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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Freight’s Anxious Music for Anxious Times

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   It’s been said that desperate times produce desperate music, and the current scene in Milwaukee would appear to bear this out. Bands such as Father Phoenix, Cougar Den, Pigs on Ice and Call Me Lightning are cranking out uneasy, volatile songs that provide the perfect soundtrack for our current era of anxiety. These groups, with obvious roots in the world of hardcore, have managed to craft a sound that captures the anger of punk while avoiding the generic tendencies that mark much of the genre. Simply put, these groups are innovative and exciting. It’s a rare breed of band that is able to pull off such a delicate balance, and Milwaukee is lucky to have so many of them.

  Up-and-coming locals Freight are another band to add to the list of Milwaukee’s finest. Clearly influenced by such seminal Touch and Go acts as Big Black, the Jesus Lizard and Shellac, this four-piece has wasted little time in putting together a catalog of songs that hit hard. Even the band’s demo tracks (the band is planning to record with Call Me Lightning’s Shane Hochstetler at his Howl Street Recordings later this summer) exude confidence. There is a certain menacing swagger to the band’s material, swinging yet caustic. Driving this sound is guitarist Jacob Feiring’s skittish, stop-start guitar riffs, which are made all the more effective by the jackhammer bass lines provided by Jake Cohen and the precision drumming of Ryan Marszalek. Brian Rogers, channeling his inner David Yow, adds yet another level of abrasiveness to the mix, shouting a stream of apparent non sequiturs above the din.

  What is perhaps most refreshing about Freight is that they understand the power of repetition. Feiring’s guitar lines loop throughout each song, locking into place within the song itself while also locking into the listener’s brain. While many in the indie-rock world seem intent on jamming the stage with multi-instrumental players in order to make incredibly dense (and incredibly long) songs, Freight takes refuge in the simplicity that has often gone hand-in-hand with the best of rock ’n’ roll.

  Part of such a strategy was thrust upon the band due to practical concerns. Cohen is actually a drummer by training, but was asked by other Freight members to take up the bass. “So, naturally,” Feiring explains, “a person that doesn’t really know how to play bass would make things more simplistic.” Yet there is more to this commitment to simplicity than a bass player forced to learn on the fly. To Feiring, the band was “intrigued by the idea of each instrument working together to create a bigger sound.”

  Cohen concurs, adding that “it’s kind of a nice break from other bands out there now, where everything is as complicated as possible.”

  Of course, Freight is not the first band to rediscover the power of keeping it simple, a fact of which they are well aware. Commenting on his love of the stripped-down Chicago sound, Feiring says that Freight is definitely a “Midwestern thing. I think I’ve always had a sort of affinity or love for the Midwest and the Midwestern sound.”

  Intriguingly, Feiring chalks up this shared Midwestern sound to the weather. “The idea that the winters are cold and bands hole up in their practice spaces definitely influences the sound in and of itself,” he explains. “You’re holed away and working out these songs and I think it gives things a really rough sound.”

After the winter we’ve just had, that explanation seems to make perfect sense.

Freight plays an 8 p.m. show at the Borg Ward on Thursday, July 17.

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