Milwaukee has been making googly eyes at moody folk rock for several years now, with bands like Field Report, Altos, and Old Earth dominating both club dates and local album releases. Add to that ever-growing number Twin Brother, a group that takes the basic elements of folk and grafts them to the fraying body of alt-rock. At its core, the band is singer-songwriter Sean Raasch and drummer Tyler Nelson, formerly of the two-man alt-rock outfit Jackraasch. On the duo’s self-titled debut as Twin Brother, a host of guest artists are called in to flesh out their sound—many of them members of Altos—but it’s Raasch’s nervy vocals and Nelson’s loose, shuffling drum work that highlight a remarkably strong, assured album.
Twin Brother may be more of a re-branding than a new band, but Raasch and Nelson’s sideways take on traditional banjo-and-suspenders folk remains as refreshing and engaging as it was during their Jackraasch years. Opener “Hollow” suggests a ’90s grunge ballad stripped of all feedback and flannel, with Raasch precariously bending his voice into a particularly lovely chorus: “Every time we fear we follow / Don’t lose a tear, for we are hollow.” It’s an early album highlight, and points the way for Twin Brother’s cagey, less-is-more approach. The usual instrumental suspects do eventually enter the mix, however: “Dear Sweet Dove” is a soaring, sun-dappled love song featuring banjo and nicely double-tracked vocals from Raasch, while the lamenting “You Burn You Burn” introduces subtle slide guitar and chimes. Elsewhere, Raasch gets on-the-nose political with “Blue Soldier,” and recalls the bottled intensity of Will Sheff and Okkervil River on “What Am I Speaking Of.”
Twin Brother never quite reclaims the mellow melodic highs it reaches early on with “Hollow,” though the album moves at such a pleasant, even keel that it’s hardly a detraction. The hypnotic “Overwhelming” comes close; it’s perhaps the most Altos-indebted song on the album—the sparse guitar and brushed drums that open the song sound straight off that band’s self-titled disc—though the swaying, woozy chorus is Raasch and Nelson’s own. Much like that song, Twin Brother succeeds by gathering multiple musical sources and teasing out a singular, ever-so-slightly wrinkled through line.
(Twin Brother celebrates the release of its album Friday, May 24 at Club Garibaldi. Bigfoot, Old Earth, and Adelyn Rose open.)