Our top 10 Milwaukee albums of 2018

Our top 10 Milwaukee albums of 2018

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Our top 10 Milwaukee albums of 2018

10. Amanda Huff – “Hemiptera”

The diversity of sounds on this album is outstanding. Amanda Huff took home three Radio Milwaukee Music Awards this year and she deserved each one for best album, artwork and music video. Her creativity is unmatched in her genre.

9. Ceiling Spirits – “Ceiling Spirits”

We’re not sure this was in many people’s rotation this year (mostly because it came out a month ago), but the instrumental electronic post-rock project from guitarist Mario Quadracci deserves the recognition. The recording of Ceiling Spirits’s self­-titled debut LP spanned two years and three countries, included production by Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave) and finished with mastering at Abbey Road Studios in early 2018. It’s vast, stunning and worth many more plays into 2019 if you missed it in 2018.

8. Genesis Renji – “S.I.N.S: Stories I Never Shared”

Genesis Renji is one of the most prolific rappers in Milwaukee. From intimacy to heartbreak, “S.I.N.S” is full of beautiful storytelling and beautiful sounds to match, thanks in part to the many featured artists from the House of Renji collective.

7. Versio Curs – “How Are You”

Versio Curs made its debut early on in the year with this full length album and it’s stuck with us for the rest of 2018. It’s mature indie rock is catchy, poetic and very memorable.

6. Greatest Lakes – “Divisions”

We love everything about Greatest Lakes. The band has really arrived with this album. It’s the kind of music that makes you think and the kind of album you can listen to again and again and realize something new each time.

5. Dead Horses – “My Mother the Moon”

This is a beautiful album about hardship that just gives us hope—something that we all needed this year. Thanks Dead Horses.

4. Lex Allen – “Table 7: Sinners & Saints”

Lex Allen had one hell of a successful year. This album shows his incredible ability to do it all. There are songs about joy, pain, triumph and turning up.

3. Lorde Fredd33 – “NORF: The Legend of Hotboy Ronald”

norf lorde fredd33

NORF” is an album that unravels new mysteries and perspectives every time you listen to it. It is layered and versatile with profound commentary.

2. Paper Holland – “Galápagos”

The richness and skillfulness of “Galápagos” makes this one of our top albums. With elegant arrangements and memorable hooks, Paper Holland have gotten its pop sensibility down to a science this year.

1. Field Report – “Summertime Songs”

Field Report

This probably comes as no surprise. We’ve talked a lot about Field Report in 2018. “Summertime Songs” shows the band becoming the master of its domain. The magic of Christopher Porterfield is in his vivid writing and his voice, both packed full of feeling. Here, he is both at his most polished and his most raw, making for a perfect record.

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The Milwaukee concerts we can’t wait to see this winter

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Concerts coming to Milwaukee this winter

Beirut tour 2019

Beirut, Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone

Jason Mraz

December 7 at the Riverside Theater

Jason Mraz’s music has matured a lot since “I’m Yours.” Last year’s album “Know.” was some pretty inspiring folk-pop. Listening to his songwriting live would be even better. Plus, we hear Jason Mraz’s on stage commentary is pretty funny.

Bob Seger

January 24 at the Fiserv Forum

This Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer hasn’t been in Milwaukee since 2006. And he’ll probably never be here again—this is part of his final tour.

Elton John

February 19 at the Fiserv Forum

This winter is probably your last chance to see another living legend in Milwaukee—Elton John. This date is part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Only a few “platinum tickets” remain through Ticketmaster, though you might be able to snag resale tickets on sites like StubHubSeatGeek and Vivid Seats.


February 21 at the Pabst Theater

It’s also a pretty big deal that Beirut is coming to town. Zach Condon is a much younger artist, but his bittersweet vocals combined with his Eastern European-inspired instrumentals are a visceral experience. His new album “Gallipoli” is a cathartic mix of all the old and new records and it should make for a cinematic experience at the Pabst.

Milwaukee local picks to see this winter

Field Report – Home for the Holidays

December 14 at the Pabst Theater

Field Report is back in Milwaukee for a holiday show that will feel like home. The band members have put together an intimate concert where they’ll each be bringing their close, personal and musically talented friends on stage to perform select Christmas songs that are near and dear to them. And of course, you can expect Field Report to play songs from the new album.

The Gufs

December 29 and 30 at the Pabst Theater

The Gufs are getting the whole band back together for the first time since 2012 for a special 30 year reunion show. The first show on December 29 sold out so quickly that the Pabst added a second.

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

December 29 at the Miller Caves and January 31 at the Pabst Theater

Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s favorite progressive bluegrass band, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is doing a super intimate show in the Miller Caves on December 29. Tickets are scarce since it’s such a small and literally underground venue, but it is such a cool concept. If you can’t manage to get into that show, the band is also returning to the Pabst Theater for another New Year’s Eve show this year.

Milwaukee Record’s Local Coverage show

January 18, 2018 at Turner Hall Ballroom

Milwaukee Record is continuing its annual tradition of bringing Milwaukee artists together to do covers of each other’s songs. It’s gonna be fun. From Direct Hit! adapting the music of Nickel&Rose, Paper Holland re-imagining Immortal Girlfriend, and Amanda Huff covering LUXI shortly after LUXI gives an electronic re-dressing to the ska stylings of Something To Do, Local Coverage is an incomparable event for a great cause. All proceeds will be donated to Milwaukee Women’s Center.

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These local artists are making major moves outside of Milwaukee right now

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Grace Weber

grace weber capitol records

On Monday, Grace Weber finally made the public announcement that she signed with Capitol Records. Though she’s based in Brooklyn now, her roots in Milwaukee remain strong. She grew up here, got her start here and she still returns frequently and runs the Grace Weber Music Lab, a music industry education program for local youth.

She’s been getting increasing national attention after she worked with Chance the Rapper on “Coloring Book” and won a Grammy for her work on “All We Got.” Now she works closely with Nate Fox, Nico Segal (aka Donnie Trumpet) and Peter Cottontale of the Social Experiment, who also worked on producing “Coloring Book.”

Since then, she’s been making a bigger and bigger name for herself as a solo artist. She’s been releasing singles, working on a new album and touring. She even earned a spot on this past summer’s Lollapalooza lineup.

Now that she’s signed to Capitol Records and has a record on the way, you can expect to hear a lot more about her soon—not just in Milwaukee.

Monica Martin

You probably remember Monica Martin’s name and voice as the frontwoman from PHOX. And while we expected PHOX to be the one to rise to fame before the band broke up, Monica Martin still has a chance.

The artist from Baraboo, WI moved to Los Angeles and has since been signed to Republic Records, joining a long list of superstar labelmates like Ariana Grande, Drake, Lorde and more. It’s a really big deal.

In October she released her first solo single “Cruel,” produced by Eg White, who has worked with Adele, Florence & The Machine and Sam Smith.

Monica will also have a full album out in 2019.


The Milwaukee sister duo, Gabby and Vic Banuelos, who make up REYNA just won a national competition from Aloft Hotels called Project: Aloft Star. This could set them up for a lot of success in the near future.

Out of over 2,000 entries to the battle-of-the-bands-type concert contest, the two won. This gets them the chance to record a single at Capitol Studios and for Universal Music Group to distribute the song. And, they received some serious hotel points, equalling about 50 to 60 nights, which will come in handy for touring.

REYNA just released a single with Nylon and has an EP coming out by the end of this year. It’s part one of a two-part REYNA EP. We can’t wait to hear a full body of work from these two and for the Capitol Records single.

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Five things we’re thankful for in Milwaukee music this year

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5. Indie promoters

cactus clubPhoto by Kelly Bolter

Specifically, we want to give a shout out to Kelsey Kaufmann of the artist-run Cactus Club. She’s done really impressive work this year, not only in expanding the programming of Cactus Club, but in working with artists and getting them booked at a variety of other venues. She’s also been starting some important conversations about our music scene, like in her great op-ed about the need for more all-ages venues in the city.

For that reason, we also want to shout out WebsterX, Janice Vogt and all the people working on opening The New State, a new venue and music community space for artists of all ages.

4. Breaking and Entering

Allen Halas at Breaking and Entering has a passion that always comes through in whatever he’s sharing about Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene—and he shares a lot. Breaking and Entering is on top of everything.

3. The Fiserv Forum

We’ve seen several shows at the Forum at this point and every one has blown us away. The sound, the sight lines, the production…did we mention the sound? It’s all so impressive. We’re thankful that Milwaukee has this new state-of-the-art space where the concerts and booking are only going to get better from here.

2. Just great music coverage

We want to shout out the Milwaukee Record and the Shepherd Express in particular for their music coverage this year. Writing goes a long way in elevating the artists of our music scene. Evan at the Shepherd is so thorough with his features and hip-hop roundups. And there has been so much creativity at the Record with their series like the Milwaukee music rewinds and Pubic Domain, where they ask artists to reinterpret music in the public domain to name a few.

1. Milwaukee musicians

The artists, of course, are always our number one. It’s around the time of year where we’re trying to pick our top albums of 2018 and this is the toughest choice we’ve ever had. That’s not a bad problem to have though. There has been so much creative innovation and collaboration this year. We’re hearing music in 2018 that has never been possible before in Milwaukee because of more access to equipment, technology and education and because of more crossovers, collabs and a more inspirational and ambitious music scene. Milwaukee’s artists have really stepped it up this year, which continues to make us excited for what’s next and keeps us jamming to what’s current.

Thank you to everyone who makes Milwaukee’s music scene what it is and happy Thanksgiving!

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(Re)Introducing Milwaukee’s Backline artists

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Reintroducing Milwaukee’s Backline artists

backline artists

Abby JeanneLex AllenCrystal Knives (Spencer Mutsch) and ZED KENZO (Zechariah Ruffin) have just finished going through the first Backline program.

They all got something different from the program and they’ll each be revealing their progress and what the future holds them at the Backline Showcase happening Friday, November 16.

Piet also talked to each of them about their experiences in a recent article in the Journal Sentinel. They all had different needs and used the grant differently. Zed Kenzo got access to more professional production equipment and producer mentors, Lex Allen got to record at his dream studio in London, Abby Jeanne got to make lots of industry connections and create promotional material for her upcoming album and Crystal Knives took the opportunity to go out to L.A. and record with a Grammy award-winning cellist.

Piet also talked to the Program Director, Mag (Enrique Rodriguez) who was already talking about how he plans to improve the program for the next cohort because the next round of applications are almost open.

Together, they all learned a lot that will launch each of them into the next level in their career—and help the future Backline artists to do the same. Each of them are sticking around to pass everything they learned onto the Milwaukee music community as a whole.

We’re excited about what this means for our scene. Read Piet’s whole article and/or attend the Backline Showcase on Friday to get the whole story straight from the artists to see what we’re taking about.

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The new Summerfest amphitheater revamping and its potential impact on Milwaukee

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New American Family Insurance Amphitheater

new summerfest american family insurance amphitheater coming 2020

Summerfest’s new American Family Insurance Amphitheater will be partly ready in 2019. But mostly, it’ll be done in 2020. Here’s the breakdown.

Unless you’re on the Summerfest bill, you might not notice many differences at the amphitheater this summer. Phase one will give the backstage area a comfortable number of practical updates—14 dressing rooms and 7 loading docks. This year, the amphitheater will also be raising the roof—literally, by about 30 feet. Summerfest has gotten turned down for bookings many times in the past because the production team couldn’t work with the current (really) low roof.

While these changes may not seem like they will affect concertgoers, they might notice the changes if it results in some bigger headliners.

Phase two is the one for the people. It will be done in 2020. This is where you’ll see all the fancy renderings come to life. It’ll bring more viewing decks and food vendors where you can still see the stage, additional electronic screens, more lakefront views and increased accessibility, though the seating capacity will roughly stay at 23,000.

It might not seem like the current amphitheater is that old—and it isn’t. It opened in 1987. But the concert and festival market has changed a lot in that short time. With the opening of the Fiserv Forum and other modern venues nationwide, it’s only getting more competitive. Summerfest officials have told Piet that if they don’t do it now, they will fall behind.

Our entertainment opportunities are certainly growing, but so is Milwaukee. We’re in a moment of huge downtown development right now, so we think that the city might be able to cast a wider shadow over the marketplace than we ever have before at the same time.

Plus, the American Family Insurance Amphitheater was doing pretty well as it was. And Summerfest is a huge draw already. So, when you combine that history with the freshness of this new venue, we think the future is looking strong.

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Saying so long to Soul Low and its uniquely Milwaukee indie-rock sound

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So long Soul Low

In a September Facebook post, Soul Low announced that it is moving on. Most of the band’s members have already geographically moved on to Brooklyn and Minneapolis, so a break up was inevitable.

The music that the band leaves behind was iconic to Milwaukee. With its cheeky realism, upbeat cynicism and Midwestern lovability, this band could have only come out of this city.

The guys have been on world tours and they kept getting better and better. We definitely were hoping for many more years of music from Soul Low. But they are ending on a very high note. From “UNEASY” to “Nosebleeds” and “Cheer Up,” the band is still leaving us with quite the discography.

Now, they’re leaving us with one more parting gift. On November 1-3, the group will be doing a four-show, three-city RIP Soul Low tour. Here are the shows:

Thursday, November 1 in Minneapolis at Kitty Cat Klub with Straya

Friday, November 2 in Stevens Point at PABS Point Area Bicycle Service with Bag Dad and Vanity Plates

Saturday, November 3 in Milwaukee at the Cactus Club for two shows:
The early show is all ages with Whips and Amanda Huff
The late show is 21+ with Sundial Mottos and Taj Raiden

Upcoming holiday shows in Milwaukee

It’s the day after Halloween, so naturally it’s time to start talking about the holidays, right? Well, it might be too soon to start listening to Christmas music, but it’s never too early to start shopping for holiday shows which sell out quickly.

Here are some concerts coming to Milwaukee this season to get into the holiday spirit or to give as a gift.

JD McPherson

Wednesday, November 28 at 8 p.m. at the Turner Hall Ballroom

John Legend

Wednesday, December 12 at the Riverside Theater

Melissa Etheridge

Tuesday, December 11 and Wednesday, December 12 at 8 p.m. at the Northern Lights Theater

Trans Siberian Orchestra

Fiserv Forum

Mannheim Steamroller

Sunday, December 2 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Riverside Theater

Brian Setzer Orchestra

Saturday, November 17 at 8 p.m. at the Riverside Theater

Colors of Christmas

Monday, December 3 at 8 p.m. at the Northern Lights Theater

Phil Vassar

Wednesday, December 5 and Thursday, December 6 at 8 p.m. at the Northern Lights Theater

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Could Milwaukee become the EDM concert hub of the Midwest?

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EDM concerts in Milwaukee are getting bigger

edm concert milwaukee

Bassnectar at Freaky Deaky 2017 in the Wisconsin Center

By bigger, we mean 10,000 people at a time bigger. That’s how many people the Wisconsin Center can hold for a concert and they’re starting to host a lot more of them, specifically for the EDM crowd.

Last year, the Freaky Deaky festival made its debut at the Wisconsin Center on Halloween weekend with big headlining acts like Bassnectar and Griz. This year, the Wisconsin Center is seeing an even bigger lineup.

The Jawbreaker Festival at the Wisconsin Center October 27-28 is stacked. Zedd, ODESZA, RL Grime, Griz and Louis the Child are just some of the top names performing, plus they’ll be alongside local acts like Plaid Hawaii, Moses, Crystal Knives and more.

Jawbreaker hasn’t replaced Freaky Deaky entirely though. Freaky Deaky is still happening, but it’s at The Rave this year, which is a perfect haunted Halloween setting. On October 28, Boombox Cartel, Gammer, Kompany and ELEVATD will all take the stage.

But we’re not just talking about Halloween weekend. These venues are also hosting two big EDM bashes on New Year’s Eve.

Stellar Spark is back at The Rave for its 16th year with its signature dance party featuring Dada Life as this year’s headliner.

And new this New Year’s is Radiance NYE Festival at the Wisconsin Center. The lineup includes an impressive duo—Excision and Zeds Dead—at the top of the list.

At first glance, this might look like a competition. To some degree it is—we have two venues in the same town trying to sell tickets for the same genre of music on the same night. But to some degree it isn’t. With the massive number of EDM fans, all looking for different experiences, we think it could work. The festivals at the Wisconsin Center without question have the bigger names, but they also have the bigger venue. We think there are plenty of fans who might choose to head to The Rave for these solid fests with niche bookings and a more intimate experience.

With these two venues both getting into the EDM concert market, they have the potential to draw a combined 15,000 people to Milwaukee on one night where they both have shows. Depending on the success of these upcoming festivals, Milwaukee could soon become a massive hub for EDM in the Midwest.

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The music lover’s guide to the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival

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“Stop Making Sense”

If you don’t know the drill by this point: Jonathan Demme’s concert film (generally regarded as the best in cinema history) covering Talking Heads at the height of their performative powers is a Milwaukee Film Festival tradition—a raucous party whose energy spills from the screen into the aisles, inevitably becoming a massive annual dance party. If you have yet to treat yourself to this joyous experience, this must be the place…where you immediately go pick up your tickets.

See it at the Oriental Theatre on Saturday, October 27 at 9 p.m.

The Milwaukee Music Video Show

Amanda Huff “Gravetalking”

Celebrate a year of Milwaukee music and film with this annual showcase of music videos made by local filmmakers and musicians. The program runs the gamut of musical genres while showcasing the exquisite diversity allowed for by the music video format, a series of short, sonic bursts of creative excitement. See artists like Amanda Huff, Bruise Violet, Calliope, Platinum Boys, Willy Porter and many more on the big screen. See the full list of music videos here.

See it at the Oriental Theatre on Tuesday, October 30 at 9:30 p.m.

The Black Lens series

“Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me”

The Black Lens program has a great offering of films about music this year spanning the genres of jazz, soul and hip-hop. Check out “Mr. SOUL!,” “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “Word is Bond” and an event called BARS: A Hip-Hop Conversation.

Mr. SOUL!” is about Ellis Haizlip and his show “SOUL!,” the remarkable public television variety show that celebrated all things Black culture and had a dazzling array of A-list guests (James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few). Follow this groundbreaking phenomenon from conception to its final episode in this stirring reminder of the power of representation in media. See showtimes here.

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” explores the career and art of this larger-than-life performer who found himself bracketed by the bigotry of White America and the scrutiny of civil rights-era Black America. See showtimes here.

Word is Bond” is a dynamic exploration of the poetics of hip-hop featuring dynamic archival footage and a constellation of rap luminaries like Rakim, Nas, J. Cole and Anderson.Paak. See showtimes here.

BARS: A Hip-Hop Conversation will have an intergenerational panel of hip-hop aficionados to talk about the craft of lyricism and how it impacts hip-hop culture and broader society. Join in the discussion for free at the Back Room @ Colectivo on Tuesday, October 23 at 8 p.m.

Sound Vision program

“Bad Reputation”

Each film in the Sound Vision program is about music. You can explore all the films in the series here, but these are the ones we’re most excited about.

16 Bars” follows Milwaukee native Todd “Speech” Thomas, a member of the iconic hip-hop group Arrested Development, as he spends 10 days working as part of a unique rehabilitation program in Richmond, VA, working to allow prisoners to write and record their own songs. See showtimes here. And don’t miss the

Bad Reputation” is about Joan Jett—enough said. See showtimes here.

Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits” is about the contemporaries of both The Clash and The Sex Pistols, the groundbreaking all-girl punk outfit The Slits, who brought a much-needed feminist slant to the hardcore music scene, pioneering the musical movement that came to be known as Punky Reggae and inspiring the countless musicians that followed in their footsteps. See showtimes here.

Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.” charts M.I.A.’s meteoric rise from a Sri Lankan immigrant teenager in London to global superstardom and the increased scrutiny and pressure that has come with it. See showtimes here.

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A discussion about reunion tours, hologram concerts and nostalgia

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Will holograms and reunion tours hold up?

roy orbiston hologram concert

Photo by BASE Holograms

With Roy Orbiston’s high tech ghost doing the country’s first hologram tour and Amy Whinehouse set to do the second, it’s safe to say hologram concerts are likely going to be a thing now.

Meanwhile, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles are still touring live and in-the-flesh even though only some of the original members remain in each. While all these concerts will still include all the songs we love performed by talented, even if non-original musicians, is it still the same?

There’s pretty much no argument there. Of course nothing will be the same as seeing an artist or band in their prime. But after breakups, firings, band member changes and multiple “farewell” tours, are these concerts still worth it? For now, it seems like the nostalgia factor is enough to sell tickets, but we’re wondering how long that will last.

For example, seeing Earth, Wind & Fire in Milwaukee back in the spring was cool. But I couldn’t help but feel like the performance was missing something. Obviously the band was literally missing the late Maurice White, the band’s founder. And though there were still two original members of the band sharing the stage with many other talented musicians, I still couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

With new technology and a generation of ticketbuyers who crave nostalgia, maybe all good things don’t have to come to an end anymore. But should they? Maybe, maybe not.

It just makes us wonder how long these trends can last. Until then, we’re excited to give some of these concerts a chance.

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