What Made Milwaukee Famous : Trying to Never Catch Up

Barsuk’s reputation for signing up every potentially excellent pop band in America continues with this release from notorious DIY-poppers What Made Milwaukee Famous. However, this release sat on the shelf with no label for about two years. How did this not find a home in the land of indie adulation reserved for The Shins? God only knows. But Trying to Never Catch Up is an ideal listen for those who love High Fidelity and dig Brian Wilson and all the usual suspects. Such is the pop knack of WWMF. There is a great deal of joyous noise here among the clever bleeps and ba-ba-bas, all of it striving to be the catchiest around. But there are problems with that.

It seems that, while they are very proficient and professional, WWMF have forgotten to write any outstanding melodies. There is enough craft and prowess to get by, but they don’t quite make it round to including anything truly great. From the slightly cod electronica that opens “Idecide” and its limp and wispy vocals to the cardinal sin that is including studio applause and banter at the end of the album’s closing track, there are many noble attempts at complete melodic perfection. None of them are quite there yet. There is something tragically overdramatic about a large portion of their songs, and it is easy to detect a cloying debt to Television’s fuzzy auras but without the pantomimic vocal indulgences to valorise it. “Hellodrama” is a case in point, showcasing the band’s non-descript melodies. Verses and choruses never quite connect with each other, resorting to annoyingly simple handclaps and the most horrifyingly boring chord progression this side of The Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ “Scooby Snacks.”

The album does get better as it progresses, and the grasp of what makes god pop seems to be more and more within sight. The simpler affairs seem to work best, purely because there aren’t sixteen half-baked ideas jostling for attention. Just one good idea nicely executed. “Hopelist” is a proper song, at last, with easy melodies and some beautiful distant guitar swells in the back somewhere, sounding like Nick Drake on a particularly world-weary day. Similarly, the following track “Judas” is another example of the virtues of keeping it simple and building things on top. The tunes don’t trip over each other and, save for some over-exuberant bass, it all stays in a straight line facing forwards. But it’s all blown to pieces by the time we get to the ugly emo shrieking of “Curtains!,” which is guilty of the worst kind of lyrical clichés: “It’s been two weeks now since the shit was cut away.” It’s wince-worthy.

In a way, Trying To Never To Catch Up is a beautifully accurate title. WWMF are lagging behind a lot of pop material, but only because they are trying so hard to cram as much as possible into it to keep it fresh. Fans of Coldplay will surely herald this band as their one underground indulgence, and fans of The Shins will count them as one of their mainstream purchases. There is scope for development here, but only because the right developments weren’t made in the first place. It sounds like it was far too easy to make this record.

Similar Albums:
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
Aqueduct – I Sold Gold
Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed

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