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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

White Problems Pick Up Where Predecessors Left Off

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The average life span of a band in Milwaukee is remarkably short. It seems as if the most promising groups the city has produced during the last few years have broken up right as they appeared poised for bigger and better things. Yet one can take some consolation in the fact that the players from these fractured groups often come together to form new bands. Such is the case with Milwaukee upstarts White Problems, a band that has risen from the ashes of fallen local favorites Freight, Pigs on Ice and Wolfbite. Featuring Brian Rogers on vocals, Brian Whitney on bass and Chuck Engel on drums, the band aims to pick up where these respective projects left off.

In many ways, White Problems’ material comes across like a perfect marriage between all of the band members’ former groups. Songs like “Jobs,” “Dude, Where’s My Flix?” and “Ruined Lunch on a Day at the Beach” sound like a volatile mix of early-’80s Los Angeles punk (think Flipper and Black Flag) and early-’90s Touch and Go mainstays like the Jesus Lizard (asked to comment on this, Whitney notes, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh … yeah, we don’t listen to the Jesus Lizard”). While the band is clearly influenced by those that came before them, they have found a way to make this familiar sound both fresh and relevant. One key to the band’s success is the vocals of Rogers. There’s an unhinged quality to his performance, one that wonderfully complements the racket that Whitney and Engel are able to whip up behind him. Yet the noise never overwhelms, and there is a certain catchiness to the band’s material.

Listeners will have a number of chances to check out this material in the near future. A brief summer tour with the Atlanta-based band Hawks led to an offer to record for TransRuin Records, a label co-run by Hawks singer Mike Keenan. “We became buds,” Rogers explains, “and he offered to put out our record.” The band has also recorded for a split 7-inch with New Jersey’s Rapid Cities and for another split single with Milwaukee’s own Group of the Altos, whose atmospheric instrumentals are little like White Problems’ short bursts of raw energy. The band is also planning to venture out of Milwaukee once again, with upcoming gigs in Madison, Cleveland and Detroit.

One hopes that such projects and travel plans bode well for the future of White Problems. There is a distinct aesthetic developing in the Milwaukee underground, one that eschews polished production and easy hooks for a sound much more challenging. Bands like Pigs on Ice could have exposed this sound to a wider audience; let’s hope White Problems can last a bit longer. Catch them now, so you can say you saw them before they blew up. Or at least before they broke up.

White Problems tops a March 6 bill at the Cactus Club at 10 p.m. with Possible Fathers and Harps of Tartarus.