Once upon a time local bands could vault to wider prominence via the spread of regional hit singles on pop radio. But since the consolidation of the music industry and radio began in the 1970s, that's been a rare occurrence, with bands from out here in flyover country rarely getting much attention beyond their immediate circle without first departing for somewhere else.
Today, the rise of music's easy availability online is making it once again possible for groups to seemingly come out of nowhere into the national spotlight. Wisconsin's had some notable breakouts in recent years, notably including Bon Iver and Zola Jesus (who has since decamped for L.A.), and the Madison metal band Luna Mortis, which had a national release via Century Media in 2009.
Over the last several months, a trio of Milwaukee bands have made the leap from the underground with albums on well-known indie labels Dirtnap, Sub Pop, and Luaka Bop, these releases now available and (hopefully) being purchased in record stores around the country. The previous albums by two of the bands -- a self-titled album by The Goodnight Loving and There's No Sky (Oh My My) by Jaill -- were easily the two discs I listened to the most over the past year or so; Kings Go Forth will certainly join that duo's new platters for my most-spun discs in 2010. All three are available on LP, and each also comes with a digital download of the album's tracks.
Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back: I was behind the curve on Kings Go Forth, who signed to David Byrne's Luaka Bop in 2009 after someone at the label heard one of the group's self-released singles. Those 45s were an instant sensation in soul music circles, thanks in part to co-founder/bassist (and DJ/record collector/former Lotus Land record shop owner) Andy Noble getting the records out there through the DJ community and canny online promotion.
The 10-piece Milwaukee combo's debut album is a blast of old-school soul, with a definite early '70s Midwestern edge to many of the tracks -- it grooves like Curtis Mayfield's early solo work, with the addition of the high harmony sound of groups such as the Chi-Lites or Milwaukee's Esquires. Kings Go Forth isn't afraid to let the music take other directions, though, like the proto-disco Philly feel of "Don't Take My Shadow" or the ska-tinged "1000 Songs." While the album may be retro-minded it still sounds brand new, more a direct continuation of the sound than a copycat. My only complaint as a headphones listener is the occasionally over-trebley sound, which is distractingly harsh at times on the vinyl version. That being said, it's all the more reason to just crank it up over the stereo system as nature intended, because then the super hot sonics sound pretty darn great.
Nearly as genius as the music is having cover artwork done by Mingering Mike, who in the 1960s and '70s created an entire alternate universe of album covers for hit records that never existed. His work was rediscovered a few years ago by some record collectors at a flea market, and Kings Go Forth's effortless recreation of the era's music is the perfect place for his artwork to finally appear on an actual record. Kings Go Forth will be playing at the Orton Park Festival on Sunday, August 29. I'm betting their music will cause some serious dancing in the audience. (Luaka Bop LBOP-0075, 2010)
The Goodnight Loving, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club: The Brewtown sturm und twang masters return for a fourth full-length and first for Portland, Oregon, label Dirtnap, which also released the group's last single. Most of the album's 15 tracks run under three minutes, giving it a bit of a jumpy feel on the first few listens; many tracks zipped by me without making much of an initial impression. But after seeing them play a lot of the songs live --- and subsequently needing to listen to the album nonstop for about a week after that -- they've got me hooked once again.
The psychedelia that was edging its way in on the Arcabaleno EP claims more real estate throughout Supper Club, but without shoving the group's C+W bent out the door. Those seemingly disparate elements blend seamlessly, leading to the uptempo power pop of "Doesn't Shake Me" being graced with melancholy Bakersfield guitar solos, and the spacy country of "Candy Sore" building into an early Pink Floyd-style clangor. And the full-on psych of "Grandpa Died" is unlike anything else in the band's catalog. It's another winning album by one of the best bands in Wisconsin. (Dirtnap ZZZ-100, 2010)
Jaill, That's How We Burn: Since the time There's No Sky (Oh My My) hypnotized me last summer, I've had a chance to dig backwards into the band's catalog, when they were known as Jail with one l -- a change necessitated due to other bands using the name Jail. Listening to their releases in chronological order shows That's How We Burn to be a natural progression from past efforts. The band's sound has grown denser over the years as founding duo Vinnie Kircher and Austin Dutmer have added more permanent collaborators. Like its predecessor, That's How We Burn continues to get better and better with repeated spins, as Kircher's wordplay begins to sink in.
An easy example for comparison's sake is the song "Everybody's Hip," recorded previously in 2006. There's no major structural changes to be found in the version on That's How We Burn, but the new recording turns a catchy song into a sing-a-long ready anthem, buoyed along by a bit faster tempo and a much more confident sounding performance. With the possible exception of the college radio ready album lead-off "The Stroller," Jaill hasn't made many major changes in their garagey-pop approach when preparing for a wider audience. But the tightly focused That's How We Burn shows a band ready for its close-up. Currently on a West Coast tour with The Hold Steady, they'll be back in the Midwest in September and hopefully make a Madison appearance sometime along the way. (Sub Pop SP 891, 2010)