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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014

The Midwestern Charm Survive ‘Growing Pains’

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There’s a degree of audacity inherent in fronting a band. To write songs, present them to the world and perform them in front of crowds requires real confidence. The Midwestern Charm’s Connor La Mue doesn’t have that. By his own account, he’s insecure and self-effacing, the last person he’d want as the spokesperson for his own band.

“My pops is a businessman, and he’s like, ‘You need to get out there and start promoting yourself,’” La Mue says. “But I just can’t do it, at least not without a shit-eating grin. What’s my sales pitch? ‘I have a new record. If you like shitty songs, here you go. If you want to feel better about yourself, or be reassured that your path in life is better than somebody else’s, then this is the record for you.’”

The Midwestern Charm’s new album is called Growing Pains, and it’s their first since migrating from Oshkosh to Milwaukee along with their sister band The Sleepwalkers (three-fourths of the Charm also play in the Sleepwalkers, and Sleepwalkers frontman Ian Olvera sits in on the organ a bit on the band’s new album). Though La Mue jokes about how it’s only a matter of time until the band tires of the record and starts referring to it as Groin Pains, he’s underselling his music. The same cynicism and insecurity that makes him an unlikely bandleader makes him a sharp songwriter, and he packs Growing Pains with witty, perceptive lyrics about wasted days, wasted effort and wasted bachelor’s degrees.

There’s something distinctly ’90s about that defeatist lyrical outlook, which is perhaps why Howl Street Studios engineer Shane Hochstetler lent the record a distinctly ’90s finish. The mix is loud and crunchy, a good deal more amped up than the largely acoustic Americana of The Midwestern Charm’s self-titled 2012 debut. Some of those country accents remain on Growing Pains, with the same echoes of Conor Oberst and Ryan Adams carrying through, but this time the songs are faster, poppier and more combustible. This one’s a rock record.

“We were recording these songs but we didn’t have an idea of what we wanted them to sound like, so the album really started taking shape in the studio,” La Mue says. “I remember Shane sending me the first round of mixes, saying, ‘OK, here’s the first round; I was going for Pinkerton by Weezer meets In Utero by Nirvana,” La Mue says. “I was like, ‘OK, I guess that works.’ I wasn’t expecting it, but I love both of those records. The drums are huge, and the guitars are also huge, and raw at times. It was kind of a perfect storm, where we had this guy around who was the perfect person for getting out of us this sound we didn’t even know we had.”

The Midwestern Charm play an album release show Sunday, Aug. 24 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn at 9 p.m. with The Midwest Beat and Dinny Bulca. Cover is $3.