There’s always excitement when a local band you grew up loving starts to pick up steam on the national level. Sat. Nite Duets has been Milwaukee’s best kept secret since 2009. Their albums Summer of Punishment and Electric Manland were adored by the indie rock scene in the city. However, it was perplexing why they were never able to break out of the black hole that is Milwaukee. This year they were finally given a larger platform. Father/Daughter Records, home to larger acts like PWR BTTM and Diet Cig, scooped the band up and released their album Air Guitar Sept. 16.
Made up by members Andrew Jambura, Ben Gucciardi, Stephen Strupp, Joe Guszkowski, Chris Frahm and Jon Anderson, Sat. Nite Duets are known for their catchy indie rock songs. They may be inspired by bands such as Guided By Voices or Pavement, but a large helping of eccentricity gives them a distinguishing image from the million other acts in the nebulous genre. They all share songwriting and vocal duties, which gives each song a distinct personality. While seemingly ragtag at first, they’ve been able to craft a cohesive sound for themselves. With their newest release, Air Guitar, they do not sway significantly away from their tried-and-true formula.
“Attached to the Lamp” starts off the album in raucous style, a rip-roaring song about cutting through the dullness and dreariness of life through rock music. The lyrics are far more mature and introspective than the group’s previous output, which often did delve deeper into existentialist themes, but often had a gloss coat of humor or quirkiness. Here, they are a little more forward and leave some of the goofiness aside.
However, there’s still plenty of goof to go around. “St. Yuppie” showcases Gucciardi’s songwriting prowess. It’s arguably the album’s strongest with lyrics about a saint protecting the most downtrodden of society, the young professionals. Another standout, “TAFKA Salieri,” is a beautiful track about the 18th century composer Salieri and how, even though he tried to work hard, his music was overshadowed by natural talent.
“Annie’s X” follows and is the weakest track on the album. It’s an off-kilter song that seems to parody big stadium songs but overindulges with an overwrought vocal performance and way too much reverb. The point of the track seems to be about parodying that indulgence, but that doesn’t change the fact that song is the most skippable on the album.
There are various other points in Air Guitar where production decisions mar otherwise well-written songs. “Manny D,” for example, could have gone without double tracking on the vocals. And every song could have gone with less vocal reverb, which sometimes becomes distracting and takes away from the music.
That said, the vast majority of the songs on the album are brilliant and worth listening to. “Andi Action Redemption Song” is a wonderful closer to the album. It carries an epic weight to it, kind of conjuring comparisons to Television’s Marquee Moon but with a little bit more spectacle to it. The lyrics also deserve praise. The lines “Tell me what it means /To be a bleach-blonde brunette post-punk beauty queen /And I’ll tell you how it feels /To get your heart cut in two parts by three-inch heels” display a brilliant, more modern twist to the old heartbreak cliché.
And that’s what I suppose is so great about Sat. Nite Duets. They take concepts from rock music that have been done over and over, but do it in such a distinctive and clever manner that it’s all so unique and fresh. They have found a space for themselves in such a crowded and unoriginal genre. Whether anyone will turn around and hear them remains to be seen, but they certainly are making a strong case for recognition with Air Guitar.