Austin, TX has been the home of rock bands as diverse and impressive as Spoon, Explosions In The Sky, and And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, but it's never been the alt-rock mecca that a city with quality musicians and venues should expect to be. That may be changing. What Made Milwaukee Famous is the kind of young, hooky quasi-mainstream rock act that never really broken out of Austin before, and the band's newly re-vamped 2004 debut album, Trying To Never Catch Up, is the kind of eclectic, catchy rock album that doesn't come around often enough, especially in these days of genre specialization.
It isn't a perfect record by any means. The last third of Trying To Never Catch Up dissolves into indistinct music-hall-style quirk-pop, and the band is too thick and lumbering to put across some of its brighter songs, like "Hellodrama." But What Made Milwaukee Famous excels at slightly bent crowd-rousing rock like "Selling Yourself Short," and it balances that side with quieter songs like the lithe, mid-tempo "Almost Always Never," the muttery, acoustic "Hopelist," and the post-Jeff Buckley emo symphony "The Jeopardy Of Contentment." This is an auspicious first effort, bringing some order to Austin's musical chaos.
Not that there's anything wrong with the chaos. The experimental Austin folkies of Weird Weeds do a lot with pure noodling; they weave gossamer guitar, clattering percussion, and atonal harmonies into something that sounds darkly spiritual and just a little wrong. The trio also has an unexpected pop sense, which they display in abbreviated songs that rumble around for a minute or two before finding a chorus and then abruptly ending. Songs like "Tupper" bear traces of Fairport Convention and Deerhoof, but the way they cut off as soon as they express even a little passion is strictly a Weird Weeds touch. Austin will always make room for bands like this, too.