Kitschy Spirit

Dead Familiars Turbinado cassette

With a logo like it’s been carved into a particle board desk at the back of the classroom, DEAD FAMILIARS put their debut six-banger to tape. This Madison, WI four-piece released Turbinado digitally in 2020, until local record shop Kitschy Spirit did a cassette run. This reminds me of BUSH—slack rock fusing with a gruff, buzzy type of thing leading to some pretty middle-of-the-road power pop that one may raise a fist to at the back of the crowd.  At times melancholic, at others aggressive and stompy.  No surprises within, but a solid debut for fans of the genre.

Liquid Mike Liquid Mike LP

In just a few short years, Michigander Mike Maple has proven many times over that he has a head for pop. This fourth full-length is strong in a way that lasts, not just because it’s wall-to-wall earworms, but rather that this is songwriting that’s taken the best of power pop and internalized it. It pays to do your homework, but there is nothing unapproachable or academic on display here, just natural and breathlessly good songwriting. Time will prove Maple is right there in lock step with TONY MOLINA as a prolific and earnest writer who manages fancy guitar pop tricks like descending minor chords and non-standard harmonies without being flashy or pretentious. A song like “God Bless the World” proves in under a minute-thirty just what this group is capable of. It’s got punch, it’s got heart, it’s got it all. I’m an immediate and zealous acolyte.

Bad Wig / Sin Bad Split LP

Two Milwaukee pop punk bands team up to give us a super fun pogo-inducing album! SIN BAD deliver a more power pop sound that might be equitable to GATEWAY DISTRICT or WORRIERS. BAD WIG is still very much pop punk, but has heavy garage elements. A mix of OBLIVIANS, REIGNING SOUND, and DINOSAUR JR can be heard in their songs. They also toy with some emo elements, so their sound chills out every once in a while. Start with the SIN BAD side for the sugar high and end with BAD WIG for the slow headbang. Great record! Milwaukee has always and will always rule. Don’t listen to the haters!

The Cult of Lip Fuzz & Feedback Freaks cassette

This cassette compiles all three of CULT OF LIP’s first EPs—Right Now (2015, No Problem Records), Your Feedback (2017, Rare Plant Records), and Sleep Receiver (2018, Rare Plant Records). All of these are individually available from MPLS Ltd, and finally, this compilation on Kitschy Spirit. The music is equal parts psychedelic, noise, and shoegaze, gathering into an industrial-sounding headache betrothed to shimmering, warbled guitar and looping instrumentals; “Fog” off Right Now is a good example. I’m not saying this in a bad way at all, and there are times when everything gels in songs, like “Fray” from Your Feedback, that is dreamy and dark. Ronnie Lee and Hannah Porter achieve all the vocals and instruments on these recordings, except for Sleep Receiver on which the drummer Eric Whalen is credited. This pared-down lineup gives a true focus to their sound, which has progressed since their first release over ten years ago, with Sleep Receiver (the most recent) being my favorite of the three. This cassette comes out in front of their 2023 Marsha LP, perhaps creating some buzz (or fuzz) for the release. I was surprised how much this grew on me: while it droned and wandered at times, the effective songcraft and Hannah’s haunting vocals kept drawing me back.

Tractorman Tractorman 12″

Mid-’90s Madison, WI was the stage (basement) for co-creators Corinna Greenwood on guitar and vocals (credited as Electra Lass, also of TORMENTULA) and Indra Dunis on drums (credited as Jungle Judy, also of PEAKING LIGHTS, NUMBERS, and DYNASTY) who comprised TRACTORMAN’s main lineup, later adding friend Scott Watson on bass (credited as Bob Casserole). They played house shows and bars between Madison and Milwaukee and eventually put these ten songs down on a four-track in the bank vault turned practice space of peers XEROBOT, and from what I can tell, released the cassette themselves in 1996. The recording is actually pretty good, making audible the drum kit abuse, string-scratching, spiky guitar riffs, gutsy bass, and Corinna’s vocals, coming in equal parts screech and low-end rumble.  Kitschy Spirits’ reissue is loaded with fun stuff—the vinyl plays the same ten songs as the originally cassette all on the A-side with a TRACTORMAN etching on the B-side, there’s a write-up from Corinna and Indra, and a copy of the “Bassist and Singer Wanted for Band” poster that hung on Madison telephone poles. While they only managed to find a bassist, and moved on to different projects shortly thereafter, TRACTORMAN’s raw, unhinged sound (never clocking over a two-minute track) and DIY work ethic give them an air of authentic greatness.