What Made Milwaukee Famous debut on Barsuk Records with a re-release of their first album, Trying Not to Catch Up. Touring with The Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, and Snow Patrol, and performing on the PBS show “Austin City Limits”, are impressive credits. But I don't think this band is what made Milwaukee famous. In fact, they aren't even from Milwaukee, they are from Austin TX. You could say the name is sort of an indication as to how unusual these guys are. The first 40 seconds of the opening track made me think that this is going to be an album of cheesy, 80's synth rock. Then the vocals come in. They rise over the synthesizer and, thankfully, make the track become something completely different. Throughout the song, this happens repeatedly with various layers of chorus, synthesized voice, guitar, and various other instruments and effects usually all jumbling together and sometimes reaching cacophony. This is somewhat of a trend for the album.
Through many of the songs there is some heavy use of synthesized voice, which can get annoying, but there are a couple tracks that are very straightforward pop. On “The Jeopardy of Contentment” the band really shows off some talent with impressive use of piano, violin, drums, and organ for a powerful track that forces the listener to stop and pay attention. To show they are still having fun, the next track has a 50's style melody with the token background vocals reminiscent of The Everly Brothers.
As I listened to the album there seems to be a multitude of influences in each track. One of my favorites, a slow ballad of just guitar and vocal called “Hopelist”, reminds me of Elliot Smith, another, the title track, of Muse, and between the remaining tracks there are moments of The Cars, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, and Jellyfish.
I am not a fan of pop music, but once in a blue moon a band comes along that surprises me. It is hard not to notice their offbeat lyrics and catchy hooks. This is a decidedly poppy album with all the bells and whistles, but it isn't all bad. I can't help but admire WMMF's ability to take a variety of styles and give them their unique spin, even if the “spin” doesn't always help. Because they have a great diversity of sound and styles it makes for a disjointed album. There are tracks that I could listen to over and over and others I find myself skipping after only listening halfway through almost every time.
by: mc beastie
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