I’ve been to Milwaukee, and I didn’t exactly leave with fond memories. From sweeping views of architectural wonder that make Beirut look like Rome, to drunken Brewers fans (yes, apparently they do exist) telling me to “go back to San Francisco to have gay sex” because I was cheering for the Giants, to slipping on ice and cracking my ass, to vomiting the following morning on the shoulder of I-94, I’d just as soon forget the trip ever happened. I was relieved, then, to find that What Made Milwaukee Famous is actually from Austin, Texas — there was still a glimmer of hope for them. Trying Never to Catch Up generally keeps Austin’s shiny music cred intact, but it definitely has its Milwaukee moments.
Luckily, the band gets the Milwaukee out of its system early: The first two songs are absolutely horrible. I’m happy they were able to find the arpeggio function on their prog-rock keyboards, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean they should try to build two songs from them. Please, guys, if you must include them on future pressings, split them up and bury them in between the true gems on this album, like “Next to Him,” which hints at the greatness of British ’80s rock, or the peppy, Cars-influenced “Hellodrama.” Good luck getting that chorus out of your head.
The title track is a slight stumble, an attempt at a bombastic rock song that sounds a bit overwrought, and although the kid in me likes the driving guitars and catchy hook of “Curtains!,” the adult in me has it pegged as a whiny emo song. But they quickly redeem themselves with the perfectly melodic “Selling Yourself Short” and the traveling music circus of “Bldg. a Boat from the Boards in Your Eye.” The wild scope of this record makes it fairly uneven, but it also makes it a lot of fun — which makes it worlds better than Milwaukee.