Release a few singles, an EP, a full length or two and then split. That seems to be the practice with a lot of bands. Pioneers like Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Rites of Spring, and Indian Summer and modern classics like Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, and My Heart To Joy. All of which happen to be bands that, although great, split up after putting out a few releases. In the case of the four piece Chicago band, Half Milk, they too have followed a similar cliche. However, what sets Half Milk apart from the many is their final release, ‘Kept Mang’. Where Half Milk may have ended with a cliche, their final album is a record that is entirely their own, one that showcases an undeniable sense of precision and melody. It’s an album that keeps listeners on their toes, throwing out splintered complex guitar passages not unlike the band’s Chicago contemporaries along with jazz inspired drumming and goofy semi-poetic lyricism.
From simple punk chords to the round noodly clean tones that you might expect to here on a Don Cabellero record, most of the songs feature harsh contrasting breaks; instrumental sections that go from melodic, harmoniously and complexly entangled and without warning will transition to the off-kilter, and discordant cacophony without loosing a single moment of clarity. Sometimes it sounds as though all of the instruments are fighting for a spot to be heard over one another but yet through all of the discordance each instrument remains identifiable. One of the best examples of this comes on “Icerev Turns In His Wings”; a blistering epic that feels more like a roller coaster than a track but is nonetheless one of my favorites. Its a track that sums up the entirety of the album, it’s crazy unpredictability and all of it’s artistry at once. ‘Kept Mang’ is certainly the type of record that has all of those little moments that you revisit if only to listen specifically to just those, no matter how brief they are.
While I do appreciate the instrumental diversity that Half Milk possesses it is Spencer LaBute’s strange and often humorous lyricism that gives ‘Kept Mang’ that added sense of energy that gets this release continuous listens. If the title of the second track, “Did You Like Collapse In Grass” didn’t give you an idea of what you were in for then the abstractly hilarious lyrics surely set the tone for the entire record:
“If you’re feeling tropical / Take a ride on the pineapple birthday boat / Fire on the plate / Shrimp fried rice / Remember its warmth that night”
But its not only the work of Half Milk alone that makes this album great. Alongside Mathew Frank, whose vocals are featured on a number of tracks, Little House (aka Charlotte Lovell, also the girl on the album cover) makes an appearance on the track, “Spliff Wizzurd” where, over a mess of layered guitar noise and discordant drumming forms beat-esque poetry where she goes on in a stream of consciousness about friends she can fuck up, shitting herself, buying money, licking the cut of a sandwich’s bite because she’s dangerous, and other eyebrow-raising things. Its weird and maybe a little off-putting but theres something whimsical and also infectiously beautiful about it; maybe its the nonchalance in her voice or the way the words seem to slip casually, calmly from her mouth alongside the otherwise urgent inharmoniousness of the track that makes this so appealing.
The lyrics, much like the eclectic musicianship don’t really do the job of easing the listener into the atmosphere of the album as much as it unforgivingly dunks you in head first, without warning immersing you in what they are, expecting the listener to make sense of what they are given. In other words, I feel like this is just a record where you either dig it or you don’t; you either “get it”, or rather realize theres nothing “to get“, or you just don’t get it in the first place. Most of the time it’s difficult to imagine what the lyrics are about or whether the dudes in Half Milk even knows what they meant when they were writing them, if they even mean anything at all. To get to the point, regardless of the intent, what the lyricism achieves so well is its ability to capture the imagination and put an image or an idea in your head that keeps you wondering and of course listening. Its a trip for sure but its all in good fun.
Chaotic yet smooth, mathy, complex, emotive, passionate, twinkly; all of these descriptors could easily describe any past or upcoming band, especially Half Milk but what separates this band from any other band in this convoluted genre is that Half Milk does it with such virtuosity and character. The band has distinctly created a set of songs that speaks for itself, sometimes half-jokingly laughing at itself and other times as serious as you want it to be. Although, most of the time its hard to distinguish when to take them seriously at all. I think it is this that makes them so different for me, acknowledging when to step back and laugh at themselves, to show that a record doesn’t have to be completely serious to be heard.
While the reasons for these kinds of bands splitting up varies from band to band its clear to me that no one wants to repeat themselves. If you’ve got something great to start with why not end with it as well. As for ‘Kept Mang’, the record is certainly one that proves Half Milk started out great and, although they only put out one record, also ended with an exceptional release at that.
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Overall Rating: 8.6
Favorite Tracks: ‘Did You Like Collapse In The Grass’, ‘Icerev Turns In His Wings’, Zeuhl Sesh (Like Drinking Ten Lightnings!), Last Halloween: Wish Upon A Fecostar, Kentucky Blue Gravity
Recommended: Check out Algernon Cadwallader
Released: January 2013
Links: Download the album or pick up a tape here