Milk Music: road trips and all that is good about indie
Anybody with even a remote interest in the history of American music would do well to check out Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991.” It is a loving paean to a few of the most important bands on the American scene—bands like Minor Threat, Minutemen, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr—who could be said to constitute the pantheon of amerindie.
That was part of the novelty of this scene; it was continental, and no one band strove to define it. They very well couldn’t. The hardcore blitz of Black Flag, the phosphorescent fury of Hüsker Dü, the drunken clamor of The Replacements, the sun-dried strangeness of The Butthole Surfers; amerindie wasn’t made for the harmony of genre, it was noise proliferate. Nobody sounded exactly alike. And it was that diversity that solidified its importance to the music that came afterward.
I said these bands constitute a sort of pantheon, and that’s very true, but you wouldn’t find said pantheon anywhere in the United States Rather, it’s a pantheon of sound, a motley of platonic forms that shine behind the music.
So where does Milk Music come in? For one, they exemplify a lot of what I love about that ‘80s music Azerrad writes about: the love of electric guitars and all the wonderful noises you can wring out of them, the vocals that don’t go for perfection but personality and the sometimes offhand intensity or interest.
Of course, the accusation may be raised groups like Milk Music are guilty of retreading the tracks amerindie laid before them—piggybacking off their aural fathers—or grandfathers, at this point—and doing nothing to further the music meaningfully.
Cruise Your Illusion doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of ye olde amerindie. What it sounds like is the type of good album that comes very easy to bands that like loud guitars and don’t care how on- or off-pitch their vocals are.
All in all, it reminds me of The Meat Puppets. Almost like the bridge between Meat Puppets II’s countrified hardcore howl and Up On The Sun’s sleepy jangle. But whereas MP sounded like punks by way of peyote—they were from Arizona, after all—Milk Music, who hails from Olympia, Wash., sounds like punk that has had a few years of mountains and evergreens to calm its frenetic tendencies. Nonetheless, on Cruise Your Illusion, Milk Music still has some bite. And some wanderlust. Each of these songs sound like they’re going places.
The first song, “Caged Dogs Run Wild,” sets the scene: fuzzy guitar licks unfolding like clouds of dust, the drums plod a beat, one guitar starts a languorous, simple solo and plays it out to its feedback-drenched conclusion. And then the riffage starts.
The album never picks up much beyond a motivated chug. There’s no sudden speed-freak moment or break-neck breakdown. Vocalist Alex Coxen, matches the music with a moderation that never wavers throughout. “I just woke up from a nap what’s up you guys,” comes through with Mascis’s peeling whine and Paul Westerberg’s impassioned and yet slackening yelp.
That restraint may benefit Cruise Your Illusion as a whole. I have always figured‘80s amerindie as the perfect soundtrack for a road trip, and Milk Music lives up to this epitome. You may think of road trips as being the time to open the windows and blare the loudest, fastest song you know and just roar down the highway in due Kerouacian haste. There’s call for that, yes.
But there’s also call for the music you can play scaling Big Sky country, or assuaging the void that is North Dakota. The music that burns steady for when you’re driving all day, or even all night. Cruise Your Illusion, I think, fits that ideal perfectly. And it lives up to its inevitable predecessors as well.
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