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Monday, Dec. 30, 2013

Loup Leaves Behind an Intriguingly Imperfect Posthumous Debut

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This article is about a band that does not exist. Last month Loup released their posthumous, self-titled debut album on Bandcamp through Milwaukee’s Breadking Collective. According to frontman Brandon Miller, the functionally disbanded group wanted to document their existence, from their first show at Brewing Grounds for Change on Milwaukee’s East Side to a string of house shows throughout the area.

An ensemble of up to seven members, the group—originally called Loup-Garou, which translates to “werewolf” in French—incorporated what Miller describes as deconstructionist lyrical content and song structures that are packed with compelling melodies but resist conventional pop song structures by exploring the possibilities of non-repetition, dynamic sonic shifts of both quietness and energy and lengthy compositions. Some of these live recordings contain band dialogue that questions the competence of their performances. “No. Fuck it. It’s just one thing. Otherwise it’s perfect,” says one player after a great performance of “Grandma,” a song inspired by a David Lynch film.

The appeal of the songs comes mostly from their vastness and implied sonic narrative. Loup allow their songs to be fragile, capable and wandering. While the lyrical content is often muddied and indecipherable due to the instrumentation, the listener is guided patiently through distinct song sections and allowed to admire the scenery—a landscape of dense and interesting acoustic guitar work; flowery, ornamental glockenspiel; flute and ominous, plundering drums like mountains on the horizon. “Jet Lego,” doesn’t introduce its most instantly memorable section until nearly three-fourths of the way through the song. “John & Mary,” which takes its name from a Margaret Atwood short story, takes nearly a minute and half to fully develop the sentiment behind the lyrics “John & Mary will die” before seamlessly transitioning into a new and radically different segment mid-song. If that all sounds a little outlandish and experimental, it’s not. The shifts are never illogical or jarring. What you’re most likely to be reminded of is early-2000s Saddle Creek bands like Son, Ambulance.

All that said, Loup is no longer active. What makes the group important beyond making an excellent recording is that it is yet another component of the influential Breadking Collective, a conglomerate of Milwaukee acts including Myles Coyne & the Rusty Nickel Band, Calliope and Brett Newski. It also acts as a sort of precursor for one of Milwaukee’s most potentially vital bands, YLLA.

That band—which features Miller on bass, along with his brother Jonathan on drums and John Larkin on guitar and vocals—released, if not one of the best Milwaukee recordings of 2013, then at least one of the most promising with the Backseas EP last February. Those science fiction rock ’n’ roll songs incorporated math rock, electronic elements like deep bass bordering on dubstep, horns, classic rock guitar riffs and highly technical playing. YLLA followed it up with a B-side collection of lo-fi organ-based tracks in March.

The song “Billy Pilgrim” from a video released on Vimeo earlier this month is the perfect example of the band’s strengths. Like Loup, they’ve drawn from popular fiction, in this case Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five (the group’s name refers to a character in the Ray Bradbury short story collection The Martian Chronicles), to help set a tone for the sonic territory they explore before the listener hears a note. When the song does begin, it’s with momentous, unabashed shredding. By the time the song resolves itself the group has nearly dismantled its core components into ambiance and reassembled them in reverse ending with horns and a lyric that sounds a lot like “Let’s just wait for World War III.”

Miller says that YLLA is scheduled to release new recordings early next year and that, in true Breadking fashion, they are lending their talents to Milwaukee’s Gauss for a record due out in January. As for Loup, we’re left with a document of something completely imperfect and entirely captivating that like any artifact—photograph, letter or, in this case, recording—becomes more important over time when we’re able to step away and see details that were perhaps originally clouded by context.

Loup’s posthumous album is streaming at breadking.bandcamp.com.