Half Milk – Kept Mang

Half Milk - Kept Mang

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

-Tyler Thompson

SLSFTI – Dzeja for Leela

SLSFTI is the one man experimental recording project of Spencer Lebute. ‘Dzeja for Leela’ is a collection of short songs comprised of spoken word poetry and sound collages. According to the bandcamp page the music on this release reflects a conversation with one of Spencer’s friend’s Leela.

The combination of noise music and poetry sounds like a neat idea, something that really made me look forward to listening to this album but as it turns out this is unfortunatly not the case. The production quality is possibly ‘Dzeja for Leela’s’ biggest ditractor. The sounds are so saturated and at times Spencer’s voice sounds like it is either covered in some distortion effect or that it is constantly peaking. Although we are talking about noise here, an experimental style of music that relies heavily on atonality and cacophany these aspects of the music are not influencing it positivly but are instead retracting from the poetry. The track ‘Representation of a Past Imperative’ is the best example of this with these eclectic piano noodlings that are looped throughout the track which becomes a distraction and a headache while Spencer incessantly spouts out a slew of nearly incoherent words masked in grainy digital distortion.

Many of the songs on this EP feel like they were rushed and slapped together. The sounds and noises are far too distracting and they end up fragmenting and forcing the listener away from the focus of the music which should be the poetry. Many times, musicians can get away with burying the vocals underneath sounds, whether that be distortion or walls of reverb, especially so in the case of shoegaze acts but at that point the vocals are already unintelligible enough in the case that they are used as another instruments or a textural element within the music and with that they serve their purpose. Because the focus of this music is on its poetry, words, and what they mean it confuses me as to why these words would be surrounded with such distracting compositions when the intention of poetry is reflected in the listener’s interpretation of these words.

Overall rating: 3.0

Favorite Track:


Released: 27 February 2012

Links: SLSFTI on Bandcamp


New Orleans Swim Team – To be Something, to be Anything

Do you ever find yourself listening to a band or musician that comes along with something so original that you find yourself asking, “how are these guys not famous yet”? Well, New Orleans Swim Team happens to be exactly that. New Orleans Swim Team is the solo recording project of Alberta based musician and multi-instrumentalist, Jacob Ulickij and this release is the second under this project.

When it comes to self recorded music, typically, punk rock is a signifier of the success one is able to achieve without a record label and for that matter a professional recording studio. Bands recorded and distributed their own demos, EPs, and full lengths, made their own t-shirts, posters, and created their own press though the distribution of zines and word of mouth. It was a genre of music that showcased the hard work and dedication that a generation of young creative people were capable of producing independently. With the rise of the internet, artists have taken advantage of file sharing sites, utilizing mediafire and megaupload to share their music. Now, with the success of Bandcamp and Soundcloud it has made it even easier for artists to independently put out their own releases and allow their music to be heard. It speaks volumes with just how much a band or even one person alone is capable of without the outside help that, labels, expensive recording studios, and “producers” claim to be capable of and Jacob has articulated this fact with the release of ‘To be Something to be Anything’.

It is clear that Jacob has a lot to say; ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ is 21 tracks of short songs, filled with delicately executed spoken word poetry and tender singing. This music is honest as hell and lately, with everything that is happening in the world I feel like a little bit of honesty is exactly we all need. It reads like a novel written in a stream of consciousness and I swear words have never been more perfectly spoken. ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ has an overarching folkish sound, albeit, there is much more to be heard than just one style of music here and instead of making the mistake of pigeonholing the music into a set style, Jacob strove to create a sound of his own.

With the opening track, ‘Overture (Dreamer)’ I was immediately under the assumption that the guys in Sigur Ros had begun a side project. The track plays out like an opener, it is short but it sounds as though the same care that is displayed throughout the rest of the album was applied just as evenly here if not more so. It is as if entire orchestra is warming up; cymbals build and crash while the drums roll on and the winding strings play randomly giving one a sense of fidelity, building anticipation for the next track. Its not just this portion, the entire album is full of a variety of lush instrumentation and sound, spanning from guitar, piano, violin, drums, bass, flute, and horns. What makes it even more impressive is Jacob, as a multi-instrumentalist and his collaborator’s ability to compose and play these instruments proficiently. The dedication and minuet attention to detail is what makes all of this work out so well.

The vocals are distinct and and are generally the focal piece of the music. For some, the vocals may be a turn off considering  how raw they can be, perhaps even in a juvenile sense; although, for me this is not so much of a negative thing as it is an important aspect that effects the music positively. As I said before, there is a lot to take in, especially lyrically. Jacob speaks in a manner of rhythmically constrained poetry similar to a stream of consciousness, as though making up the words on the spot which is where the vocals perfectly communicate his words even if I am unable to catch what he is saying all at once. Because the vocals are raw in this juvenile sense it is very easy to identify what emotion is being conveyed, whether it be angry, compassionate, or caring; it is universal in that way. At times his voice quivers indicating something like a nervousness or perhaps a loss of breath in the wake of all the words that are spoken but as soon as the singing comes in he is as confident as ever, not to say the spoken word sections that make up most of the album aren’t just as rewarding. The singing can be heard at the most emotive right from the start of the song, ‘Degrees’ which quickly leads into more of the spoken word vocals just as the track wraps up with a burst of strumming and passionate singing. Sometimes Jacob comes off as sincere as the poetry he speaks while at other times his words communicate a menacing message. ‘Prairie Winter’ is a statement of biting cynicism, one that is dark and heavy without being loud; a sharply executed track. On ‘Wanderlust’ Jacob showcases his ability to access a more aggressive sound in terms of vocal dynamics, one that exhibits his capabilities of screaming, which is achieved surprisingly well considering the primarily reserved nature that is practiced in his craft. The final and longest track, ‘Whatever You Want to Be’ is an epic full of cymbal crashes and builds. All of the Instrumentation eventually cuts out and the listener is left only with Jacob’s articulate and masterful poetry before the instrumentation eventually makes its appearance again as the track finishes up. It could not be a more perfect finish to this album.

Although ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ was recorded in the back of a house it does not show any signs of a loss in sound quality. Everything comes through in so crisply, it is obvious from the masterful recording and mixing and the attention to the clarity of all the instruments coming through that nothing was sacrificed at the expense of a lo-fi set-up. At times the lo-fi nature of the album is apparent but otherwise, if I were unaware of the background regarding this release I would have been under the assumption that the album was recorded professionally. That said, if one person is capable of composing, recording, and producing all of this it leaves me to question the legitimacy of what is considered “professional” recording. Whether it was intentional or not this piece of music speaks beyond the limitations of sound, working as a statement; one that indicates a distinct work ethic within the individual.

There is a lot of experimentation that shows through in this release but even so I would not go as far as to call this an experimental record at all seeing as the experimental elements work out in a very unified way being that there is a sense of direction here and to label it experimental would be doing it a disservice. ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ is a tale depicted in the most sensual way with a certain familiarity and yet, at times so distant that just as soon as you think you have tackled it you find yourself swallowing your words and throwing out all of those Listener comparisons, searching for something other than “beautiful” to describe it by. This is inspirational; an enjoyable and refreshing listen, one that I cannot recommend enough. Thank you.

Visit the Bandcamp page

Overall Rating: 9.3

Favorite Track: Degrees, Wanderlust, Prairie Winter, Whatever You Want To Be

Recommended: Fans of Listener; something to accompany you during the fall season. A piece of music to watch the leaves fall to.