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Milk Music - Cruise Your Illusion

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Artist: Milk Music

Album: Cruise Your Illusion

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Apr. 17, 2013

Nostalgia is an easy sell, but it can also be a pandering waste of time when not done well. When tapped with the seeming effortlessness, honesty, and sense of perspective that Milk Music has employed over the course of two albums, it can also be a thing of beauty and genuine emotion. On the band’s 2011 EP, Beyond Living -- a release that garnered Milk Music a remarkable amount of hype in the underground -- bands such as Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, and other Azerrad-approved heavyweights are proudly displayed as influences. Yet, while the layer-cake thick slabs of guitar sludge, whaling/warbled vocals, buzzing bass, and alternately impassioned and laconic vibes were certainly codified during the Clinton era, Milk Music’s sound still amazed as both vital and contemporary.

That vitality continues on Cruise Your Illusion, and so does -- as the groaner of an album title indicates -- the starry-eyed backward glance to a newly romanticized bygone era. One of the more curious elements of the Olympia, Washington-based combo’s take on the indie-grunge halcyon days is the way that band avoids lingering. The appreciation is present, but there are no embarrassing attempts at detailed recreation. We’re not talking about a virtual tribute act suffering from a dearth of ideas. Instead, songs such as “Cruising with God” and “New Lease on Love” take a smash-and-grab approach to borrowing and are finished before one has too much time ponder the fine line between inspiration and imitation. Milk Music’s sound is far too intense to be mere mimicry, but there’s an elliptical element to these songs, too. Listeners are left with shards, scraps, and fleeting wisps of riffs and melodies they swear they can remember oh so well but can’t quite pin down. When singer Alex Coxen (whose vocals remind one of a younger more piss-and-vinegary J Mascis) belts out, “Don’t fuck with me man / I’m illegal free,” a relatively generic but potent rallying cry becomes the tagline to a forgotten movie of the mind. You remember that one? Yeah, that was a good one.

What’s perhaps most likable about these guys, though, is that they’re not oblivious to the fact that they’re, to a certain degree, standing on the shoulders of giants. That they gob self-deprecating spitballs at themselves makes it all the more charming. One of the album’s more memorable lines comes during “I’ve Got a Wild Feeling,” when Coxen laments that, “For once I thought the hook was mine / But I couldn’t even hit a fucking note.” Originality is a frustrating and beguiling concept for a band, but Milk Music seem (thankfully) content to not ponder the notion for too long. The slacker phenomenon, as much a marketing ploy as it may have been, was useful when it came to not taking anything too seriously, and even at their most ponderous -- the album closing “Final Scene,” for example -- the band lightens things up with some strategically placed “sha-la-la-las.”

The album’s latter half is in general a bit more expansive than the first and breaks into a different bag of tricks, indulging some Allmans-esque slide, a unmistakable motorik beat, and even some cosmic country noodling. It shows that as much as Milk Music evokes a very specific sound from a very specific era, they aren’t tied to it. Of course, classic rock, krautrock, Gram Parsons, Neil Young and the like are to a certain extent the very artists that coxed the late-’80s punk underground to come kicking and screaming out of the hardcore corner. If you want to make good, solid, loud rock music in the new millennium, this is your blue print. Know your influences and know your influences’ influences and the circle will remain unbroken.

By Nate Knaebel

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