I don’t envy the citizens of Milwaukee right now. What is it, like 10 degrees all the time? Jeesh. That’s way too cold, and I don’t even want to think about the wind chill or news reports warning the amount of exposure to such cold temperatures – wouldn’t want your eyeballs freezing in their sockets, would you? No. I live in Florida. “Cold” is 60 degrees. It’s autumn in January right now. No thanks, Milwaukee.
Midwest Death Rattle is from Milwaukee, and I can only assume that their name comes from the sound a dying breath makes as one freezes to death. In some ways I wish their self-titled debut album continued down the stylistic path I’m laying here, all frigid post rock or minimal electronica or something, but the band has no interest in extending my metaphor any further than this sentence. In fact, they’re likely working the opposite angle – restlessly moving about in order to create the warmth of friction at some ill-insulated basement show or drafty VFW. I’ve used “rambunctious” to describe bands like this in the past, and I’m sure the likely sweater-clad Midwest Death Rattle are actually sweating through some snarly guitar workout right now. Actually, “itchy” might be a more apt descriptor. But enough about me and words…
I don’t recall the exact exchange, but somebody on Twitter was like, “You guys like Modest Mouse, don’t you?” and MWDR was all like, “Yup!” Seems like “some guy” and I had the same first impression, because we’re definitely in some Isaac Brock territory here, back when he was hungry and on drugs and before he was fat. (I’m not drawing any conclusions about this band’s lifestyle from their sound, though – that would be idiotic.) You know, when Modest Mouse was good. This connection happens right away on “Food Chain,” where the band cooks up a funky, minor-key carnivalesque background to the motor-mouthed vocal delivery, and even has a call-and-response chorus that rivals Brock’s best (“How does it work? How does it work?”, desperately). But instead of drifting off into the more experimental or expansive moments of Modest Mouse’s catalog, Midwest Death Rattle’s strength is in their keen ear for a hook, and that goes a long way in allowing them to forego any oddities in their sound that may or may not be a good fit.
So yeah, they’re tight, and at 30 minutes, this record is concise. But we’re still not done playing spot the influence, and on “Vowel Movement,” it becomes clear that Tim Kasher’s Cursive output has found its way into MWDR’s record collections. Another good move, as Kasher’s over-the-top yelping fit perfectly with his group’s brand of disenchanted pop punk. So between Cursive and Modest Mouse, Midwest Death Rattle has found a recipe for success. (Don’t forget Man Man though – the carnival organ throughout and funhouse atmosphere especially found in opener “Reduction: Automatica” is the perfect final ingredient for this debut album.) It mixes boisterous and sprightly indie rock with squirmy guitar tunes like “Run! Shark!” and “Manimal Instinct.”
Maybe I’m just having a good year so far, because surprising finds like Midwest Death Rattle keep poking their heads into my “now playing” roster, and force me to continually think about them. So I’m sharing this one with you, readership, whoever you are. I didn’t listen to this band looking to be reminded that this sort of, yes, rambunctious indie rock, made popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Modest Mouse, was still enjoyable. I haven’t cared about Modest Mouse for years. But by golly, Midwest Death Rattle takes up the muddy, torn, trodden flag and cruises on into the blustery Milwaukee winter night, completely ignorant of the wind chill, because, you know, the sweaters and the itchy friction, y’all.
RIYL: Modest Mouse, Cursive, Man Man