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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012

Kane Place Record Club and the Art of Feeling Good

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Milwaukee, like many other cities across the country, has seen a recent resurgence in acts that are captivated by the soul sounds of the 1960s. Acts such as Milwaukee-based Kings Go Forth, along with those like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (New York) and Raphael Saadiq (California), have spearheaded a revivalist movement intent on replicating the aesthetic of this earlier cultural moment. No detail is overlooked: Vintage equipment is used in recording sessions and on stage, while the performers themselves scour secondhand stores in search of era-appropriate clothing. The records that these performers put out look and sound old—and that's exactly the point.

But a funny thing has happened in the rush to both preserve and deify the past. The scene has become more about paying homage to these earlier acts, or dropping the right names or aping the right sounds, than about growing as an artist or even thoroughly enjoying the music. Strict attention to detail may help to create an "authentic" sound (though I'm not too sure that there is anything truly authentic in sounding like a moment that happened more than 50 years ago), but it can also rob the music of any semblance of spontaneity and fun.

Thankfully, Milwaukee's Kane Place Record Club does not fall into these traps. While definitely captivated by soul and R&B, the band has little interest in merely duplicating the work of others. The vocals of Jon Scott are influenced by the likes of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, but one can also hear hints of such genres as twee and such acts as Squeeze, Randy Newman (but a nicer Randy Newman), Chisel and Ben Folds Five in the band's material. "We just write about how we're feeling," notes guitarist Nick Tovarek, "and let the music dictate the direction of the song." And that direction often leads to some raucous destinations, particularly in a live setting. Kane Place Record Club shows often turn into sweaty dance parties, with both band members and concertgoers stripping off clothing as the night progresses.

This feel-good vibe is also apparent in the group's recorded output. Kane Place Record Club's debut EP, To Our Friends (2011), is marked by a looseness that makes the record inviting to all sorts of listeners. This does not mean the group has perfected its craft yet; at times, the band sounds like it is still trying to find its footing. "Virginia," clocking in at over six minutes, is simply too long, while "ZZ & The Wakeups" has a series of cringe-inducing lyrics that weaken the song's overall appeal. The group is at its best when it keeps it short and to-the-point, as it does on such tracks as "Yoko" and "Headrush," with the latter being a two-minute burst of beautiful pop music. "Sunshine," a song from a 2012 WMSE "Local/Live" session, builds off of the momentum of such earlier material, hinting at a fuller, more polished sound. One hopes the band continues in this direction on its next studio project.

In a local scene dominated by acts exploring the darker side of existence, the presence of Kane Place Record Club in Milwaukee is all the more important. "There are enough bands who make careers out of writing sad songs," Tovarek says. "What we're trying to do is write songs about the entire human experience, rather than just the sad parts." There is nothing bad about feeling good—something that a Kane Place Record Club show reminds us all.

Kane Place Record Club plays Linneman's Riverwest Inn at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17, with openers Ikarus Down, Santah, Ivy Spokes and Workout Music.