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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
What Made Milwaukee Famous
Trying To Never Catch Up
Barsuk

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


August 21, 2006
What Made Milwaukee Famous, despite the name, is not meant for those Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers whose idea of a gourmet meal is a bologna sandwich and gorging on pickled eggs at the old-man bar on the corner. The glowing optimism of their youth long gone, they've given up trying to find new thrills. They may not be happy, but the rut they're in suits them just fine and they'll go on listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Grand Funk Railroad forever, because real rock 'n roll will never die and that's the only truth they've got to cling to.

To them, the bright-eyed, effusive indie-pop melodrama and shoulder-shrugging, new-wave romanticism of Trying To Never Catch Up would shock like natural sunlight, harsh and unforgiving after hours spent imbibing in a dreary, dank tavern. And don't even get them started on What Made Milwaukee Famous' noodling keyboard intros and the sleek '80s-style synth and guitar lines of "IDecide." Strictly for sissies, they'd say. Even the garage-rock vigor of tracks like "Mercy, Me" and "Selling Yourself Short" would seem a little too effete for working-class sensibilities. No, those defeated PBR swillers would never go for this Barsuk reissue of What Made Milwaukee Famous' self-issued debut (originally reviewed by Erick Bieritz), but that's their loss.

With its urgently strummed electric guitar, "Selling Yourself Short" effortlessly swings between chord changes, hugging melodic curves like The Strokes but indulging in bittersweet piano runs and wistful, sighing horns that evoke memories of the most affecting music of Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People. On "Mercy, Me," singer Michael Kingcaid adopts the hipster lounge-singer persona of Julian Casablancas, his slightly distorted vocals rubbing up against angular riffs and bouncing keyboards. No doubt, What Made Milwaukee Famous was conceived from the same Television/Velvet Underground gene pool as The Strokes, but the similarities end there.

Not content to simply generate the kind of new-wave electricity and playful ingenuity with "Hellodrama" that Hot Hot Heat did on Make Up The Breakdown, What Milwaukee Made Famous gets caught trespassing on shoegazer property in the title track, with its surprisingly thick, dense guitar blanket, but doesn't get into any trouble with landowners like Swervedriver. "Hopelist" and the Weezer-esque "Almost Always Never" - think "Islands In The Sun" - parlay gentle, sunny folk-pop into radio-friendly entreaties, and initially, the tight hooks and bright melody of the closer "Building A Boat From The Boards In Your Eye" make you think of Spoon, but reconciling the comparison with the song's shuffling drums, off-the-cuff keyboard bounce, celebratory horns and wrap-party conversion and laughter - elements Britt Daniel would avoid like the plague - isn't easy. And thank god for that.

Through all the fascinating genre shell games, the constant on Trying To Never Catch Up is a smart pop sensibility that rarely expels an unoriginal thought, but there is a familiarity that's comforting and undeniably appealing about What Made Milwaukee Famous. Riding a wave of hype stemming from an appearance on Austin City Limits with Franz Ferdinand, not to mention a festival performance opening for both the Arcade Fire and the Black Keys, What Made Milwaukee Famous just might wind up actually being famous - provided they don't get lost in a crowd that's already swallowed up their U2/Cure worshipping brethren Rock Kills Kid, The Killers, Editors ... etc. But, as long as they don't succumb to demon alcohol or the herd mentality, the title from the Jerry Lee Lewis song that spawned their name, "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out Of Me)," won't be prophetic.

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Originally self-released.
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Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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