What Made Milwaukee Famous are not from Wisconsin. In fact, they're not from the Midwest at all, but rather from Austin, Texas. However, unlike most of those Texas bands I like, they don't play anything that might be termed as garage rock. So what do they sound like? Well, their press sheet as well as other reviews cite bands like Television, Jeff Buckley, The Shins, and The Wrens as comparisons. And, while those references may be applicable to any one song on Trying Never to Catch Up, it doesn't give you an impression of the album as a whole.
With that in mind, let's talk about some of the individual songs. The first one on the album, Idecide, starts off with a laptop-y keyboard bit underlaid with a synthetic beat that is reminiscent of an early 80-s new wave band . Think a slightly lighter A Flock of Seagulls, or perhaps any random prom band from a John Hughes film. As it builds, the song itself remains well-paced, and the almost orchestral instrumentation give it a fullness that perhaps belies my earlier comparison. As nice as the first song is, Mercy Me seems better. It has the slightly jangly, slightly angular feel of an Indie Rock tune that combines with vocals that seemed patterned after older Radiohead. Again, the keyboards play a prominent role but aren't as up front as on Idecide.
In contrast, Almost Always Never begins more acoustically, which perhaps
accounts for the Jeff Buckley references I've read. In this
context, the vocals are way out front in the mix, which makes
them appear affected, as if vocalist Michael Kincaid is trying
to sing his way through song, instead of simply feeling it.
Still, once the full band comes in, the song turns into a nice
little pop tune. However, the fourth song, Next to Him,
is one of my favorites on Trying to Never Catch Up.
It's a bouncy pop song, with a great drum line from Josh Vernier
and an absolutely beautiful keyboard melody in the background.
Listening to it, I realize that this song is like a nugget of
retro 60s semi-psychedelia, although with the occasional rhythmic
shift, it could also be a song by a Midwestern band like Taking
As you can see from the above, the first four songs of this eleven song album go all over the place, which likely accounts for the wide variety of references cited in other reviews. And, in general, the remainder of the album, continues with these themes. Several of the latter songs, including Trying to Never Catch Up, Short on Shields, and album closer Around the Gills, have lushly layered vocals, fully rounded guitar sounds, and slightly angular drums that give What Made Milwaukee Famous a sound that combines the fullness of an early 90s Britpop band with the post-punk edge of the Chicago/Midwestern scene. It's a type of music that feels dark and claustrophobic in a good way, as if you can feel a slight chill in the air being removed by the strength of the music.
Still other of the songs have a pop-punkness to them, as if they were the lost
songs of Atlanta's Sharks
and Minnows. For instance, Curtains! has a bridge
that demonstrates great melodic interplay between the keyboards
and drums. Likewise, the catchiness of a song like Selling
Yourself Short seems almost anthemic in an energetic, dance
along with the band at a concert way.
In the end, Trying to Never Catch Up is a very impressive album, especially if you consider that this is the first, self-released recording of an apparently young band. This youthfulness probably explains why the frames of reference, band-wise, tend to be all over the place. However, despite this, when you look at the construction and execution of the music, you can tell that What Makes Milwaukee Famous certainly knows what they are doing. And the best of the songs suggest that they have a future which I'd like to see.