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Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013

Animal Magnets: Step on Your Neck (Easter Records)

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Play it loud is a rock cliché but beware of setting the volume too high on Step on Your Neck. The roar might tear off your head.

Step on Your Neck, by Milwaukee’s Animal Magnets, is likely one of the most powerful rock ’n’ roll records out this year—here in town and elsewhere. The band has been together for 16 years, “but there were 14 years between shows,” as vocalist-songwriter Rob McCuen fesses up. McCuen was manic when the band invaded Milwaukee’s Kneeverland studio for a two-day session, but was more deliberate in the following two years spent with producer Paul Kneevers in crafting the sort of punk album Phil Spector would have made with The Ramones—if The Ramones had brought better songs to the End of the Century sessions. “It was all analog and we used up to 55 tracks on some songs,” McCuen says. “I wanted more guitars! Bigger! Louder!”

The horsepower beneath the wall of sound comes from the band, starting with the Iggy Pop thrust of McCuen’s voice, mounting with the raw power of bassist Paul Wall and guitarists Cliff Ulsberger and Chris Tishler, and propelled by the machinegun drumming of Joel Beskow. Some songs had been in McCuen’s repertoire for years, others emerged from the white heat of the moment.

It’s easy enough to hear the influences: the soaring choruses and heavy riffs of the early Kinks, the (truly) power pop of Cheap Trick, “the early Who for the chaos within the tight framework,” as McCuen puts it. Step on Your Neck stands tall among the limp noodle “alternatives.”

Rob McCuen’s new band, The Fabulous Backbeats, will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Circle-A Café, 932 E. Chambers St.