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Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

The Midwest Beat Keep it Casual

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The Midwest Beat singer/guitarist Matt Joyce has always had a fondness for ragged, rough-around-the-edges records. “One of my all-time favorites is Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night,” he says. “That’s the album where they just went into the studio hammered. They were rolling tape the whole time as they played these rough songs, and people just assumed that they’d do a different take later, but nope, that was the final take.”

The Midwest Beat’s latest album, Free Of Being, isn’t as raw as all that, but there’s something unmistakably in the moment about the record’s 35-minute rush of howling rock ’n’ roll, jittery country, psychedelic surf music and quickie soul. The joyful opening title track cuts out after less than a minute, coming and going like a forgotten thought. The twangy drinking tune “High Life,” on the other hand, rambles on with no particular destination in mind. And would-be showstoppers like “Blank Stares” and “Lone Wolf” instead play like unfinished Kinks and Animals demos.

You’ve probably heard a record that sounds vaguely like this before. There’s a long tradition of punk bands doing lo-fi, often jokey genre exercises, mostly for the sake of amusing themselves, but that’s not what The Midwest Beat are going for here. There’s nothing amateurish about Free Of Being’s short-attention-span garage-pop. It’s the work of a band just doing the best they can with the time they have, working in the mold of Milwaukee’s late, great The Goodnight Loving (with whom they share a label, Dusty Medical) by making quick, catchy and enthusiastically varied records without stopping to sweat the details.

Since The Midwest Beat formed in 2005, the band’s home base has shifted from Madison to Milwaukee, where guitarist Kyle Denton, bassist Tim Schweiger and drummer Christopher Capelle live. Joyce, meanwhile, splits his time between Madison and Stevens Point, which severely limits the band’s practice time. That made for some off-the-cuff recording sessions, with the band rehearsing and sometimes songwriting in the studio, crafting bridges and vocal harmonies on the spot. It’s a wonder, really, that the record even sounds as polished as it does.

“Maybe in the future, if we had unlimited resources and money, it would be nice to go into the studio and have three weeks or a full month to just work on our songs, and really tighten them up, but for this album we didn’t have that luxury,” Joyce says. “We’re already starting on our next album, and we’ve had a lot of chances to practice this summer, so our next album will have a little bit of a tighter feel to it. But we like to have fun when we’re recording. I think a lot of times people take themselves too seriously, and that’s not what I’m about, and I don’t think that’s what the other guys in the band are about. Music loses something sometimes when you take it too seriously.”

The Midwest Beat play an album release show Saturday, Sept. 6 at 9 p.m. at the Riverwest Public House with Tenement, Head On Electric and The Get Drunk DJs.