Last year, we asked a group of Milwaukee music scene movers and shakers what moved and shook them in 2012. We enjoyed the answers so much we decided to pitch the same softball to another group of local talent.
Here's the music that rocked the musicians who rocked Milwaukee in 2013...
The Rutabega – "Brother, the Lights Don't Work" (self-released): If you have any doubt that a duo (with the aid of some help) can make music that's not only spectacularly beautiful and tremendously powerful, you need to hear this. The sense of dynamics exhibited on this album is otherworldly.
Midnight Reruns – S/T (Good Land): Rock ‘n' roll with a healthy dose of pop sensibility, this will test your capability to get songs OUT of your head once they're in there. Kind of garage-y (without the negative connotations that term seems to have nowadays) and joyous in its enthusiasm.
Neko Case – "The Worse Things Get ..." (Anti): Easily her best album (in my opinion), which is really saying something if you've heard her earlier work. A dizzying mixture of elegiac pop, flat-out rock and gentle ballads that for whatever reason coalesce into a remarkable whole.
We Are Hex – "Lewd Nudie Animals" 7" (Latest Flame); Split EP with Child Bite (Forge Again): Absolutely thrilling post-punk; takes you back to the glory days of Britain and NYC in the late '70s/early '80s without sounding in the least retro. While the records are great, live is where they really come into their own; just riveting.
Warm Soda – "Someone for You" (Castle Face): A masterful album of perfect straight-up pop songs. Nothing fancy, just great tunes with elements of glam, rock and some of the best melodies ever. In a perfect world, these songs would be all over the radio.
Liquor Store – "In the Garden" (Almost Ready) Just pure, unadulterated 1970s-style rock music; layered with multiple guitars, piano and gang vocals. Custom made for unreasonable volume and chanting along, especially in the car. This would have certainly been one of my favorite albums in high school.
- Superchunk – "I Hate Music" (Merge)
- Like Like The The The Death – "Cave Jenny" (Latest Flame)
- Big Eyes – "Almost Famous" (Grave Mistake)
- Obits – "Bed and Bugs" (Sub Pop)
- Victory & Associates – "Better Luck Next Life" (Seismic Wave)
Ron Miles – "Quiver:" Ron Miles (trumpet), Bill Frisell (guitar), Brian Blade (drums). Miles is one of my favorite musicians. This recording features three of the truest improvisors out there playing beautiful, lyrical music together. Recorded live in one room, no isolation.
Becca Stevens – "Weightless:" Original modern jazz inspired folk. Strong, catchy melodies & beautiful chord changes. Intricate yet organic.
Steve Lacy – "Soprano Sax," "Reflections," "The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy:" Late 1950s recordings for the Prestige record label. Lacy was a serious student of Thelonious Monk and his recorded output reflects this study. Lacy has a unique and singular vocabulary, using jagged rhythms and unexpected melodic fragments to tell his story. I'm fascinated with his sound and these early Monk-heavy recordings are just fantastic.
Ornette Colemen – "New York is Now:" Ornette and Dewey Redman with Coltrane's rhythm section! I was recently hipped to this amazing recording by my good friend Jesse Montijo. Two words: Elvin. Jones.
Sweets Edison/Ben Webster – "Ben and Sweets:" The more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing. Slowly working my way backwards, and finding new inspiration in some earlier players like "Sweets," Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge and Louis Armstrong.
- Vic & Gab – "Love Of Mine"
- James Hunter Six – "Minute By Minute"
- Ron Sexsmith – "Forever Endeavor"
- George Jackson – "Old Friend"
- Le Grand Kalle – "His Life, His Music"
- Family Atlantica – "Family Atlantica"
- Charles Bradley – "Victim Of Love"
- David Egan – "David Egan"
- Nikki Hill – "Here's Nikki Hill"
Action Bronson – "Blue Chips:" Because it's soooo GHOST-DINI. It’s like what Ghost did with the "Emerald City" joint only with a commitment to ride the loop so hard. That's the most recent.
Janelle Monae – "Electric Lady:" If you like music, and don't like this album you suck as a human being and I honestly can't take you seriously in regards to anything that has to do with ... this album, is so ridiculously well-written and again, committed to itself that you get lost in the world of Cindy Mayweather. This is what being a major uninhibited artist with a solid crew that you work with and time ... sounds like.
Some personal favorites from the past 12 months :
Volcano Choir – "Repave:" I suppose everybody loves music created by their friends, usually. While I don't know the man who is the famous voice of this group, Justin Vernon, I've known Jon Mueller (see below) since grade school and Daniel Spack for a decade, and it's remarkable to witness something so ridiculously gorgeous come into the world through the hearts and souls of people you actually know. As a band, I love their internal focus on relationship, genuineness, friendship. Just simply stunning atmospheres, epic, heartbreakingly beautiful. I'm completely unashamed of how much I love this record, and it got my Grammy nomination vote in every category in which it was eligible.
Lorde – "Pure Heroine:" Stupid great voice for someone so young.
Kanye West – "Yeezus:" What can you say anymore? Pure studio genius outweighs megalomaniacal social insanity. Again.
The 1975 – "The 1975:" I can't listen to this record enough. Feels so damn good. Fun pop rock from the U.K.
Pusha T – "My Name Is My Name:" One of my staff guys, Matt, turned me onto this one. Sick beats and attitude, sounds so gritty and urgent.
Laura Mvula – "Sing To The Moon:" Love this new voice. Mixed by Tom Elmhirst, so honestly I was interested before I'd heard a note.
AlunaGeorge – "Body Music:" "You Know You Like It" is the hottest, dirtiest, sexiest song I think I've ever heard. So jealous I didn't write or mix this one. Perfect.
Mayer Hawthorne – "Where Does This Door Go:" Great songwriting, cheeky homages to the past while being fresh and current. I listened to this record a lot this year thanks to my mate DA Wallach.
CHVRCHES – "The Bones Of What You Believe:" I hated that I missed this show earlier this year, dig their sound quite a lot.
Atlas Genius – "When It Was Now:" My friend and mentor, Michael Brauer, was mixing this one when I visited him at Electric Lady Studios in New York last fall, so I may be biased in some way… but I really like the vibe on this Australian band's debut.
Bonobo – "The North Borders:" So lush and inspirational, and we get requests at The License Lab for stuff that sounds like this all the time, which makes them the new Sigur Ros or Moby, I guess.
NIN – "Hesitation Marks:" A surprising rebirth from Trent Reznor. Sonically ridiculous, as always … with some surprises that I really liked.
I buy and listen to a lot of music every year, and a lot of that stuff is older – records that came out prior to the current year. There are so many records, and it’s always amazing to discover something from the past you never heard, as much as it is to experience that with something current.
But off the top of my head, a few records that were released in 2013 really captivated me this year.
Green Glass – "Green Glass" (Oakhill Records): At home, I have my LPs arranged by genre – blues, folk, world, jazz, country/bluegrass, rock, 20th century/experimental, and … guitar. I have a section just for guitar records. This continually surprises me, every time I add another to that section, but it’s true, I love a good solo guitar record. This one, by Zachary Hay (under the moniker Green Glass) is his best work yet. There is a very heavy presence to it, a bold starkness, a vulnerability and loneliness to it that is just an experience, like you’re sitting right there with him. You can even feel the sense of different rooms. It’s a beautiful, personal record.
Anna Von Hausswolff – "Ceremony" (Other Music Recordings): When I first heard of this, I thought, "hmmm, an organ record, not sure about that." I kept stumbling across writing about it, seeing it in stores, etc., and finally felt haunted by it enough that I bought it. And what a blessing it is. It does heavily use church organ (played by Anna), but combined with her simple and pleasant vocals, it becomes something otherworldly, yet makes a lot of sense. And the use of percussion is really smart to me – very sparse, repetitive rhythms that are as classical sounding as they are primal. I am quite obsessed with this record right now.
Idassane Wallet Mohamad – "Issawat" (Mississippi Records): I saw this LP at Acme Records and just knew I would love it. Ken there mentioned that it was acoustic and traditional – which is my preference for African music. I’m not so much a fan of the electric, funk, rock stuff. I got this home, put it on, and song after song seemed to embody everything I admire about African music – the rhythms, the vocals, the whole sound of it. I think this might be difficult to find now, and that’s a testimony to a record like this – music is a force, an occurrence, and not just a product. It is something people want to capture and have for their own, but it is actually impossible to really do that.
Duane Pitre – "Bridges" (Important Records): I had been anticipating this record for awhile, since I heard the preview the label released earlier this year. Last year, when my wife and I were in New Orleans, we had dinner with Duane, and while the conversations were interesting, I had no idea he had this music bouncing around in his head, and that this is what would eventually be revealed. I like thinking about that. It’s a special record – very spiritual sounding, and a perfect development from his last release Feel Free, which, according to many, would be nearly impossible to improve upon. He did it.
I looked through my iTunes collection and I don't think I got into any new releases this year. I've been too busy working on other people's music to find time to check out new stuff. The only thing that might count is the Harry Nilsson "RCA Collection" box set that came out this year. The entire package is put together very well, and some of the discs have both mono and stereo mixes. The artwork/packaging is top notch and there are three discs of rarities as well as all his RCA album releases, including the often overlooked "Knnillssonn."
Other than that, I just listened to a lot of Godley & Creme, especially that triple-LP "Consequences" they put out after leaving 10cc. It's one of the most amazing pieces of audio work I've ever heard.
I saw an interview with Van Morrison where – surprise! – he was very curmudgeonly. When asked what current groups he was listening to, he said, "None, nobody... I listen to my old jazz and blues records." His ownership of this very unhip attitude was refreshingly total. Not of whiff of guilt or embarrassment. With those two emotions in full bloom, I present a sadly out-of-touch list by a guy who makes more music than he listens to.
One caveat, I do go out of my way to see live music and have been knocked out more than a few times this year at shows here in town. I could start and end with Brian Wilson. The fragile Beach Boy soldiers on and his adoring band supports him brilliantly. Leonard Cohen, whose stock rose drastically when he spent an evening in the bass clef singing dirges, gallantly won my heart. Dale Watson, now officially a honky tonk god, was way funnier than he has any right to be and is an ace guitar player to boot. Jimmy Vaughn at Potowatomi demonstrated the three "Ts"... Taste, tone and talent.
Here's a list of songs and one album. They are old, new or whatever. I heard them live, on YouTube, through tinny computer speakers or even smaller earbuds. And they delivered me to the gates of heaven every time.
"Smokestack Lightning" by Howling Wolf. A stunning slab of blues from a 6'3", 300-pound giant who will put the fear in you. Watch it on YouTube and marvel. I could have seen him but didn't. I will kick myself right now.
"Pretty Sera" by Bob Dylan. For someone often held in low regard as a singer, he kills this old ballad. It's on the new Bootleg Series that covers the "Self Portrait/New Morning Years."
"Sign In The Window" by Bob Dylan. Same collection. This is as close as Dylan gets to Randy Newman. No untrustworthy narrator, but a tight, concise lyric and beautiful, neo-classical structure. It might be his most amazing song... yes, I can say that!
"Signs And Signifiers" by JD McPherson. Unearthly perfection from an Okie working out of Chicago. It is a fine line to tread, but this song from the long-player of the same name raises authentic, old-school goose bumps.
"Shakin' All Over" by Wanda Jackson. A woman singing like a woman, why should that be rare? Produced with daring by Jack White in a retro-future balancing act that doesn't respect her to death.
"My Favorite Waste of Time" by Freedy Johnston. Freedy may be the best pop singer in the country and he lives, at least part time, in Madison. He has played Linneman's to small crowds twice, making me question every single thing I know. He steals this great Marshall Crenshaw tune with ease and adds his own special brand of wistful melancholy.
"Wanderlust" by Nick Lowe. It should be called "Fairy Dust" because I am covered with it every time I hear it – and most any song by this guy. He has created his own genre of touching, funny and low key songwriting. He is a unique singer and the one producer I would walk over hot coals to work with.
Anything on "Forever Changes" by Love. Arthur Lee, the late surrealist, may have invented obscure, funny psychedelia. This all means nothing if you don't feel it, but this beautifully orchestrated oddity hooks you.
"The Shovel Is The Brother To The Gun" by Larry Penn. Larry is Milwaukee's greatest folk sing. At 86, he predates Bob Dylan and ran with Utah Philips for a few years. His songs are about stuff. This title is from a Carl Sandberg poem and is the best anti-gun song I've ever heard. And it's funny!
"River Deep Mountain High" by Ike & Tina Turner. The live version on Youtube. Spectacular performance of a song that would be hard to play live. Tina Turner makes a claim for greatest live performer ever and the under-rated Ike leads one of the tightest bands this planet has ever seen.
"To Daddy" by Emmylou Harris. Hard to steal a Dolly Parton song, I'm in the minority that doesn't think Whitney Houston did. Teaching a ten year old girl country songs is both weird and beautiful. The hypnotic quality Emmy Lou possesses made me a fan all over again.
"The Plaza" by Jonathan Richman. Jonathan was just at Shank Hall and I got there late. I did catch this song which makes a strong case for visiting the non-virtual world from time to time. Only this Ojibwe studying, flamenco guitar playing, brick bread oven builder could written it.
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.