On a summer morning, with the sun rising just over the tree tops kindly lining Milwaukee’s streets, I still had Pay the Devil’s album in my cd player from the night before. I listened to it a couple of times prior, trying to get used to not seeing the notes and melodies fly off their instruments live; still absorbing those little pieces genius in songs that you miss in a performance.
I left the album inadvertently cued to Johnny, a down beat march adding a somber rolling snare and fiddle to the banjo and guitar mainstays. With the reddish blues engulfing everything near the horizon, Ivan Eisenberg’s voice humbly laments, projecting a first person account from the Antebellum past,
“Born in an coal mine in the Appalachian hillside in western Pennsylvania north of the Dixie line… I never hurt no one just minding business working my land and drinking my wine // Until one day a man came walking, down the roadside a rifle in his hand // He said old Abe Lincoln, he needs a small favor he needs the help of every strong man…
In a extraordinarily rare and powerful way, in that moment, I saw history with someone else’s eyes, a forgotten man’s story, buried under the lines of text penned by history’s learned hands and obscured by rhetoric of spokespeople of the oppressed and bigots alike; sung for years with frosted breath, up to this unsung and unspoken sesquicentennial of the US Civil War. I welled up and nearly cried.
Milwaukee’s music strata has a ton of composite minerals, and it’s blues/folk/bluegrass scene lays underneath, the bedrock of it all. Pay the Devil: Ivan, Ivan, Matt and Jeremy, a band of scrappy banjo picking, washboard raking, mandolin strumming, guitar riffing common law siblings gives this firmament it’s strength. Now and then, they add the gold that Johanna Rose brings to all her collaborations, and glasses clank, knees rock and the times ring loverly.
A cacophonous symphony for the strange folk when they play live, Pay the Devil recently released their debut LP Wrong Side of the River, a 13 track doozie that rambles and presses over everyday Milwaukee life with a rolling pin, and shaves off some good old folk tales with at a straight razor.
Pay the Devil has distilled on the scene for a few years now and Wrong Side of the River is a welcome project capturing a moment in time that’s worth riding till the carriage breaks. An essential piece of Milwaukee’s musical stitching, this album is one 2015 best projects and well worth nabbing.
With a somber drone, “Woven by priests and jeweled by the sea”, Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules changed what I thought possible in music aesthetic. Encased in a Medieval garment, this opening phrase allowed a ghastly mood to settle over Rose Window’s debut album, Sun Dogs, from the onset. A homeless bard in a hooded cloak headed toward a path leading to a dark forest, transported back in time from the cover of Aqualung, this is his song. So went the close of 2013, the year of sound aesthetics beyond anachronistic.
I’ve been waiting to hear some acclaim for this album or this band for that matter, Sun Dogs time came and went. Hard to believe it was nearly three years ago. Pardon my reminiscence, turns out this praise says ‘I love you” too late, Rose Windows skipped the rocking chair and burned out after their self-titled second album.
On most of their debut, Sun Dogs, they come across light and fluffy, a bed of moss, with wispy, often laboring vocals, loping alongside melodies that arduously drag iron plows through drought cured dirt. Then Chris Cheveyo does something like push Rabia Qazi from behind with serrated guitar measure that scrapes all the moss away to the rock hidden underneath, near where my mind likes to camp.
Native Dreams, Rose Windows
A forbidden auditory coven, with forbidden customs, awaits as your eyes open, awake again. Sun Dogs plays like a soundtrack to a ritual healing ceremony, the ancient essences fomenting those numb areas where electrical impulses sit weakened by corrosion from to living, leaving them receptive and renewed.
Rose Windows entered a realm with Sun Dogs where song titles disappear, stories unfold mysteriously and untraceable. It culminates with This Shroud, a benediction, a 7 minute prayer to the expanse of possibilities life holds in it broadest sense and the hopelessness the transition from American youth to adulthood promises; a fitting ending for a band that executed every step with such precociousness, a song for the open road.
Wartime Lovers, Rose Windows
Rose Windows called it quits in 2015, not surprising given their stilted follow-up Rose Windows, where they sounded like a band ready to break up on almost every track. While having its moments, it sorely lacks the build-up and sincerity of Sun Dogs. I say that constructively, the album is good, just not up to their capability. Maybe it just starts in the wrong place featuring a mixture of mono-tone male vocals on Bodhi Song. A rote and routine structure guides the second album, carrying a theme that offers little foreplay and quickly ends just when its getting good, trying too hard to say something. Given that it has far more pop appeal that Sun Dogs, to many it might appeal.
Strip Mall Babylon, Rose Windows
Did they go the fate of all those other large ensemble rock bands with tremendously talented female vocalists? Who cares. Although barely heard, Rose Windows will likely have many remembrances when kid after kid from gen-this after gen-that during their angsty years discovers a discarded LP with this weird cubist and folk art mosaic on it, deep in a stack of dusty records in a museum basement commemorating physical media, the Toad Hall of this millennium. Credit due to Paul Gavin of SongLyrics for introducing me to their music quite serendipitous while I tumbled through the internet abyss on summer night back in 2013.
Rose Windows contained the collective talents of Chris Cheveyo, Rabia Shaheen Qazi, David Davila, Nils Petersen, Pat Schowe, Richie Rekow, Veronica Dye. Get back together and please come to Milwaukee.
The vangaurds of Now Wave pop culture, weary at their posts, find that extolls of ‘Lifer’ rolled easier from the finger tips 23, 26, 27. It screamed all or nothing, and right now. It occupied. It moderated brand consumption in exchange for indignant conformity with a beanie on top. Knowing better than thou.
Now it’s twice-baked-style. Brand new Wayne’s World inspired flannels from Urban instead of tattered all black garments, patches and safety pens, bacon instead of saitan, bringing red blooded sexy-back. Let’s do this!
Hard to the Core
Milwaukee had always been good at promoting free-falling indignation. Put that book down. Get destitute and paranoid. Keep dirt behind your ears and under your fingernails. Let’s dig with the underdogs. Sprial downward, or you ain’t trying.
Now it’s I can’t believe them. What are they doing here… in their own neighborhood. I’m discriminated against. What about my rights? The Police are out to get me.
The scene-confusion has been remade into a stale long-form cable series. Always rantworthy but hardly ever sneerworthy, has Bremen finally died the slow death of suburban stripmall mainstream?
New, Dirty Socks
Rebirth and regeneration of prior music movements keep gormadizers nibling on crumbs left from those note-tending minds shaving the edges off of music cycles.
These dudes Coyote Armada have a hand on that grindstone. They stopped through Milwaukee on the way to nowhere in particular, and ripped off a few chunks of their second EP How not to be Lonely, a medium long-cut shag.
Ballad of Edward Snowden, Coyote Armada
In a sly embrace of the period transitioning from hippie-folk to blues rock that the late 1960’s had to offer, Coyote Armada douses their amplifiers with heavy and emotionally sardonic drifts between past and present memories of historical scars our society had endured, and left its offspring to heal.
Extremely self-aware for a band of their stature (basically no albums in) they are curious and exploratory of how and why the perponderance of these happenings connect to their immediate circumstances: this madness where we exsist, the organization of duties and daily routines, the subterfuge of implanted expections, of appropriate thoughts not to question, the American life course.
Maybe here they’ve been bestowed too much credit. Even if accidental, they work steadily on attuned nerves just the same.
Slander, Coyote Armada
Coyote Armada’s brand of Americana reps Indy, running against that town’s typical lanes of traffic, known for having rather shallow and staid fumes emitting from its county lines. By no means a knock, they trancend that atmosphere easily.
How not to be Lonely holds the kind of harmonic and lyrical mixture that allows it to be played through repeatedly, its rinse leaving a day’s grim in soapy water running down the drain while taking you somewhere profound.
Coyote Armada has a traditional rhythm guitar and solo guitar prodigy, bass, and drum outfit. Then they throw in a violin and a wood box for the drummer to sit on and wack the shit out of, rocking sounds, especially live.
Bob Barrick’s remarkable presence leans cordially on his songsmanship, which is a notable quality. It’s somewhere between kitchy, cool and karaoke and thats a good place to chill.
Coyote Armada is Barrick, Josh Turner, Craig Middleton, Reid Swenson, Phillip Janz, and Patterson Day.
He’s slumming it, holed up in a hard to access apartment that makes his visitors traverse an obstacle course of doors, stairs and narrow passages to get in his company. He likes it better that way. He’s kind of high-strung, domineering and paranoid, a “real-player” in the criminal underworld in his own mind. Cops, Feds, fellow crooks? Dennis (Claudio Parrone, Jr.) has them all outsmarted.
His friends are a band of degenerate, damaged and party-loving kids, especially Warren (Jalen Jacob Bernard). His gangly frame shudders faintly with petrified fear in every mannerism and phrase he utters. Who can blame him, he’s got enough bad childhood experiences to fill a large suitcase. Unwanted, abused and unappreciated by everyone he knows, including his father. He finds his only solace in the possession of Dennis, green-leaves that fit nicely into a glass pipe when smashed, carrying the powers of escape. Dennis makes him pay in more ways than one to get the keys to his mental trailer home. They together no doubt will find ways to go further.
In web of bad decisions and boredom, Jessica (Erin Nichole Eggers) enters a stranger and becomes a familiar face in no time. Are you really a stranger if the same pretense guiding everyone else guides your every step? Thoughts in the same narrow frequency of youth, in convenient emotional proximity, transmit the answer, assuredly. The only question might be your name, and does that really even matter?Spiraling in the same notebook, filled back to front with scribbles and incoherent ideas, they flip through looking for another inch to scratch something down. It’ll surely be a disaster no matter what.
No Adults Here
Co-Directors Robb T. Preston and Claudio Parrone Jr. take Kenneth Lonergan’s playbill This is Our Youth and run their own adaptation, working their own angles in physical and dramatic space creating a believable and at times appropriately cringeworthy, interplay between character, prop, and scenic design.
Lonergan’s, piece written in 1996 and set in 1982, rings relevant today as he gives personage to one of American society’s most unreachable crevices, urban upper-class youth. In this context, Preston and Parrone Jr. work magic through Dennis and Warren, superimposing the starkest contrast of relationships found in youth and adult social adjustment.
Originally, staged by Lonergan in the realm of New York Jew-dom, Dropout Arts’ creative team opens this capsule to by casting Barnard, who is conceivably African-American, as Warren and Parrone who is conceivably Italian-American, as Dennis. Whether they intend color-blind or alternative casting is not entirely clear however, the impact is stunning as the audience must suddenly put in perspective the implications of a rich black kid, not hardened by the dark corners of poverty, being bullied and emasculated repeatedly by a rich white kid emboldened by a white social reality that privileges Dennis as the alpha dog, by custom and birthright.
Jessica (Eggers) floats into the story with the controlled abandon of a jaded-bohemian we can today attribute to the urban suburban-transplant hipster chick, reveling in her delusions of personal independence and social indignation towards anything established, while being tethered to her intact stable home-life.
She is convincing as curious, conniving, mercurial and opportunistic. Warren (Benard) in his own right the same, as unrecognizably mamed from serial invalidation; Parrone’s portrayal of Dennis, game-enough for a larger marquee, while evoking a certain vile, yet infectious, brand of misygony enough to where you may want to spit or play wack-a-brat on a ficticious character.
This is Our Youth runs tonite September 18 and Saturday September 19 at 7:30p at Soulstice Theatre (although Thursday’s performance time was listed at 8:00p and started a little bit after to allow people to arrive). Run time is a little long at 2 hours 15 minutes, and on positive note doesn’t drag on to make it feel that long.
Production credits of Dropout Arts run of This is Our Youth also go to Parrone (Technical Director), Zach Rosado and Jessica Greenhoe (Stage Management), Preston (Sound Design), Cristian Torres Gomez (Set design), Leah Lynn Preston and Taylor Halvorsen (Graphics and Marketing, and Nicholas Ravnikar (Dramaturg).
Adoptahighway is one of my favorite efforts out these days, and those. He’s built a ill body of work, churning content hard these past five years. The promo piece Qualmness off of his pressed LP A Fault continues culminating the melodic remedy he’s been treating us with.
Check the Video: Qualmness, adoptahighway via Wes Tank on Vimeo 2015
Blockhead crept in at Stone Fly for a banger cameo back in 2012. I stopped in to get my fill of nice beats and he dude is killing it with the controller. Breaking my usual form, of not running-up heaping awsomes on kids after they perform, I went up to him and gave my propers. Turns out it’s adoptahighway, ear recognize ear.
More recently he’s featured on 414Melt, while keeping a few other side projects flowing.
Check around might be some LPs still floating around Exclusive, Acme or Rushmor, download off of adoptahighway Bandcamp.