Not All Heroes Wear Capes...(but some do)
Milwaukee is full of crazy talented musicians. But it's taken me a long time to acknowledge that. I've been skeptical about the local scene for a long time for a variety of reasons. Despite my love of the city, Milwaukee has never received a free pass on this. I am glad to have finally sorted through the shit and would like to share with you some of my picks for top Milwaukee music.
1) Field Report - Field Report is an anagram of frontman/songwriter Chris Porterfield's last name. Brilliant! His prior affiliation with Justin Vernon is well-documented, but I have to tell you that that was a reason I was initially skeptical about his music. Back in 2012, I was way into Bon Iver and saw Field Report as a knock off without falsetto. As the folk revival started to die down in 2014, I heard Porterfield do a track by track analysis/interview of his sophomore record with one of our favorite radio stations. At that moment, a switch flipped and I became a super fan. Field Report's third record, Summertime Songs, was released earlier this year and it has only increased my mania. The first things you'll notice about Field Report are Chris's voice and lyrics. Chris has an non-traditional voice that carries his songs through a highly emotional, sometimes pained presentation. His lyrics have enough meaning on the surface to draw in a casual listener, but the depth to give you something new for each subsequent listen. They are specific enough for you to believe every word he sings is autobiographical and true, yet broad enough for you to put yourself in them. In short, the songwriting is simply masterful. Here are a few of my favorite tracks:
2) Buffalo Gospel - Here's another band that I was not particularly fond of the first time I heard them a few years ago. It just didn't grab me. Frontman/songwriter Ryan Necci has come a long way in a short amount of time though. I first saw him perform as a part of another event and his passionate performance caught my attention. Earlier this year, Buffalo Gospel released their new record, On the First Bell. I'll spare you the details, but Necci went through some real shit over the last few years. The result was a record with a new approach to songwriting, heartbreaking delivery, and some of the best damned country music you'll ever hear on this side of the Mason-Dixon line. These are tightly constructed songs with memorable hooks and emotions. It's no coincidence that Chris Porterfield is a dear friend of Necci and contributed to the record. Take a listen to these tracks to get you started, but the entire record is fantastic:
3) GGOOLLDD - While Buffalo Gospel and Field Report represent two of my favorite songwriters in the world, not just Milwaukee, GGOOLLDD is bit different. The Google machine classifies them as an electro-pop band and they're admittedly pretty new to me. I've heard the name for years, wondered if you pronounce each letter, and didn't pay much attention. But recently I started to re-examine "established" Milwaukee bands to see if I was missing out on anything. GGOOLLDD is fronted by Margaret Butler, a cape-wearing powerhouse of a vocalist. Her voice is perfectly complimented by an ensemble of guitars, drums, and synthesizers that match her energy and charisma. These are catchy and unique songs that really stand out. Take a listen and you'll be hooked. The most recent recording is an EP called Teeth, I highly recommend it.
4) Brett Newski - Similar to GGOOLLDD, I've heard about Brett Newski for a long time, but never gave him the time of day. A few weeks ago, I saw an article that contained Newski and a drummer going in to a Wal-Mart and playing a pop up show. They were promptly asked to leave, but I was intrigued. After listening to his most recent work, I found him to be a great mix of straight-forward lyrics and 90s alternative music. I can best describe his work as a mix of the Presidents of the United States of America's "Gump", Ben Folds; "Rocking the Suburbs", and Cake's "Daria." If you know all of those songs (and like them), you'll be a fan. Brett Newski just released a new record called Life Upside Down that I recommend you pick up.
5) The Belle Weather - I met writer and front man Eric Cox at a "Songwriters in the Round" gig. I was immediately impressed by his vocal prowess and storytelling abilities. I know it embarrasses him each time I say it, but I think his voice is reminiscent of Station to Station era David Bowie. It sails over a rich ocean of indie folk/rock that grabs your attention and sets the scene for whatever story he wants to tell, from the folks fighting the good fight in Standing Rock, longings for home, or a "what if" story about the life of crime he almost had. These guys work hard and gig often. I highly suggest you purchase their music and seek them out when they come to your area, because they will. Waukesha, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Brookfield, wherever. You're never far from the next Belle Weather gig.
6) Layers & Layers - My friend and former band mate Tyson Allison has been making truly excellent music for much longer than I have. His current band, Layers & Layers, takes some of the best of the darker side of 90s alternative (Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead) and puts a totally unique spin on it. His songs are instantly memorable without having traditional hooks. And like Field Report, Tyson's lyrics are intensely personal while being completely universal. Layers & Layers is currently recording their debut album. Look out for it, it's going to get some attention. Check out their videos for some live performances.
"Songs for Black Swans"