukee Day EP) later, Piles resurfaced with Planet Skin. While the formula hasn’t deviated significantly, the latest salvo of sullen shoegaze shows Piles are not-so-quietly building something more formidable with each new release. Bleary opener and album standout “Blue Glue” sets the tone with a barrage of gauzy guitar, distorted bass, and a deluge of downcast vocals that all loom especially large in “Mude” and “Panthron,” and persist through the duration of the hazy, crestfallen composition. Muffled yet melodic, Planet Skin is a hastened drive through foggy terrain that careens from garish to gorgeous in alternating two- to four-minute intervals. Even the band itself probably can’t articulate the subtle changes that make its latest so special compared to what came before. On paper, Planet Skin is nothing particularly new from Piles, just something better.
5. Kiings – WWYDF
After both enduring the occasional frustrations and artistic constraints that are part of a freelance producer’s job description, middle school friends-turned-collaborators Sean Foran and Chris Siegel joined forces to form Kiings. In no time, the electronic duo garnered local interest with inventive redressings of material first popularized by Field Report, Phox, Christine Hoberg, and others. As the project’s SoundCloud stream counts climbed and an increasing cast of collaborators sought the Kiings treatment, Foran and Siegel decided to take on the ambitious task of wrangling roughly a dozen musicians from disparate genres to contribute to a single body of work. On objective alone, Kiings deserve a hand. That said, the end product—the group’s true debut WWYDF—manages to fuse a cacophony of influences into one cohesive package. With backing music personally played and programmed by the production pair, Kiings effectively finds isolated vocal tracks from unthinkable groupings like Christopher Porterfield and Milo (“Garden”); WebsterX, Bliss & Alice, and King Courteen (“1984”); and Hoberg, Colin Plant, and Pizzle (“The Time Will Come”) coalescing to make sleek and altogether beautiful music together.
4. Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
Rory Ferriera isn’t the first person swayed back to the relative ease and comfort of Milwaukee as a result of growing disappointment and broken promises incurred in Los Angeles. However, the self-appointed “Rapsmith” that hip-hop aficionados surely know better by the moniker Milo doesn’t seem to be any worse for wear following his abbreviated stint in L.A., wherein Hellfyre Club hastily shuttered mere weeks after releasing Milo’s true label debut, A Toothpaste Suburb. Even if he sold nearly all his belongings to get there, Ferriera was far from empty-handed upon his escape from L.A. The young rapper came home clutching incomparable gusto, a newfound desire to have a personal hand in releasing his music, and invaluable perspective gained through tribulations that bleeds into the beyond-its-years artistry of Milo’s return record, So The Flies Don’t Come. Stripped-down, gloomy production—courtesy of Kenny Segal—highlighted by subdued beats and what could very well be a Casio keyboard with dying batteries pervades the record. The refreshingly minimalist backing allows Ferriera’s soft-spoken hyper-intellectual lyrics to steer Flies smoothly through territory that’s sometimes funny, often obscure, and occasionally loaded. During the latter half of “Zen Scientist” alone, Ferriera references The Addams Family and relates Sisyphus’ mythological boulder-shoving struggle to the Aggro Crag plaguing Guts contestants, all before acknowledging Dugan Nash (a Longmont Potion Castle alias) and an Erbert & Gerbert’s sandwich. As meandering as So The Flies Don’t Come—and Plain Speaking, which Ferriera also released this year under the name Scallops Hotel—might be, there’s no disputing how much every word means to Milo after the year he’s had.
3. Group Of The Altos – R U Person Or Not
No other Milwaukee record in 2015 sounded anything like Group Of The Altos’ R U Person Or Not. That’s not unusual, as the ever-growing post-rock outfit (currently more than a dozen members strong) has staked its claim as the city’s only “surly high school orchestra.” But what’s most impressive is that Person sounds like no other Altos album before it. A newfound embrace of vocals highlights the record’s eight tracks, from the howling, unhinged soul of “To Savior” to the mile-high stomp of “On Wreck.” Then there’s the surprise turn from rapper Klassik on “Fucks With Us,” which ends up sounding like the most natural thing in the world. Musically, Person is the tightest album in the Altos’ discography (ringleader Daniel Spack has described it as the group’s “punk rock record”), full of end-of-the-world trumpets and primal drums (“Learning To Share”) and funky, off-kilter riffs (“Forgiveness Rules”). Coursing through it all (and especially on the lovely “Coplight”) is an otherworldly sense of a band expanding, reckoning with death, and reaching out in the darkness, hoping to find something resembling life.
2. Midnight Reruns – Force Of Nurture
As much as an overarching concept (see below) or unique backstory (see above, various) can help inform an album and aid in a listener’s appreciation of an entire body of work, sometimes it’s just as enjoyable when a band simply buckles down and writes a bunch of straightforward rock and roll songs that happen to be really fucking good. Even before Midnight Reruns’ great self-titled record came out in 2013, the band had written the glut of material that would eventually have a home on its next record. Finally, after two years in which said material became fixtures of the band’s raucous live shows (as well as an EP’s worth of even-newer songs the band impatiently self-released this spring), Force Of Nurture found a label and made it to wax. Recorded live—with sparing overdubs—over the course of a few nights in the New York home studio of Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Guns N’ Roses), Nurture is a partially polished continuation of the delightful dinginess of a band often tabbed with the “slacker rock” tag. For all singer-guitarist Graham Hunt’s drug references and self-loathing sneers, Nurture totes its fair share of pop appeal (try not signing along with “Canadian Summer”), outstanding instrumentation (the guitar solo of “Ain’t Gonna Find” comes to mind), and periphery punk cred (“Force Of Nurture”) to forge what could be considered, beginning to end, the most consistently good record made in Milwaukee all year. Sometimes 10 great songs is the only concept a listener requires.
1. Klassik – Seasons
A year can be mapped in phases: the joy of summer, the introspection of fall, the cold determination of winter, the rebirth of spring. It’s all here on Klassik’s Seasons, an album that finds the multiple-threat rapper, singer, musician, and producer at the absolute top of his game. Want ambition? Seasons is humming with it, collecting tracks from four previously released seasonal EPs (Summer, Fall, etc.) with new LP-only material. Want expertly crafted compositions that blur the line between hip-hop, jazz, and R&B? Oh, you’re in for a treat: “STAGESlayer” and “Hi Klass” are space-y and nimble genre-shifters that swoop and soar, “STRNGRS” and “Ultimate” show off Klassik’s rapid-fire delivery and pitch-perfect lyrics, and the title track makes a confident case for the artist as a falsetto-voiced crooner. Seasons may track the changes inherent in a lifetime, but there’s a supremely chill and confident production permeating the entire album, demanding that the entire project be listened from front to back. “Worst case scenario, if I live my live in stereo, then this’ll be the theme song everybody will sing along standing around at my burial,” raps Klassik on the infectious opener “Go Far.” No need to worry about that worst case scenario: Seasons is the theme song for the entire year, and the best Milwaukee album of 2015.