This was by no means an easy list to make!
Milwaukee is home to a vibrant and thriving music scene, with many artists from hip hop to rock, electronic to alt-country. Below, in no particular order, are the top 10 best albums of 2018 recorded by Milwaukee artists.
1) Calliope, Chapel Perilous
Psychedelic rock band Calliope, which includes Al Kraemer (vocals, keyboard) Victor Buell IV (vocals, guitar) Anthony Smith (bass) and Dan Dahl (percussion) are frequent performers at Milwaukee Psych Fest, an annual celebration of the mind-bending music of the 1960s and 1970s.
Recorded in a northern Wisconsin cabin, Calliope’s latest Romanus Records release, Chapel Perilous, (the title a reference to a psychological state) pays homage to 1960s rock groups Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and the Doors, and newer groups such as The Black Angels and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Songs including “Astral Hand,” “Brujo” and “Evil as You Are” offer plenty of heavy reverberated guitar riffs and Farfisa organ.
2) Direct Hit! Crown of Nothing
Since their 2013 release Brainless God, ambitious pop-punk group Direct Hit, whose members include Nick Woods, Danny Walkowiak, Devin Kay and Steve Maury, have played shows worldwide and released a handful of albums. Earlier this year, the group announced a plan to open up an all-ages music venue at the former Metal Grille on Packard Avenue in Cudahy.
Crown of Nothing’s 14 tracks are all under five minutes, from the hardcore-influenced “Pain/Boredom” to “Heaven’s End.” The band’s dark, introspective and nihilistic lyrics are delivered with energy and zeal and urge listeners to play tracks again to understand their message.
3) Buffalo Gospel, On the First Bell
Alt-country/Americana band Buffalo Gospel, which includes singer-songwriter Ryan Necci (lead vocals, guitar) Andrew Koenig (guitar), Kevin Rowe (bass), Nick Lang (percussion) and Haley Rydell (fiddle), formed nearly a decade ago as a way for Necci to release his songs. Since then, Necci’s personal tragedies, including his divorce and loss of a close friend, have greatly influenced his work.
On the First Bell, the group’s second full-length album recorded by Grammy-winning engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) further showcases Necci’s writing talent and the group’s musical chops with 10 songs, among them “High Time to Hang Fire,” “Best Get Fitted” and “Son of a Gun,” that explore themes of loss, loneliness, heartbreak and working-class America.
4) Neocaveman, Bacchanalia
Neocaveman, which formed in Milwaukee in 2015, consists of Sam Balistreri (vocals, guitar), Simon Beno (keyboards), Peter Hair (guitar, vocals), Paul Tyree (drums) and Jeremy Moroder (bass).
Influenced in part by Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie and 1970s progressive rock band Yes, the band’s latest release Baccanalia, (recorded by Shane Hochstetler of Howl Street Studios), consists of 10 songs, among them “A Walk in the Park,” “Synchronized Sinking” and “Kingdom of the Rabble,” which meld pop, psychedelic music and a bit of math rock with subtle and poetic lyrics.
5) Lorde Fredd33, NORF: The Legend of Hotboy Ronald
Incorporating jazz-infused beats with a touch of gospel music and 1970s soul, Lorde Fredd33’s debut album, The Legend of Hotboy, features more than a dozen tracks containing lyrics about growing up as an African American on Milwaukee’s north side and coping with fatherhood, neighborhood violence and personal struggles.
Songs including “S.O.S,” “Sanctified,” “Kane,” (featuring local rapper Kane) and “Bel Biv Devotion” are reminiscent of both 1990s hip hop and modern artist Kendrick Lamar.
6) Lex Allen, Table 7: Sinners and Saints
Lex Allen’s latest seven-track album highlights the artist’s soulful, heartfelt vocals, echoing fellow R & B artist Usher. Allen’s finely crafted songs examine fame and fortune, family relationships and self-love, including the club-friendly “Struck Gold” and piano-heavy ballads “The 7th Hour” and “Mama’s Boy.”
7) Spacecrime, Night of the Beats
John Brander, also known as Spacecrime and member of a local hip hop music collective Arthaus Bando, which includes rappers Spaidez and Fushi, spends much of his time creating beats for local hip hop artists.
Night of the Beats (the title a nod to the 1980s horror flick Night of the Creeps), released this past July and featuring album art by former Spacecrime member Zach Chappelle, delivers 30 futuristic, dreamy hip-hop instrumental tracks, partially inspired by horror and science fiction movie soundtracks, which fuse 1990s and modern hip hop.
With songs including “Lazy Lucidity,” “Euphoric Farewell” and “Sneakin Through Time,” this album is perfect for relaxing on a Saturday afternoon.
8) Amanda Huff, Hempitera
Electronic musician Amanda Huff’s latest release, Hempitera, mingles trip-hop and jazz with gorgeous ethereal vocals and synthesizers. Huff recently won the 2018 Radio Milwaukee Music Award for Best Solo Artist.
Huff’s eight innovative Hempitera tracks, among them her cover of 1990s crooner Chris Isaac’s hit “Wicked Game,” “Cicada” (a nod to the musician’s love of entymology), and the funky Latin-inspired “Caroline’s” (a tribute to the Milwaukee jazz club), prove that the award was well-deserved.
9) Dogs in Ecstasy, Dreams and Gripes
Noise pop trio Dogs in Ecstasy (singer and guitarist Willy Dintenfass, keyboardist and vocalist Molly Rosenblum and drummer Tony Dixon) is a true band for the Internet age.
Released on Thunder Zone, rapper Juixeboxxx’s record label, Dreams and Gripes’ humorous songs, (“Golden Age,” “Rage Against the Dying of My Phone,” “At Cartridge World”), each clocking in at under four minutes, are a wry commentary on technology and social interactions.
10) Paper Holland, Galapagos
Influenced by Death Cab for Cutie, the Cure and Tame Impala, Paper Holland’s latest album features dreamy tracks (“Milpool,” “Back to the Sea,” “Silver Lines”), inspired by sunny beaches and azure waters. Members Andy Kosanke (guitar), Glenn McCormick (trumpet and keyboards), Mark Yencheske (bass), Sean Hirthe (alto saxophone), Ted Powers (drums) and Joe Tomcheck (guitar and voice noise) bring subtle horn arrangements and lush guitars and vocal harmonies to the album.