By Joey Tayler
"So what's it SOUND like on the Wisconsin scene?" I hear the guy ask the girl, and not a cymbal beat passes before she says "Wilco." Not meant as an insult, and not wrong either. Like a lot of indie music these days, Milwaukee and Madison "sound" like alt country, and damn great and diverse alt country at that: the manic gutterpunk madness of Rocksposure friends Sleeping in the Aviary; the Championship's robust backwoods rock; the folksy, homespun beauty of Wisconsin's most famous musical export of late, Bon Iver. There are plenty of noteworthy exceptions to this sweeping generality (Decibully and Brief Candles among them), but admit it: the girl's got a point (click here and prove her wrong, you upstart Spanish techno cheesehead troubadours), and sometimes you want to shake to something other than the yankee hotel foxtrot.
Here's your palate-cleanser: His and Her Vanities, which started circa 2001 in Ricky and Terrin Riemer's Madison basement as a late-night side project to their married with children gig. A year later the Riemers founded Science of Sound to release their music, and since then their label has attracted an impressive line-up of local indie artists, including Sleeping in the Aviary. Call H&HV's third album, "The Mighty Lunge," a punk record I guess, but the Riemers, drummer Sara Quigle, and rhythm guitarist Matt Abplanalp decorate their bouncy staccato sound with melodic new wave flourishes, like the rubber band guitars bending around driving, Thermals-esque opener "Hits Like Hail." Far-off pianos chime like glimmers of hope against lead singer Ricky's cries of "When will this cycle ever end?" on "Wait It Out," a frustrated, hair-pulling pep talk that gets drowned out in the drums and guitars tumbling downhill. It's all coming apart on "The Mighty Lunge," and while H&HV don't arrive at any world-saving epiphanies in the album's brisk 30 minutes, what you do hear hits your weary heart like a booster shot.
This is music to cope by. Ricky dodges crumbling walls and shattered windows on "What It Is," ducking behind a fence of Julian Casablancas distortion to ruminate that "there's nothing left to contemplate -- here's what it is." On the similarly Strokesy "Fuses" all the lights go out, and Ricky can't find a good reason to change the bulbs or buy new candles, setting up the album's moodier Act III. Without really slowing down or losing focus, H&HV open up their sound in subtle ways, like Ricky's vocals resisting the lullaby guitars on "New Designs," refusing to fall back into old patterns, pressing forward on his own, mixing with the music instead of racing after it. And then, the Lunge: "This is the end of the connection," Ricky sings on "Agenda," cutting his last lifeline, dropping through the cracks towards the siren songs of his bandmates' harmonies. On the other side of the chasm is the lovely, damn near orchestral "Wake Up This Day," which finds Ricky at peaceful slumber, dreaming of a new life, but not quite ready to roll out of bed and make it happen. I imagine that in the early days of H&HV and Science of Sound, the Riemers dragged themselves through a few early mornings and late nights like this, sleepwalking down to their basement once the kids were finally tucked in, fighting the urge to crash on the couch. They're on the other side now, living the dream, and Wisconsin music is richer for it.
Head over to His & Her Vanitie's page to check out a few tracks from "The Mighty Lunge"