Read about (and listen to) the top 10 local records of the year.
These year-end lists have the tendency to be filled with debut albums from local artists. That’s probably due to a combination of the quick shelf life of many Milwaukee bands and perhaps music writers’ natural preference to hear something different. This round-up of the best albums of 2017, however, contains many familiar voices, like Fatty Acids, Midnight Reruns, Soul Low and WebsterX. It’s not that there wasn’t anything new and exciting that popped up this year, but rather each of these established musicians took a big leap forward.
10. Sundial Mottos – Sundial Mottos
One of those new and exciting projects that popped up this year, Sundial Mottos is a collection of four established local performers–Midnight Reruns’ Graham Hunt and Brady Murphy, electronic musician Alisa Rodriquez, who releases music under the moniker Apollo Vermouth, and estates bassist Charles Markowiak. Their 5-track self-titled debut mines those laid-back, guitar-driven ‘90s-era indie rock vibes into a dreamy, earnest collage.
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Fatty Acids returned this year with an esoteric art-rock album (its first since 2013’s shambolic Bolero) that showed that its dexterous ability to constantly remain amorphous has not waned in the least. Dogs of Entertainment proved that the 10-year Milwaukee scene veterans haven’t run out of interesting ideas.
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8. Rebel Love – Abby Jeanne
Milwaukee Film Festival attendees will be familiar with Rebel Love blues rock track “Baby Roll’N Stone.” It was one of three songs that scored this year’s sponsor trailer. The rest of the album, however, is surprisingly mellow and meditative, granting us a personal glimpse of the soul singer.
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“I love fast bikes, allegedly haunted hotels, and digging through people’s garbage to find treasure,” Whip’s Ashley Smith said in an interview with the magazine back in April. The Ride distills the lead singer’s pumped-up, daredevil attitude without ever careening out of control.
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6. Spoil + Destroy – Fox Face
For many people, 2017 was a brutal year in politics. The debut full-length from punk trio Fox Face spurns the past, absolutely insufferable 365 days over 11 cathartic tracks. There’s a pretty great, extra sinewy Britney Spears cover of “Toxic” in there, too.
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Any fan of Milwaukee history will dig Spectator Sports’ track “City Hall,” in which Midnight Reruns singer Graham Hunt details the downtown building’s morbid history of suicides. It’s immediately catchy and fun, just like Spectator Sports as a whole. You’ll be humming these melodies for days.
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“I’m sad,” Jake Balistrieri sings with a self-deprecating tone on a Cheer Up track. The album title is directed more towards the band itself than the audience. And that attitude serves them well. The third Soul Low album succeeds by finding a nice equilibrium between its vibrant debut, 2013’s UNEASY, and gloomy follow-up, 2016’s Nosebleeds.
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3. Geometric Universe – Luxi
With the return of the music series MELT and the annual Synth Fest MKE festival, the city’s electronic music scene has never been more easily accessible. One of this year’s standouts is Luxi, who released the dreamy yet rugged 9-track album Geometric Universe back in January. Self-produced by Alexandre Hill, the record somehow feels both inward-looking and effervescent, like a post-bar-close dance party where the only thing keeping you upright is the drumbeat pumping through the stereo.
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2. Daymares – WebsterX
In the time between 2013’s debut Desperate Youth and Daymares, rapper WebsterX was hustling to get the city’s hip hop scene noticed. He released a steady stream of singles, an EP and cinematic music videos; he formed a collective with other notable local musicians called New Age Narcissism; and he helped create the monthly all-ages music series FREESPACE. On Daymares, the never-ending positivity that he injected into the city’s scene feels palpable. Even though the record focuses on his depression—he scrapped an entire album back in 2014 because he thought it was too dark—he uses those sad times as a device to be uplifting.
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1. who told you to think??!!?!?!?! – milo
The third album from the prolific rapper (who also performs under the moniker Scallops Hotel) jabs at you from multiple angles. His breathless narrative prose is an unrelenting force. It’s certainly too quick and far too sharp to comprehend on one listen. It’s quite astounding how milo has made this lyrical barrage appear so graceful and effortless.
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