Milquetoast – Caterwaul
Wise Blood Records
Release Date: 28/01/22
Running Time: 35:38
Review by Richard Iggo
The first time the word Milquetoast made an impact on me was in 1994. Brandon Lee’s swansong movie “The Crow” hit the box office and featured a soundtrack that many continue to see as one of the best of all time. It included incredible bands and songs, one of which was ‘Milquetoast’ by Helmet, appearing as the Butch Vig remix ‘Milktoast.’
Now though, and with the correct spelling in place, it’s the name of an Indiana-based ‘Party-Sludge’ three-piece, who have just released their debut “Caterwaul” on Wise Blood records.
The link to Helmet goes beyond the shared use of a word. Helmet’s debut album, “Strap It On,” was released by the Amphetamine Reptile label, famous for its stable of Noise Rock acts including Mudhoney and Melvins, two bands who along with Dead Kennedys and Black Flag are offered by the band’s label as comparative references for Milquetoast’s sound. No pressure then!
Opening with the confident roller-coaster gallop of ‘Dead Inside,’ Ty’s vocals and guitar wail alongside Andy’s own howling roar and solid bass, both underpinned by angry staccato drumming from Nick. This is followed by ‘Recognize,’ which initially keeps up the relentless pace but loses inertia to some jarring timing diversions instead of building on a solid foundation. Maybe that’s the plan though, and for a band like this, it’s fully on-brand.
I don’t know if the Spanish language track ‘Matapacos,’ which translates as ‘Cop Killer,’ shares the same sentiments as the Body Count classic. I’m guessing it’s actually inspired by Negro Matapacos, a black dog symbolic of protests against police brutality in Chile. But I don’t speak enough Spanish to decipher the lyrics, so I am likely horribly wrong! Strictly in terms of music, though, it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as other songs here. Some elements really work but as a whole, it’s just unsatisfying.
The opening vibrating bass strings in ‘Stoner Safari’ speak to the band’s roots. Drummer Nick said that “most folks will be able to tell that we’re a bunch of Stoner Doom Metal nerds attempting to play Punk”, but from what I’ve seen, the way the band looks is more indicative of that than their sound. This song also offers an opportunity to experience the Milquetoast sense of humour, something that’s sprinkled liberally throughout the record.
Album highlight ‘Step Off’ is where the Mudhoney comparison shines brightest, with more than a hint of ‘Touch Me, I’m Sick’ audible. The Surf-Rock riff of ‘Space Force’ rolls into ‘Fake News Blues,’ expressing Punk frustration with the ongoing battle of opinion versus fact, before we hit ‘Wall,’ another album highlight. This song makes me question the Dead Kennedys comparison, at least in terms of sound because they’re far closer to the fantastic Oregon Punks Poison Idea, and this spookily ties the band back to The Crow soundtrack once again, which features a Pantera cover of ‘The Badge’.
The album finale ‘Forgotten Death’ flips between Proto Goth vocals of a tuneless Nick Cave and jangling guitars into rhythmic Noise Rock and back again, requiring effort to appreciate, but proving rewarding after several listens. It’s not the song I would have ended the album on, as it’s a bit of a downer, which is somewhat at odds with a band that seems to have a hell of a lot of fun with what it’s doing.
So, in the end, did Milquetoast rise to meet the lofty comparisons that their label set up for them?
While “Caterwaul” would not be out of place as an Amphetamine Reptile labelmate to some of the bands Milquetoast is compared to, there’s a little way to go before they’d stand alongside them as peers. There are some really enjoyable songs and moments here, but they simply don’t hit at the same level.
Even so, I could easily see ‘Dead Inside’ sitting on The Crow soundtrack alongside greats from The Cure, Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, and of course, Helmet. No mean feat.
‘Step Off’ Official Audio Track
02. Dead Inside
05. Stoner Safari
06. Step Off
07. Space Force
08. Fake News Blues
10. Forgotten Death
Ty Winslow – Guitar and vocals
Andy Bowerman – Bass, vocals, and synth
Nick James – Drums
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