In short order Milk Music, now a quartet, have caught a train of hype and praise that has taken the Olympia band to festivals in Europe and North America. With just one EP and a live cassette to its name, expectations are high for its debut full length – although early hype surrounding the album may derail any real criticism it may face; it is assumed by many that it will be great before it is even heard. Now the band is poised to take giant strides with its debut album, Cruise Your Illusion.
Self-released on vinyl, with a CD version out on Fat Possum Records,Cruise Your Illusion, is the band’s first full-fledged statement of purpose. While Milk Music’s debut EP, Beyond Living, exhibited a band capturing the ancestral mojo of Dinosaur Jr., and at times Husker Du, Cruise Your Illusion is a statement larger than the obvious comparisons Beyond Living saddled the band the past last two years. Recorded on 4-track, ½ tape by Capt. Tripps at High Command in Olympia, the album is 12 fuzzed out, riff heavy songs sung in an off kilter, strained voice; sonically less akin to Dinosaur Jr. and more in line with Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Lyrically sparse, Cruise Your Illusion doesn’t even kick in vocally until the second track’s mid-point. If “Illegal and Free” is the beginning point for the band’s vocalization, it is on the ground level of lyricism, “You see me and the boys/we’re not that insincere kind/we’ve got to get high/or were gonna die.” Garbled and strained, Milk Music makes it very clear that it is less about the words and more how the words fit into the sonic landscape of the track. And in that realization is the essence of Cruise Your Illusion, it is less a product of its parts and more a construct of them combined as a whole.
Alone, the lyrics, the vocals, even some of the albums obvious homages can feel insincere and contrived, if not reductive. When placed next to each other, each element transcends its own abilities to create a work that is strikingly better than it “should” be; the riff pushes the song beyond its own limitations. After all, Milk Music is a riff-band who had come of age wearing the influences of alt-rock’s great riffers on its sleeve. But as much as the band fits the Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Husker Du mold, it pushes further back toward those bands’ forbearers: Neil Young, Blue Cheer, even the Stooges. Alone these influences would seem obvious and repetitive in the wake of their monster debut EP, but combined they push the band to a place that transcends any “genre” they may be saddled with.
After all, a left-of-the-dial band invoking the Squired image of Neil Young is nothing new. The Canadian balladeer inspired a generation of punk minded performers from Sonic Youth, to the Meat Puppets and even the grunge-likened acts of the early ’90s (read Pearl Jam). So the question becomes, does Milk Music offer anything new to the cult-of-Neil? Perhaps, unfortunately no, it does not. But, for a band operating on its own terms in the 2013 musical landscape, Milk Music really doesn’t need to. Listeners are more accepting of reliable tropes now than in a lot of times in the past – to carry the retro baggage, or even derivative criticisms, you have to go so beyond homage and pastiche that most listeners will tune out. Cruise Your Illusion trends nowhere near this line. Despite the well-worn references, the album is a coherent and singular statement of a band moving past one hurdle of comparison to another, and in doing so is expanding their sonic pallet to reveal a band more capable than even their greatest of hype-makers realize.
This is not to say the album is without surprises. On the latter third of the first side, “Crosstown Wanderer” transforms from a Talking Heads playful jaunt to a riff-heavy anthem at its midpoint. It points to a band looking past their convention and playing with different ideas even within the context of the same song. In lesser hands this would come off scattershot, but remarkably Milk Music make it look both effortless and full of intent.
Despite its best efforts to come off as simple, aloof stoners (the liner notes even know who supplied the marijuana), Milk Music has made a meticulously crafted statement for a band that has been burdened with carrying the flag for a particular subset of fuzzed out, riff-heavy bands that have had their heyday decades ago. But Milk Music does it without seeming retro, without feeling like a shtick and remaining completely contemporary; and that is not an easy task.