Leave it to Fever Marlene, perhaps Milwaukee's best band at the moment, to take an unusual approach to its second disc. If fans expect "White China," which is officially released next week, to be more of the same, they will be sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, "White China," which follows last year's acclaimed "Civil War," isn't disappointing in any way. Melodic and at times melancholic, "White China," is built around engaging arrangements and three-dimensional mixes.
A lot of what makes it unique says Scott Starr -- who is 50 percent of Fever Marlene -- is the way in which it was created.
"The album was written and recorded at The Chelsea Hotel in New York about four weeks ago," Starr told me last week. "Kevin and I brought a minimal recording setup and went out to see what we could come away with under such limitations."
The 10-track record, which is varied, yet coherent and cohesive, shows no sign of any limitations. Despite being recorded in a setting not entirely conducive to recording a band, Dunphy and Starr thought ahead.
"Notice no live drum kits," he said. "We sampled Kevin's drums before we left and used the individual hits to shape all the beats. We also used things we had in the room such as chairs, the sink, the window sill and glass breaking ... as you can hear on the last song ("Check for Pulse").
"White China" and "Oh Berlin" are almost acoustic numbers, but "Won't Let You Down" rides the frontier between rock and roll and electronica. Sweet and warm, it's also spacy and mysterious and is -- if this is even possible -- subtly anthemic. "Lemon King Mahoney" is simmering power pop.
Starr says that a lot of the feel that "White China" possesses also comes from the situation.
"Cats and dogs running around, people painting and writing in the hallways ... altogether it was a very inspiring place," he said of the Chelsea. "I think we decided to go for that reason alone. Kevin and I don't like recording studios very much and we recorded most of ‘Civil War' in our loft. It didn't feel right to continue with a new piece in the same space. So, we just removed ourselves entirely and put ourselves somewhere that could possibly write the songs for us. Luckily it worked out. As taxing as it was. It could've been a huge disaster."
"We also filmed the mixing sessions we had in Madison with Jack LeTourneau at Elabs Multimedia," said Starr. "I think we're going to hold off on releasing the DVD right off the bat so we can include footage from the show at Turner and our CD release party at Yield."
Although Starr said Fever Marlene had no rock and roll visions from beyond at the Chelsea Hotel, they did have a coincidental encounter of a Brew City nature.
"We ran into this guy at this bar next door to The Bitter End that looked identical to Brendan ... Down to the hat, glasses, facial hair and clothes. Brendan asked the guy where he was from and he said Milwaukee. He lives off Oakland and Locust and is a bouncer at Stonefly where Peter Adams, from 88.9 Radio Milwaukee (who was also with us) had his Air Guitar Showdown. Small world. But no ghosts or Nancy Spungen encounters."
Fever Marlene, launches "White China" with a 10 p.m. pre-release party at Yield on the East Side on Wednesday, March 5 and follows up with a gig at Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, March 7 at 7 p.m. The all ages show also features The Redwalls and The Saltshakers.
Some other gigs on the books this week include:
Los Angeles Irish rockers The Young Dubliners play at Northern Lights Theater in Potawatomi Bingo Casino on Tuesday, March 4. The rockin' band just released a new disc, "With All Due Respect -- The Irish Sessions," on 429 Records.
Former Husker Du and Sugar frontman Bob Mould comes to town for a Thursday, March 6 gig at Shank Hall in support of his latest disc, "District Line." It's his first record for Anti- Records. His former Husker Du bandmate Grant Hart, meanwhile, plays Saturday, March 15 at Turner Hall Ballroom with The Scarring Party and John the Savage.
Alverno Presents continues with the Vijay Iyer Quartet in the Pitman Theatre on Saturday, March 8. The Village Voice called Iyer, "one of the most original and accomplished young pianists in years." How can you resist?
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.