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Best of Music 2012
What a year it was. We talked to bands, DJs, music writers and producers throughout this city to nail down the best songs, shows, albums and more.

(Left to right) Cactus Club, Jaill and Klassik

It’s easy enough to say that 2012 has been another great year for music in Milwaukee. But what does that really mean? It would take a full-time fanatic to keep track of all the bands, albums, songs and shows foaming forth from every basement and bar in this city, and while we here at Music Notes make it our job to do just that, it’s getting harder every year. To get a look at the whole picture, the width and breadth and cold, hard truth of music in Milwaukee in the year 2012, one must take one’s curiosity to the streets. Ground zero. The horse’s mouth. The source.  So we did. We talked to a bunch of local music people – people with firsthand knowledge of the movings and shakings of the local landscape – and asked them to tell us what was so great about Milwaukee music in 2012.

Best Local Album

Justin Perkins, Mystery Room Mastering
“If I had to pick my favorite Milwaukee music release for 2012, it would have to be High Feather by The Championship.  It's one of those albums that may take a few listens before it really sets in how great it is, but once that happens, it becomes clear how well crafted the songs and production are.”

Dan Shafer, Third Coast Digest managing editor
The same local band wins every ‘best of’ category for me, and that band is Juniper Tar. Since Before is one of the best albums of the year, local or otherwise. It’s an album that can be appreciated both track by track and as an artistic whole. There are songs like “Black Pain Tea” that can be enjoyed late at night on laptop speakers and songs like “After The Tremors” that always warrant a clockwise turn of my car’s volume knob.

Their cover of “I Shall Be Released,” in their last Hotel Foster residency show was one of the musical highlights of the year for me. They brought a bunch more people up to the stage to sing along, and with that giant American flag in the background, it made for a pretty incredible moment. I am, however, a huge sucker for classic rock covers and giant American flags.

Though Jaill, Trapper Schoepp and the Shades, Field Report and Altos all had very accomplished years, Juniper Tar’s 2012 was the best of any Milwaukee band. They swung for the fences with a very ambitious album and they connected. Since Before is a triumph and I can’t wait for what’s next.

Christopher Roberts, Heavy Hand drummer
As far as local record of the year I'm going to have to go with Jaill's Traps. Their LPs are always consistently well written, a lot of fun and worthy of repeat listens. Definitely speaks to my garage pop loving side!

Ryan Schleicher, Juniper Tar bassist, WMSE radio
This one's really tough for me. There was a pretty wide spectrum of local music released this year that I found incredible. I couldn't be happier for Chris Porterfield and his entire band [Field Report], some of the best human beings you'll ever meet, who put out an exceptional, beautiful album. Painted Caves came out of nowhere doing something that no other Milwaukee band or really not many bands anywhere, are doing. Ali and Mike masterfully crafted eastern rhythms and instrumentation with western indie rock vocal sensibilities. After years of tweaking and adding, The Altos seemed to have achieved the vision they've had for years.”

Best Local Song

Jordan “Madhatter” Lee, 88.9 RadioMilwaukee
A ton of great songs came out of the Milwaukee music scene this year. I think if I have to pick one, it's going to be "Anything" by Klassik. This song stuck out to me when I was going through his new material. While it's not officially on his 2012 album In The Making, it's a great bonus single that complements the work he's put out this year.  The track has amazing build and complexity, which can be rare in hip hop.  It takes a cue from Hall and Oates "I Can't Go For That," but the song does not use a Hall and Oates sample.  It's a perfect hip-hop track.

As if the song wasn't good enough, its video may be one of my favorites of 2012.  Local director Xavier Ruffin put together a mini-masterpiece for the "Anything" music video.

Best Local Show

Tyler Maas, Music Notes contributor
In August, I was fortunate enough to attend a wedding of some friends who convinced Call Me Lightning to play a bunch of old songs (which the band rarely, if ever, plays) at their reception. It was incredible to hear a band I’ve loved since high school (10 years ago) play some a rare set brimming with some of my all-time favorite songs, especially in such an unconventional setting. Everybody – wearing wedding attire, mind you – rushed the stage, screaming along with every song. The bride stage-dove. I’ll never forget it.

But figuring that doesn’t count, I figured I’d mention the wealth of Milwaukee bands who I saw play at Summerfest this year. It’s weird to see bands like Jaill playing the massive Summerfest Rock Stage before The Hives, and a literal stone’s throw away, see a relative newcomer like Hot Coffin tear up an early afternoon set on the Cascio Interstate Music Stage a couple days later. As such a massive event, Summerfest makes its fair share of errors and oversights, but its incorporation of local music onto stages of (virtually) all sizes and with bands of all calibers is not among them.

Best Non-Local Show

Christopher Roberts, Heavy Hand drummer
The non-local band show I enjoyed the most was seeing The Lemonheads do It's a Shame About Ray front to back at Turner (Jan. 21). The night turned out extra awesome when I ended up in the Blackbird photo booth with [The Lemondheads front man] Evan Dando!

Dan Shafer, Third Coast Digest Managing Editor
Great concerts have not been few and far between in 2012. They’ve been just the opposite of that – plentiful and adjacent, even. Pabst/Turner/Riverside has been on fire this year; Heartless Bastards, Charles Bradley and Titus Andronicus were some of my favorites there, but that’s not even close to the full list. Summerfest had a really excellent lineup this year as well. The Hives were especially amazing – I think Lake Michigan moved east an inch by way of sheer rock force each time they played a song off of Veni Vidi Vicious.

But what stood out most for me this year were two visits from rowdy Sub Pop rockers King Tuff. They played once over the summer at Quarters in Riverwest (when it was something like the 40th straight day of 100+ degree weather) and again in November at the Cactus Club (which was preceded by an also excellent in-store performance at the Exclusive Company). Tuffy brought great openers – Natural Child and Gap Dream, respectively – to the stage for both shows along with his band’s raucous breed of sweaty, dirty, balls-to-the-walls rock ’n’ roll. There’s something, too, about a show in a small, at-capacity venue that really takes things up a notch, where songs like “Anthem” and “Bad Thing” become positively combustible.

Best Venue

Shane Hochstetler, Call Me Lightning drummer/Howl Street Recordings owner
As for clubs, my vote is Cactus Club. It's my favorite club in the city to play. I do, however, think Turner Hall has the best on-stage sound, though out in front of the stage is a different story.

Elusive Parallelograms, band
The Cactus Club, because of the way the room sounds both front of house and on stage. It makes for really enjoyable shows.  Also, while this is true for most Milwaukee venues, Cactus Club treats their bands well. It's always a good time both playing and seeing some of our favorite acts there. Our Feb. 3rd show there for our first EP release called "Habits" was a blast, we had visual synth going with the music, it was great.  

Best Music Video

Kurt Raether, Member of The Fatty Acids, owner of Honeycomb Productions
There's something about Xavier Ruffin's video for Proph's "OnTen" that I just love, and it's ineffable. The bold saturation immediately grabs your eye and stays consistent throughout the piece. He complements that with the warm washed-out tones of a summer barbecue, highlighting a North Side block party that seems perpetual.

It has snatches of the visual style of "Do the Right Thing" – Proph does mention Spike in one verse – but the tone is decidedly more optimistic here. There is a close-up of a police officer's gun, but we see a group of cops laughing and enjoying the day a second later. A helicopter buzzes overhead, but despite this, it's going to be a good day.

It's full of optimism and heart, and I get in such a good mood every time I watch it. Xavier is one of the best music video directors in town, his work is stellar across the board. I highly recommend checking him out.

Most Interesting Things About Milwaukee Music This Year

Ryan Schleicher, Juniper Tar bassist, WMSE radio
I continue to be amazed by the constant infusion of good, young bands. A couple years ago it was bands like Sat. Nite Duets, The Fatty Acids, Trapper Schoepp and more. This year, though, they're perhaps not getting the attention yet, has seen a number of bands come out of nowhere. Young Holidays, The Living Statues, Paper Holland and my favorite young local band right now, The Delphines. As some of the veteran bands are starting to gain audiences outside of Milwaukee, Milwaukee seems to be in the enviable place where it keeps replenishing its stock of musical talent.

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