Plants and Animals
PLANTS AND ANIMALS
Plants and Animals are Warren C. Spicer, Matthew 'the Woodman' Woodley, and Nicolas Basque, the product of a musical three-way between two boyhood friends from Canada's East Coast, and a French-Canadian. It's not easy to label the kind of music Plants and Animals make, but it's easy for it to feel instantly familiar. Maybe that's because they record to tape, and their records sound like they could have been made in 1972. But for all their analog warmth, it's also impossible to deny how raw and recent the songs sound, and harder still to find anything else that sounds quite the same.
Anyone who took Plants and Animals debut, Parc Avenue, into their home and hearts probably already knows this. Since the album was released in early 2008 the band has played over 150 shows, circling the Western world more than once, including appearances at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Barcelona's Primavera Festival, Central Park Summer Stage with The National, and even one night in Columbus opening for Gnarls Barkley, after Danger Mouse discovered Parc Avenue and invited them out. But regardless of where it happened, anyone who has seen the three of them perform live knows that their big sound isn't just some kind of studio wizardry.
Their newest offering, La La Land, is louder, and tougher than Parc Avenue, but also smoother and more cohesive. The album was recorded at the band's home-base studio in Montreal, The Treatment Room, and at Studio La Frette outside Parisa brokedown old mansion filled with vintage gear and a killer board in the cellar.
From California coast vibes to Montreal winters and Spanish trains, La La Land is just as eclectic as Parc Avenue, but there's something more mature holding the music together now. Inspired by a rediscovery of electric guitars, amplification and fuzz pedals, it takes us up and away from Parc Avenue's Montreal-in-the-summer vibe, and out into the big league rock n' roll ether. It's like all the experimentation and attention to detail in the studio over the years has bred a kind of confidence in them that you can hear all the way through La La Land. As they might say in the movies, La La Land isn't a placeit's a state of mind. Plants and Animals have never been a band with much interest in posturing or unnecessary theatrics, but on La La Land the curtain isn't just pulled back, it's gone entirely.
SO SO RADIO
At the bottom of the bill of the massive Hold Steady New Year's Eve concert at The Riverside Theater is a tiny band you probably haven't heard of but whose giant sound could very well steal the show.
With nowhere to play and no one to play to in their hometown of Janesville, the power pop trio So So Radio have essentially adopted Milwaukee as their home base. Having played roughly a dozen shows here since their 2009 inception where they also recorded and mastered their excellent debut full length "Dust Covers", So So Radio bares the power and polish of a band whose not about to waste time and gas by not wowing their Brew City crowds.
"Milwaukee has kind of been our home away from home. There's just a really good reception there always," said singer and guitarist Ryan Dwheat.
The new record blends the straight forward power pop sounds of Big Star and Replacements with indie rock acts like Spoon and the Walkmen. They're at their best on big wide open tunes like "Streets In Perfect Patterns", "Moenjodaro", and "Moving Pictures" which explode in bursts of semi-polished timeless midwestern rock.
"Even though we recorded a lot of it live in the studio there is just something to playing in front of people," said Dwheat about his excitement about he Dec. 31 show, which is sure to be the band's biggest to date.
Not surprisingly, Dwheat said the band gets some funny looks when they tell people they are from Janesville. In fact, while Dwheat lives in Janesville, bass player Nick Elandime is attending school in Madison, and drummer Sam Anella lives and works in Fort Atkinson.
"We are either really ambiguous about it when we play, or we lie flat out. We'll tell them we are from Massachusetts or something," said Dwheat, "We don't know anybody. We aren't involved in anybody's scene, so we are outsiders anyways. We might as well be from another planet."
Dwheat and Anella started writing music together in 2009, almost 20 years after playing together in bands in high school. Being spread out geographically makes practicing and playing shows a bit of a production. By necessity, Dwheat said the band approaches playing with a professionalism that is reflected in their ambitious sound.
"It would be nice to be more like a unit in some ways, like a gang. We are very business like now. We are all close friends, but Nick is a full time student, I have a full time career, Sam runs his own business...So when we get together it's like 'Let's get down to business'," said Dwheat, "We have a real vision and a focus for the band."
The band hopes to remaster and release "Dust Covers" on vinyl later in the year with additional tracks. In the meantime it's available on CD or as a download. Dwheat said they plan to tour the midwest in the spring to promote the album.
In the meantime Dwheat said he's excited to play with one of Milwaukee's finest acts Jaill and Minneapolis by way of Brooklyn bar rockers The Hold Steady.
"This is totally the biggest deal we have ever done," said Dwheat. "We're excited."
SURGEONS IN HEAT
A band's first months are a period usually reserved for false starts, the scrapping of potential names and learning how to play together as one. Evidently, Surgeons in Heata 6-month-old Milwaukee transplant that's already played more than 25 shows, recorded and tirelessly promoted itselfwasn't aware of that.
When singer and guitarist Johnathon Mayer left Appleton and relocated to Bay View in September, he and longtime friend and drummer Ryan Rougeux enlisted the help of Milwaukee bassist William Schultz for a new band. The trio met through mutual friends and by sharing bills in the Fox Cities, where they all once lived.
Almost immediately, Surgeons in Heat set out to make their mark on their new city, one energetic power-pop performance at a time.
"We just instantly got along musically," Schultz says.
The introductory gap was bridged by Mayer and Rougeux's past. The pair had previously played together in projects like The Runner Ups and Cartwalkers. The significance of that was not lost on the band's newest member.
"They've been playing for a while together," Schultz says. "So it's kind of cool to see how they can work with one another so well. To see how they interact to be productive is helpful."
The importance of the new variable, too, is evident to the longtime band mates.
"William is a very rare breed," Rougeux says. "He is an exceptional musician, but not a cock about it. Every band should have a guy like that."
Together, Surgeons in Heat incorporate a variety of sounds that range from garage rock distortion to pop falsettos into their music. They cite The Rolling Stones, Graham Parker, The Replacements, Spoon and Elvis Costello as influences.
"To me, it sounds like we're trying to write songs that were mainstream 40 years ago," Mayer says.
Beyond a shared musical vision for Surgeons in Heat, the band's members share a collective mentality in terms of the importance of promotion, playing out and constantly moving.
"It's very important," Mayer says. "The types of things bands can do now independently are amazing. The main goal we have right now is to develop our band and just have fun with it and experiment."
They currently play almost a show a week in Milwaukee, and have also played a number of shows in Madison and in the Fox Valley (where Rougeux still resides). Members feel the relentless grassroots approach is an important factor both in improving musically and gaining exposure.
"I think we all agree that if [you] play out a lot you can get fans, more press, and you learn what works live," Schultz says. "There's a lot of bands that don't play out a lot to not overdo it, but those things are essential in getting somewhere and they're only obtained by playing live."
Apart from the stage, their music has also been featured on the radio station WMSE and the music blog Muzzle of Bees. And it's difficult to go out in Bay View or on Milwaukee's East Side without seeing a Surgeons in Heat flier.
Thus far, the band is starting 2010 off the way it left 2009in motion. They recently played a string of shows, including two last week where they shared the stage with Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü. Saturday, they'll play alongside Blueheels and Tim Schweiger and The Middlemen at Mad Planet.
One of Milwaukee's newest and hardest-working acts has no plans of slowing, either. Mayer says the band hopes to play 75 shows this year. The focus is obvious, but the aim isn't as apparent. There's no mention of record labels or big breaks, but, instead, playing more shows and the chance to write and record more music to play to new faces in new places.
"It is cool to show every side of your band and just keep doing stuff regardless of how it currently sounds," Rougeux says. "Shows, recordings ... It's just a better mentality than a band that sits on a bunch of material polishing it until they have a product that they somehow believe defines their band."
High Noon Saloon
701A. E. Washington Ave.
Madison, WI 53703
|Minimum Age: 18|
|Kid Friendly: No|
|Dog Friendly: No|
|Wheelchair Accessible: No|