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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Arizona Wilder's Double-Sided Post-Hardcore

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Though it turns over almost completely every three or four years, Milwaukee's all-ages punk scene has been remarkably resilient, thanks to a revolving crop of young bands and promoters who are always willing to carry the torch and risk potentially huge fines to throw basement shows at no profit. The scene currently operates as an elaborate underground network, where bands plan gigs through private Facebook groups and share fliers for bills at unlisted venues. There's nothing especially exclusive about these shows, though. Finding the address is usually as easy as messaging one of the bands for it; they'll give it to you in exchange for the promise that you won't bring any drugs or alcohol with you or otherwise do something stupid.

Even in a youthful scene with such abrupt turnover and virtually no institutional memory, certain sounds and patterns reoccur frequently, almost as if by coincidence. One of the most resilient has been a mathy strain of post-hardcore that's been prevalent in Milwaukee punk since at least the mid-'90s. Every year a couple new punk bands adopt, update and subvert this style of post-hardcore, most of them unaware of the long-since-defunct local punk bands that played an earlier variation of the same post-hardcore five, 10 or 15 years ago in neighboring basements.

Right now there are several particularly good Milwaukee punk bands working in this vein, including Arizona Wilder, a four-piece that last month posted its debut EP, Dando, to Bandcamp. Over just five tracks and 15 minutes, the EP impresses with its vast scope, ping-ponging between scraggly, deliberate math-rock and fierce, scorched-earth screamo. If tracks like "Narrators" and "Kombinator" sometimes sound like two songs clashing against each other, that's because that's more or less what's happening. Guitarists David Algrim and Mike Bitsas split singing and songwriting duties, and each approaches the same song from a different perspective.

"David and I always get into this pseudo-argument when we're writing songs, because I really love Shellac, Slint, Rodan, and all those classic math-rock bands, while David is more into the modern, tappy, complicated stuff," Bitsas says. "We both love post-hardcore and screamo, though, so we just merge all the things we love into something that seems unique."

That same duality extends to the lyrics. "We usually flesh out ideas together, so it's a collaborative effort, but I tend to write about what I know and what I see, things that are deeply emotional," Bitsas explains. "David tries to write about what's behind that, the bigger picture. He writes more ambiguously, and leans heavier on metaphors. We let that interplay between our two styles of writing guide the songs."

For all of the dueling ideas in their music, though, the guys in Arizona Wilder share a lot of common ground. Algrim, Bitsas, bass player Phil Cowan and drummer Brandon Chapin were all united by the idea of playing in a band with "loud, screamy vocals over music that's rhythmically complicated," Bitsas says, but also a band that prioritized tension and restraint as much as raw aggression.

"We're really picky about how we want these songs to sound, so we just spend a ton of time crafting them, working them so they have the right timing and balance," Bitsas continues. "We want to stay true to the emotion of each song. We don't scream unless we have something to scream about."

Stream or download Arizona Wilder's
Dando at arizonawilder.bandcamp.com.