The Ten Most Criminally Overlooked Local Albums of 2017

I feel bad that I didn't make it to a lot of those "Album release parties" that bands I love threw this year. In fact, I didn't make a single one. Either I had that flu going around or somebody in the family had that flu going around or something. However, as I read the "top ten" year end lists that our esteemed Milwaukee Media threw around, I was taken aback by the omissions. Like, they all seemed to omit recordings made by anybody over 35. Maybe they thought that these people get enough press; somehow I doubt it. I really don't want to resort to stereotypes about millennials, but come ON. Maybe the thinking was that "Oh, a lot of these artists have been around awhile, let's give somebody else a chance." Well, beCAUSE they have been around a "while", they've grown and matured their skills, and made these offerings all the more better. Anyway, all of the following records are just as worthy of attention, review and praise as anything I've seen this year. Go buy/download/listen to them now before, well, before these old farts stop making music for whatever good or tragic reason.

In no particular order:

The Revomatics, Nocturnica
I'm always a sucker for dangerously beautiful surf, and the Revomatics  washed into my life this summer with a terrific set at Chill on the Hill that inspired me to run out and get hold of their album.
"Lee Marvin," the track that roped me in, is loaded with as much badassery and intrigue as its namesake, opening with with a scorching minor guitar lick and then punching it out with a whole Lalo Schrifin goin' on. They cram impossibly long sustain, fuzz, and that aforementioned screaming guitar into 3 minutes of action TV show theme music. And the title track is simply gorgeous: it takes you from the beginning of nightfall, complete with the danger and excitement of city evening breaking in. Just when all the urban nocturnal creatures finally settle down for the night in what could be mistaken for that part in a Yes concert where Steve Howe takes an extended high pitched reverb solo, you hear the city start to anticipate the sunrise with a urgent guitar morse code.  The link I provided is to a premixed version of "Lee Marvin" but pick up this record for the right and thoughtful studio work that makes great use of your stereo speakers.

Liv Mueller, Liv Sings Light of the Valley, Shadow of the Mountain 
Aching. How marvelously that aching feeling is captured when Liv Sings. As sad as some of her songs may be, they're not tear-jerking; they evoke a long sigh, a wistful exhale, and then full attention to her subtly restrained guitar work. I once compared her to Sarah Vaughn, and now I'm putting her up there with Robyn Hitchcock's recent "sad core" work: like Hitchcock did with "I Often Dream of Trains" and "Eye," she heads down to her private studio and lays down tracks that are both timeless and of any other time but right now. Chris Ward describes her even mor succinctly: "A honky-tonk chanteuse" (because who puts "Sarah Vaughn" and "Country" in the same sentence otherwise?)  I don't get it. I can't listen to her music, like, at work, because it forces me to pay attention -- and then get up and walk around the block to contemplate what I just heard.  Somebody needs to explain to me, as I've often asked before, why is this magnanimous talent not a national act? How could everybody in town overlook this?

Exposed 4 Heads: Choose to Be Human
I've often told people that Devo changed my life. That one fateful day in 1978  -- when we all saw them on SNL and realized that there was a different, twisted way of looking at the world through music -- is one I found was shared by these guys in Milwaukee, who picked up and evolved Devolution after the Mothersbaughs started that ball rolling. "System Overload" gleefully admits "We're doing what we're told! We're on System Overload!" And there's no shortage of catchy happy. danceable tunes underscoring the cynical, nihilistic lyrical content. The end of the world never sounded so fun. Praise "Bob"!

Matt MF Tyner, Howlin' at the Moon
OK, so while we're on this Liv Mueller train, let's stop at the Matt MF Tyner station and open our ears to his "solo" record, "Howlin' at the Moon." This video is from a couple of years back, but should give you an idea of his bluesy country sound. A blast of Americana, his warm, soulful voice and his deft picking to ring out his hollow guitar, and plenty of Liv spiritually watching over the whole thing results into the kind of record you pop into the car and drive out to the country not for the picnic itself, but for the drive.  Dig!

Slow Walker: Command Z
 Into the garage we go with Slow Walker, a band I stumbled into at the Bay View Bash, who blew me away with more power and energy that could reasonably be expected from a three piece. Downloaded this and it's made its way into my "favorites" folder with pulsating, sweaty rock that often gets labeled "grunge" because people forgot how to describe garage bands: "Lizard Brain" has the chord progressions and vocal delivery that sound more Detroit than Seattle -- and that's a good thing in my book.

The Women: Glitter

I hope you've done your weightlifting, because this cassette is HEAVY and you're going to need to be in physical and spiritual shape in order to handle it. From the opening cut of "Deep Swamp Backwards Blues" to the soul-sucking dredges of "No Soul," these guys are dark, heavy, sludgy, noisy and kickass. Not to mention tight and snappy.  Their site claims "we don't know what we're doing." Well, if using 6th grade cursive handwriting and sparkly glue to decorate their cassettes to maybe cover up their true intent, maybe they aren't exactly adept at promoting themselves. But musically, I'd say they know exactly what they are doing.

The Cow Ponies: The Cow Ponies

You know that old meme about how old punk rockers never die, they just learn how to play their instruments and "go rockabilly" or "go country"? That very well could apply to the Cow Ponies, a band packed with plenty of old school Milwaukee punk and rockabilly veterans. This isn't the first band I've heard Tom Tiedjens sing "I'll Pick You Up" in, but its the best version of it because it fits this cowpony lineup. And the husband and wife team of John and Robin Graham keep the sweetness of the Rock-A-Dials going on my favorite cut, "Steel Train" while an ever present steel guitar wafts through the whole thing.

Camel Toe Truck: Camel Toe Truck
Here's a record release party I'm really sorry I missed, because not only would it have been a chance to catch CTT live, but they had plenty of other great punk (including favorites the Size 5s) on the bill.  Yeah, yeah yeah, lots of americana, rockabilly, and other on this list this year, but these guys are flat out punk with a cranky redneck flair. Seriously, what did you expect with a name like Camel Toe Truck? They released this as a CD, but better still: it's also on vinyl. "Lonely and Large" stands out for its simultaneous acceptance and rejection of its premise. So does this whole thing: it's like they're pissed off, but also too old and established to expect that things are going to get better, so they formed a band to laugh bitch about it. Great stuff.

Vocokesh: Bon Voyage, Mr. Tripp

So, Rick Franecki may well be the Brian Wilson of space rock: he doesn't like to play out that much (when F/i goes on tour, they recruit other people to sit in his place). Yet, as this year.s Vocokesh release shows (as well as some terrific outings I saw maybe a year ago), he's brilliant when you do put him on a stage. The best cuts, like the title track here, are the ones recorded live.

F/i: Molire Corpus Tuum Ex Somno, Vir Mortue! 

OK, folks, full disclosure. I'm married to the guitar player. (Amongst my wedding vows was never to reveal what F/i stands for, and by the way, it's not "Fucking Intense" although that's a good description of their sound.) Here's the thing: I loved F/i before I even knew who Brian Wensing was. Seriously, they used to play in the dark at Cafe Voltaire, surrounded by fog in the late 80s, early 90s, so it's not like I was like "Hey! That guitar player is hot! What's his name? What's his phone numbeR?"Hell,I couldn't even SEE the guitar player.  No, it was all about the music -- the heaviosity of their analog space jams that brought me to other planets. In fact, Brian and I met because we were into each others' bands. So of course I'm going to like the latest F/i release. They don't practice at our house anymore, so I get to hear the final product instead of hearing the making of it and the rehearsing and the remixing and all the sweat that band wives usually hear. And if you're into F/i, rest assured this latest offering gives all that people love F/i for: the meandering space jams that jump into hyperdriven warp nine shattering the flux capacitor and landing them somewhere where the space-time continuum is all fucked up and accepting that they might never get back home. Vinyl import from Germany, motherfuckers. Oh, and there's two DIFFERENT cover arts to choose from. Open your wallets, collector scum!



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