We should have guessed that advances in digital technology would only lead artists to embrace the warmth and grit of analog recording. We can now lay down a flawless, airless track, but is that really what we want to be listening to for the rest of time? Of course not. We want those rough edges, that imperfection. We want our music to sound as human as the inside of our heads. So we’ve got this weird historical loop in which the Jesus & Mary Chain and a host of bands that sound just like the Jesus & Mary Chain all play SXSW in the same year. Dinosaur Jr.’s putting out a new record and so are hundreds of their protégés. We’ve gone to the limits of sonic quality only to decide that maybe the limits aren’t for us.
Despite the wealth of free or cheap home audio software, songwriter Martin Cohen recorded Milk Maid’s sophomore LP exclusively on a 16-track tape machine. He rejected the pseudo-synesthetic invention of looking at a song’s wavelengths, choosing instead to experience the music exclusively through sound, laboriously, one second at a time. And the labor shows. Mostly No, the follow-up to last year’s debut Yucca, stands as a warm, boisterous romp within that ’80s-style noise rock that’s been splashing all over the indie map.
With decimated surf riffs, muscular bass roots and hooks that spark and shimmer, Mostly No manages to land somewhere between Yuck’s raw aggression and Crocodiles’s unbridled hedonism. Milk Maid isn’t just about frolicking in the sun and it’s not about smashing stuff up, either. Thanks to a developed sense of pacing and a willingness to flip off the overdrive every now and again, Mostly No cuts through to the meat of their subgenre. A real joy in texture shines through, the DIY recording process reaping full, explosive sounds. Guitars tortured to their limits squeal and gurgle on bouncy tunes like “Old Tricks,” where distortion feeds distortion and everything starts burning. On the quieter side of things, stripped-down tracks like “Picture of Stone” and closer “No Good” swirl around in slow, sincere pathos.
At its core, Mostly No prioritizes songcraft above bare texture, and Cohen’s willingness to temper eruption with meditation sets Milk Maid apart from many of its buzzy peers. Put Kurt Vile’s doe-eyed earnestness inside a vintage getup of steam and surf and you’d get a little something like this.