What Made Milwaukee Famous – Trying to Never Catch Up

What Made Milwaukee Famous
Trying to Never Catch Up

After listening to Trying to Never Catch Up, it’s no surprise that esteemed independent record label Barsuk has re-released this Austin band’s previously self-released debut, re-mastered with four new tracks and slightly altered artwork. Yes, these guys are from Austin, not Milwaukee, but what should make them famous is the way they incorporate styles from many different indie-rock genres, as well as 80s new-wave, without sounding like copycats or sounding too retro, which is not an easy feat. Add the smooth vocal expressions and strong songwriting, and you get an album that sounds both familiar and fresh and entirely entertaining.

The quartet of Jeremy Bruch (drums), John Houston Farmer (bass, backup vocals), Michael Kingcaid (guitars, sequencer, piano, organ, Rhodes, vocals), and Drew Patrizi (keyboards, rhythm guitar, piano, organ, Moog synth, sound effects, backup vocals, tambourine and other odds and ends) show their instrumental talent and willingness to experiment by the wide range of influences they blend into a coherent yet unique form. In addition to the energetic and earnest guitar-rock influences of indie all-stars Modest Mouse and Spoon, the dynamic pop compositions on Trying to Never Catch Up combine the playfulness of The Shins and The Unicorns with the pensiveness of Death Cab for Cutie and are adorned with everything from Cars-like 80s synth-pop ripples to brazen Brit-rock guitar surges. All are creatively arranged with both thrashing and catchy rhythms, a few slick hooks, and occasional spacey interludes that create a certain dreaminess and provide substance to the indie-rock backbone.

The influence that surfaces most thoughout is that of fellow Austin band Spoon, due somewhat to the fact that Spoon member Jim Eno lent his skills in the recording, engineering, and production to a handful of the tracks, but also due to the vocals of WMMF’s lead singer Kingcaid. Not only does he sound similar to Spoon’s Britt Daniel, he sings in the same manner and with the same confidence, while Patrizi uses his pipes for backup harmonies in contrast to Kingcaid’s lead and even makes a cameo appearance as lead vocalist. To distinguish the band and add a touch of intrigue, WMMF effectively treats the vocals with fuzz, reverb, and echo on occasion, and on top of all that, the magnetic vocals have a way of bringing usually trite lyrics about relationships to life with a hint of dry sarcasm.

Trying to Never Catch Up wastes no time introducing us to WMMF’s expansive sounds, as opening track “Idecide” starts with a clicky drum beat and slick 80s synth trinkles that bridge nicely to grungy guitars and a fuzzed-out chorus. Death Cab for Cutie-like shimmering rhythm guitars follow on “Mercy, Me,” as an almost prog keyboard lick propels the song forward. The Death Cab-style guitars are also felt on later tracks like “Selling Yourself Short,” “Hopelist,” and the title track, with “Hopelist” a more subdued and stripped-down affair, while the title track takes off with soaring guitars and pounding drums. “Hellodrama,” “Curtains,” “Sweet Lady,” and “Bldg. a Boat from the Boards in Your Eye” are an eclectic mix of indie-rock patterns, mixing treated vocals with pensive and brooding guitars, 80s synth-pop waves, distinctive rhythms, and various found sounds fluttering through the matrix. WMMF displays its more experimental side on “The Jeopardy of Contentment,” “Almost Always Never,” and “Judas” that feature a more open sound with some quirkier cadences and cascading keyboards that freefall to a heavenly climax.

What Made Milwaukee Famous’ musicians tend to wear their influences on their collective sleeves, which makes these songs immediately likable. But thankfully, they also have the initiative to push the creative envelope by blending their own twisted sound experiments into the mix, including some semi-call and response stanzas and a rousing pub-like chorus. Trying to Never Catch Up is a smorgasbord of fresh and non-formulaic indie rock with substance and style that will hopefully bring some fame to this talented band.