Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Animals in Human Attire is the Kevin Bacon of the Milwaukee music scene. The Riverwest-based indie rock sextuplet has a direct or, at the very least, a strong tangential connection to many of the city’s headlining bands. But unlike Mr. Bacon, AIHA – whose members populate more than 10 other acts in town – has yet to reap the reward of regional recognition that its body of work warrants.
But this eclectic outfit is on the cusp of its own Footloose moment, as the Animals’ two-year hibernation is coming to an end. And it’s now this band’s turn to take the leading role in the musical priorities of its members.
In 2009, while studying recording engineering in Madison, singer Jack Tell sought to funnel some solo folk songs he’d written into an expanded effort. So Tell bestowed the project with its wild name and enlisted some friends to accompany him. Soon after, in 2010, a move to Milwaukee meant a new cast of collaborators with original bass player Myles Coyne.
“It’s always been Jack searching for what he wants in a band,” Coyne says. “It was originally just his thing, but it’s evolved drastically over the years.”
Animals plays what Coyne calls “a warped indie take on world music,” with shared influences from bands like Talking Heads, Weezer, the Shins, Modest Mouse and especially the Flaming Lips.
Essentially “chaos,” Coyne says.
In addition to playing bass in Animals, Coyne plays in Temple, US Male, the Zelda Routine, occasionally supports the Fatty Acids’ live shows, and is the frontman for Myles Coyne & the Rusty Nickel Band. Tell sometimes picks up a guitar in the latter, in addition to his newest formation, the Lousy Trouts. Animals also includes Alex Klosterman, who plays in local psych-rock band Conundrum with Animals drummer Charlie Celenza, who also drums for indie darling Soul Low. Nathan Toth pitches in with synthesizer, glockenspiel and auxiliary percussion, and Justin Miller occasionally fills any percussive gap with pots, pans and buckets because, as Tell puts it, “he’s a lot of fun to have around.”
“We treat all the bands with the same sort of main-project mentality,” Coyne says. “As one band takes a break or starts to write the next album, we focus on the other thing.”
Last summer, Animals managed to get into the studio and record eight songs at Bay View’s Howl Street Recordings.
After numerous sessions, some anxiety and likely too much video game playing, a follow-up to 2010’s self-titled debut EP was complete in the form of a full-fledged band effort, Ourmegadawn. Compared to the band’s unheralded debut – the long-awaited follow-up is a brazen, genre-jumping effort.
Ourmegadawn’s “Wind Waker” winds haphazardly from cocky rocker to whispered emo cut within minutes, before landing in effect-laden psychedelic rock. “Cathexis” is an indie rock spin on bluegrass with a two-minute banjo solo smashed in the middle. The album is consistently inconsistent, but thoroughly enjoyable.
The band, of course, prefers to think of this inconsistency in a more flattering light. “With each song, we try to touch on a different genre,” Celenza says. “One song has got a little bit of a post-rock edge. One song is totally just bluegrass. One has an Americana sound. I guess at its core, it really is rock, but different variations.”
The band will release the album this month on Madison’s Mine All Mine Records with hopes of hitting this summer’s festival circuit hard and touring extensively before.
Eventually, members will give way to one or some of their other projects next year. But don’t mistake the cycle. When Animals In Human Attire departs from the spotlight again, Tell suggests, it won’t be a sign of extinction.
Tell says, “the best part about Animals – and the worst part – is that we don’t know what we’re going to do next.”