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

[willscott] – willscott… recordings

will scott... recordings [disc one]

When I was first informed of Edmonton, Alberta noise / drone trio, Pigeon Breeders I never imagined that this small town in Canada actually had stable place for other acts dabbling in the likes of experimental music until I checked out the 2012 Ramshackle Day Parade comp. which featured a solid collection of acts from the area and surrounding areas, the likes of which included musician, Will Scott, one of the members in Pigeon Breeders whose guitar oriented solo compositions draw from a number of influences and span a vast array of styles taking mainly from psychedelic, blues, and progressive rock and repurposing them into experimental and sometimes noisy electronic infused compositions that retain the catchy aspects of their contemporaries while branching out into newer territory.

The first disc in this two disc release can be seen as the more cohesive or realized set of songs whereas the second disc is more of a collection of short experimental sounds and compositions, “b-sides” and extras. Both discs do maintain a similar sound, although disc two does branch out a bit more, playing around with noisier sounds (‘3ree’, along with the inclusion of more irregular rhythms and unorthodox song structures that take queues from the angular playing of early math rock band such as Don Cabellero (‘Our Home Is Next…’, ‘No Love’) while some remind me of that Matt Stevens album that I reviewed last year taking from and meshing together a number of styles (‘Maybe and Sometimes’, ‘Funkin Ugly’).

While the first disc does provide a clear direction I actually prefer the diversity of the songs on the second disc. It’s pretty clear to me that ‘Recordings’ most successful attributes is it’s ability to appeal to a diverse audience. Even with the more straightforward efforts heard on the first disc each song provides a strong amount of variation with abstract pieces such as “Lonely Ground”, a track that sets itself apart starting off with guitars and “Ooohs and Ahhhs” that build to a climax before panning out and picking up with this directionless discordant noise. Although out of place among an album full of guitar based songs the track never sounds like it doesn’t belong. Even though [willscott] is primarily considered a solo project Scott is joined by a number of guest musicians who contribute the likes of guitar, vocals, lyrics, drums, bass, samples electronic embellishments, etc. that bring a sense of character where it would likely be lacking. While some of the songs are instrumental many do feature vocals and lyrics on tracks such as “The Saga Continues” from the likes as Elissa Cook whose voice soars above driving guitars and arena sized drums that gives this track a huge amount of space. ‘This Is What It Sounds Like To Record In A Cave’ and ‘Phatty Beats Bruce and Old Man Johnson” offer this free-form “frame of mind” style vocals reminiscent of rapping that strangely reminds me of experimental hip-hop group, cLOUDDEAD or even (dare I say) Beck. Initially one might think that all of this might be overwhelming but even with all of this variation it still works as a cohesive album.

The production is unreal, at times sounding like some strange lost alien blues jams. The drums are bold and cut through the mix without detracting from other aspects of the music and although the guitars are loaded with an arsenal of effects they don’t water down the tone and prove to be necessary as oppose to just being another addition to the sound. It is clear that every aspect of instrumentation on ‘Recordings’ was payed equal attention to but this projects biggest accomplishment is not only this ear for a great sound. Where musicians who have emulated a style of music from the past in this way tend to go wrong is in their pursuit to take the strong points of their various influences and combine them together as one. In doing this they push aside the possibility of using their influences to create something original and are left with this soup of sounds whose ingredients don’t mix so well. In an attempt to spice things up they continue to add additional flavors which aren’t as palatable together as they would be if they were left alone. I realize this is a terrible and overused metaphor, one that is just as bad as any band reusing past sounds but where [willscott] makes a difference is these sounds aren’t reused but repurposed and formed into something unique in its own respect without bothering to “pay homage” to earlier sounds but rather using these old sounds to do something new.

At the end of two discs of material there really is something for everyone to be heard here; if you don’t like one song on this release it’s likely that there will be a track among these two discs that will resonate. ‘Willscott… Recordings’ may be composed mainly of rock songs centralized around instruments traditionally found in rock music but this isn’t just another throwback retro-revival act. What is heard on ‘Recordings’ is an amount of experimentation that would not typically be expected or initially wanted on your standard rock album but is nonetheless encouraged because this is not your standard rock album and although it isn’t entirely new it is a carefully thought out coming together of influences and ideas that worked well separately in the past and sound great as a whole in the present. Do check this out.

Overall Rating: 8.4

Favorite Tracks: ‘SOS Fest Sucked This Year…’, ‘The Saga Continues’, ‘This Is What It Sounds Like To Record In A Cave’, ‘Happy Ending’, ‘Our Home Is Next…’

Recommended: Check out the Ramshackle Day Parade net-label.

Released: 04 December 2011

Links:

http://willscott.bandcamp.com/

-Tyler Thompson