Delivering the Goods!
by: Ryan Waldis Follow Ryan on Twitter by clicking here
I’m of the mindset that there aren’t many better feelings than the one you get when you discover an indie band with a relatively small following that produces music which absolutely slaps (I think that’s the adjective the kids are using these days).
It’s an even better feeling when you realize that the band is right in your own backyard. Milkmen just dropped a remastered and re-mixed version of their self-titled, debut album (which was originally released on Christmas Day three years ago), and fans of the indie rock scene should be flocking to it as soon as possible.
Ben Thieberger (guitar/vocals), Brian Hughes (bass/vocals) and Anthony D’Arcangelo (drums) combine to form the three-piece group known as Milkmen. The band is based out of New Brunswick, NJ and was founded in 2014 while the three members were students at Rutgers. It’s fair to say that New Jersey is a hotbed for indie bands especially when it comes to the rock, pop/punk and alternative genres, and Milkmen seamlessly fit right in when they began touring soon after forming.
They fall into what they refer to as the milkpunk genre, which is “a creamy mix of whatever genre they feel like drawing from, blended into a rich, harmony-laden, groove-changin’, booty-shakin’ amalgam.”
They recently finished up their 2018 Summer Tour, which saw them hit Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia and 11 other cities over the course of a few weeks.
Milkmen’s latest re-release of their self-titled album came via our friends at Know Hope Records, an independent label based out of Philadelphia that also features Post Season, Sleepy Limbs and Promise of Redemption among others. The deal also included a brand new Milkmen album that is set for an early 2019 drop. Some might wonder why an indie band would opt to re-release their debut album as opposed to putting out fresh material, but according to the group they listened to that release a lot and began to start nitpicking aspects of it. Per Milkmen, “When Know Hope approached us with the chance to put it out on wax, Kory [Gable, who produced the initial album], offered to remix it, Jon Smith offered to remaster it, and we had our chance to tighten up the screws.”
I was obviously expecting the album from three years ago and the latest re-release to sound different, but I wanted to go back and listen to Milkmen’s initial effort to see how much improvement was made. The 2015 edition sounds as you’d expect a band’s debut album to—the potential was clearly there but some of the vocals weren’t as pronounced, the melodies were a tad flat in some places and the tracks overall sounded more like a deep-cut off a major band’s album. It still would have received the We Pod Stamp of Recommendation™ simply due to the upside of the group, but the overall score would have probably been capped somewhere in the mid-to-high sixes.
The band’s latest effort, however, is a marked improvement from 2015 and deserves all of the praise it will receive. Starting with the vocal work, Thieberger and Hughes bring with them a high-energy style that sets them apart from other bands. Their harmonies they produce in songs like “I Think I Know” (my personal favorite) and “Foreverday” are extremely compelling and one of the main reasons why the 2018 edition of their self-titled album stand far and above the 2015 version. The vocals within the album are a nice mix of smooth, soothing, and upbeat, and can definitely be enjoyed by anyone.
The lyrical work throughout the course of the album is also spot-on and, in many cases, very relatable. “Circles Are Square” is one of my favorite songs on Milkmen’s latest release due in large part to the lyrics—“You can walk in circles / or you can draw new lines, new paths / but you cannot replace your steps” is a deep trio of lines that could essentially double as a neat life lesson. It almost seems like one of those quotes that is superimposed on a picture of footprints on the beach that hangs in an office cubicle. Ditto for “Call the doctor / get me the law / I’ve been stuck in my mind now for way too long”, which is heard in “Johnny Dangerously.” While lyricism is an issue with a number of albums I’ve listened to over the years, it’s a major positive for Milkmen—the messages are honest, thought provoking, and delivered very well.
Instrumentally, Milkmen sounds a lot better than it did in 2015 as well. Big credit is in order for D’Arcangelo, whose work on the drums gives a new layer to each of the tracks on the album. He creates a warm, rounded sound that pairs nicely with the melodies produced on guitar and bass by Thieberger and Hughes. Together, the trio generates a catchy sound that makes you want to replay each song again and again.
You can stream Milkmen on Spotify and Tidal; if you’re so inclined, you can also purchase it on the Know Hope Records Bandcamp ($5) or Amazon Music ($8.99). The band is playing a house show in New Haven on September 21st (DM them on Instagram @milkmenband if you’re in the area and want the address), with a long run in January potentially on the horizon. As someone currently located near Asbury Park, I hope I get to see them perform in person soon.