A few of our favorite Milwaukee Music Premieres from 2023
We love Milwaukee artists. They’re on our airwaves, across our social-media accounts and all over this website. We interview them, celebrate their big moments, and follow all the ups and downs of being a local musician. Among all those efforts, our dedication shines brightest via our Milwaukee Music Premiere.
Every Thursday, we give artists connected to our city an opportunity to share a slice of their talent with the world for the very first time. It’s an all-out effort that includes playing their song on 88Nine four times during the day and sharing the story behind it here on the site. That happened 40 times in 2023. As a result, it’s a challenge to put together a year-end list like this without a few qualifications.
First of all, this is not comprehensive. We have a whole section of the website you can visit if you want to dig all the way into every single track we put in the spotlight.
Secondly, do not think of this as a “best of” situation (yes, I know what the URL says … SEO is a cruel mistress). I tackle most of the digital packages for the premieres, so what you see and hear below are the ones that immediately leapt to mind when reflecting on the last 12 months.
So, to all the artists who premiered with us in 2023, thank you. We don’t take lightly the trust you place in us or the platform we share with you. And we can’t wait to make more of these moments in 2024.
A relatively recent addition to the city’s music scene, Mahal’s bona fides are beyond approach. While her roots are in the Chicago area, seven years in Nashville sharpened her abilities and resulted in the potent talent you can hear on “Winter” — a pointedly reflective piece of music from her new EP, Solstice.
When I first played Diet Lite’s single “Debora,” all I heard was a volume-cranker. A decibel-doubler. A “colleague forced to wave their arms frantically to get your attention because your earbuds are in and well past the recommended level” type of song. Is it the bouncy alt-country-ish guitar? The joyful organ courtesy of Sleepy Gaucho’s Andy Goitia? The arrhythmic vocal pattern that would set Shakespeare’s teeth on edge? Yes to all three.
MKE x NYC artist Abby Jeanne stepped back into the limelight earlier this year, signing to and sharing a pair of singles via Eraserhood Sound, an imprint of beloved soulful sounds label Colemine Records. “Know Better” pulls from the same foundational well as the first single she released back in December, “That’s Where We Are,” giving Jeanne’s powerful vocals freedom to do their thing. Which is everything.
The song is little more than Alec Grefe’s doubled vocals and solid acoustic-guitar work, with a string section introduced so delicately that you might miss it on first listen. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. The track is perfectly polished for the sound Grefe is going for (shades of Sufjan Stevens/Phoebe Bridgers) and the melancholy, “growing old sucks” subject matter.
This track starts a little dark and chaotic but resolves nicely at around the 15-second mark to settle into a groove that will automatically roll down your car windows so you don’t have to (a nice feature in July, not so much in December). What is not groovy, however, is the tale Emrich weaves with help from L.A. dream-pop singer KEANA. Together, they do the “he said, she said” thing about a summer relationship that’s going so great that it’s … not?
There’s an unhurriedness to this song we premiered back in January, both musically and lyrically, and bassist Drue deVente’s voice only reinforces the feeling. It’s a notable contrast from the band’s previous single, “MB (as in Modern Baseball),” which had a sharper edge and more energetic feel. “So Long” is a softer touch. As the band put it in their notes about the song, “the music washes over the listener with subtle drifts and changes each step of the way.”
You’re weird, and that’s OK. Everyone is. That includes Brett Newski, now releasing music under the name NEWSKI with Steve "Mr. Bicep" Vorass on drums and Sean "Tubs" Anderson on four-string (nicknames provided by the artist). Buit don’t let the all-caps moniker throw you; Newski’s vocals on “Freak Flag Fly” are warm and flowing, making it feel like all is right with the world — even if that world is slowly suffocating you.
Hit that play button, and you’ll get immediate Tame Impala-ish vibes from the distorted keys warbling over a thumpy bass and crispy snare line. Anthony Duetsch takes it from there with a vocal delivery that’s gentle without disappearing, direct without being insistent. It’s a good match for lyrics that, as he puts it, “are certainly informed by my propensity for Buddhist thought.”
This song’s strong-yet-gentle message (an anthem for “those who refuse to settle and are committed to chasing their dreams,” Van Great says) is bolstered by on-point percussion and grooves, piano and the swingin’ strings and beautiful voices of Chauntee and Monique Ross of SistaStrings. “Star Track” comes off as the ultimate collaboration between the two artists — the emotive beauty of SistaStrings meets the positive and authoritative artistry of Van Great.
This strummy affair punctuated by Miles Patzer’s drawl has an underlying feeling that it wants to break free of its restraints but can’t quite find an opening — until the final 45 seconds. At that point, frustration and desperation boil over as Patzer lets loose a guttural shout that’s as cathartic for the listener as it seems to be for the singer. It’s an emotionally melodic journey.
My best attempt to relay what you’re in for with this song would involve crossing over My Chemical Romance with Johnny Cash. The galloping beat at the song’s outset conjures thoughts of “Ring of Fire,” although lyrically the Man in Black’s talk of going “down, down, down” was metaphorical. Given what the Rat Bath gang are up to in “Cold Steel …” a fiery place might just be their final destination.