Milwaukee (the city Alice Cooper claims to visit frequently in Wayne’s World) is so much more than its history as a beer-brewing town would have us believe. Sure, the Brewer’s play in Miller stadium, and the city’s oldest theatre was built by Frederick Pabst in 1895, but brewery tours and buildings bearing the names of the beer barons who paid for them aren’t all this city has to offer. Milwaukee features the beautiful 124-acre Lake Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the man who also designed Central Park, Montreal’s Mount Royal Park and more than a hundred other public parks in North America. Home of the Algonquin Indians, once a trading-post town, the birthplace of Gene Wilder, Spencer Tracy and the typewriter, Milwaukee is a breeding ground for firsts and a hotbed of humour and originality–its indie music scene is no exception. Whether metal, pop rock or hip hop, Milwaukee banks are making their mark and breaking new ground. We review five bands Edward Keenan claims will make Milwaukee the next musical hot spot in “The New ‘It’ City” (Issue 18).
Songs from Ones and Zerosand No More Musicand live web exclusive recordings
No Karma Recordings
IfIHadAHiFi is the type of band that grows on you—and not just because the name is fun to say. The band members are so committed to having fun with anagrams that they renamed themselves accordingly. DrAwkward (drums, vocals, samples, loops), Yale Delay (guitar, vocals) and MrAlarm (bass, vocals, keyboards) were members of the Pop Machine before its breakup on New Year’s Eve 1999. Formed in January of 2000 with the addition of Reno Loner (keyboards, samples, guitar), IfIHadAHiFi released its first album, Ones and Zeros, in 2001 and its second, No More Music, in 2004. The band toured Europe for the first time this year. IfIHadAHiFi plays its very own brand of pop-rock anthems: contagious, upbeat and totally danceable—with cymbals getting plenty of floor time. Excessive use of distortion and effects, at times, make the lyrics incomprehensible and the music difficult to suss out. (These effects make live versions of their songs more listener-friendly than the recording on their albums.) Nonetheless, the band hits a chord with its wacky vocals and clearly radiates contagious good fun. Making Meat Loaf’s melodramatic show-tune style look totally original and surprisingly cool, it’s obvious humour is a driving force behind this band.
Listen to and compare the live and recorded versions of “Gotta Disappear” at the IfIhadAHiFi website.
Songs from Marashino, Diseased Room and recent online promo recordings
Although Marashino officially formed in 2002, its five members—Tom LaBrosse (guitar), brother Eric (vocals) and their friends Nick Mendini (bass), Dave Soto (guitar) and Joey Zak (drums)—have been playing together on and off since middle school. Their sound is fresh, straightforward and uncomplicated. With lyrics reflecting classic yearnings for understanding about lost love, the meaning of life and the ways of the political, religious and moral worlds, Marashino makes a quick but genuine connection with its audience. Simple drum and bass lines blend seamlessly with guitar melodies, highlight Eric LaBrosse’s vocal stylings and make their songs easy listening. Although currently unsigned, Marashino have released two promo EPs,Marashino (2003) and Diseased Room (2004), and have additional songs online. The band has played Milwaukee’s Summerfest (which claims to be the world’s largest music festival) three years running, has won the Milwaukee leg of the Emergenza music fest in 2005 and opened for Collective Soul and Seether. Marashino sound like a blend of Silverchair and Soul Asylum, only less angst-ridden and with a little more life.
A newer band, 9mm SOLUTION was formed in 2003 and managed to record and release an album, play at Summerfest, host a fundraiser and perform with several nationally recognized bands within their first year. Composed of Hobbes Caltous (vocals, multimedia), Jason Hellman (bass, vocals), Dave Gregor (guitar, vocals) and Ed Wallner (drums), the band was signed by LA’s Statue Records in July 2004.
With three band members contributing their voices, vocal diversity is the focal point of this nu-metal band. Low gruff growls are complemented by haunting religious chants or infused with balls-out yelling. Fast-paced, rhythmic shouts build energy and suspense in “Belly Up” and surprising infusions of Blur-like ballad lines flow effortlessly into “Multiple Faces.” Harmonizing effectively with seemingly tuneless and angry yells, 9mm SOLUTION showcases the metal yell as a form of vocal art—and may succeed in convincing naysayers that there is a lot more to metal than angry screaming. That said, 9mm SOLUTION are true to the metal form and not for the faint of heart.
With one of the most playful websites on the web and seriously wacky album art, Call Me Lightning has a character that is decidedly its own. Formed in 2003, the band released its first full-length album, The Trouble We’re In, in September 2004 on the well-known indie label Revelation Records. Claiming the Minutemen, the Birthday Party and Led Zeppelin as influences, diversity seems to be central to the band’s psyche, making the music a challenging listen. The vocals (Nathan Lilley) range from playful to erratic to downright comedic while the guitar (Lilley), bass (Bill Kutsh) and drums (Shane Hochstetler) drums run the gamut from nineteen-fifties and sixties sock hop, seventies classic rock to modern punk and pop stylings—making the album engaging, erratic, hilarious and all around fun.
Since their debut album Hiatus was released in 2002, Black Elephant has been serving up the Midwest’s finest hip hop. Its sophomore release, Eat This Album (marketed by Soul Unseen in 2005), addresses the many ways we seek sustenance. The Fugee-esque trio—comprised of Verbal (poet), Daemon Ellzey (rapper, lyricist) and Element (singer, rapper, songwriter)—flows confidently over melodic, neck-snapping beats with down-to-earth intelligence and shows a clear hunger to communicate meaningful, relevant messages to their audience. The rich sound fuses spoken word with hip hop and a five-piece instrumental ensemble. Production is inspired and dynamic, ranging from true school bangers like “Nutrition” to funky jazz arrangements in “Beautiful Minds” and even some hints of sweet southern-flavoured soul on tracks like “Hustler’s Creed.” Inventive and intelligent, Milwaukee’s Black Elephant melodiously satisfy the body, mind and soul.