Review: The Lunatic – Milk

“We’re caught in orbit on the bluest planet I’ll ever see. I’d love to hold it, but the weather here is too much for me.”

by M. Lewis Barker

I started this site as an angry protest against all the mediocre music I heard during Muse’s Battle of the Bands last November. If you search back to the beginning of the site, you will see a very quick change in my mood from negative to positive. That was largely because I discovered what has quickly become my new favorite band in Provo – the Lunatic. Their performance on the fifth night of the Battle was a great inspiration to me and pushed me to change my blog from angry rants to honest, and mostly positive, reviews. Since then, I have seen the Lunatic perform four or five times and have even played a couple shows with them. They were recently featured on Alex Pow‘s “Provo Bands to Watch” and are quickly earning a growing fan base.

Tonight, at the Deathstar, the Lunatic is releasing their debut album. And I have a copy, presented to me in some great packaging: a plastic-wrapped jewel case, professionally done.

It does not disappoint.

The cover art for Milk has five white guys, much like NSync or Backstreet Boys.
Much like the Backstreet Boys and NSync before them, the Lunatic is five white guys.

Milk is one of the best recordings to come out of Provo’s indie scene in a long time. The lyrics tell of space travel, comic books, and love. I wonder if they made the album specifically for me, as it caters to my musical tastes perfectly. It’s an Alt Rock Shoegaze album, yet so different than anything by My Bloody Valentine or Built to Spill or any of those bands. The sound is uniquely Lunatic.

The record starts the same way most of their shows do: with the song “Blue Planet”. Right from the get-go, energy quickly builds up and we hear the song’s recurring motif. It is rich with vocal harmonies and layers of guitars. This version of the song is faster and fuller than any they’ve done before. It sounds like this wonderful mix of Foo Fighters, Ozma, and Built to Spill.

The Lunatic’s two frontmen, Jack Mergist and Martin Michalek, met on a Weezer message board a few years ago, and that influence is seen most strongly on Milk‘s second track, “She Brings Me Back”. The song is a tribute to Weezer, as told by shoegazers. Everything from the chanted “oo’s” to the melodies to the short harmonies recall The Blue Album. And yet the arrangement of instruments is much different than anything Weezer ever did. Every song on the album has at least three guitar tracks with each guitar playing its own important part.

Mergist studies both Sound Recording and Music Composition, and these talents manifest themselves beautifully on Milk. There is not a band in all of Provo that has the precise arrangements of the Lunatic. Each song is its own concerto. There are repeating motifs, crescendos, counter melodies, harmonies, denouements, and everything else a band would like to do but only poorly imitates due to lack of experience and/or musical knowledge. And Mergist’s recording experience is used to its full extent – Milk is self-produced, yet incredibly clean (and dirty when appropriate) and sounds as good as any professional record.

I make the album sound a lot more elaborate than it may be.  Underneath all the noise and complications lies a fairly straightforward rock record. The third song, “Attention”, is as catchy as anything you’ve ever heard. You’ll find yourself quickly singing along to the lyrics “We’ll make our millions drawing comic book villains”. If Lady Gaga were to do her own version of this song, it would be played on radios across the country. But the Lunatic uses their songwriting abilities for good, not evil. Instead of overproduced, generic pop, they create a wonderfully original sound while maintaining their roots in rock history. “Attention” has its verses, chorus, and even guitar solo. If the band wanted fame, this would be their single.

Martin, Jack, Austin, and Kody bring layers of magic. Photo by Krissi Cook.

Yet they quickly remind us that there is more to music than a catchy hook and rocking beat. The highlight of this album is the double whammy of “Fireplace” and “Whatever Happened to Tomorrow?”. “Fireplace” is the quietest song on the album, a beautiful piece about love and trust. There is no percussion, only the singer’s voice and a gorgeous accompaniment of strings, acoustic guitar, and other assorted sounds. Halfway through the song, an instrumental begins, a guitar duet backed by distant white noise. But then it gets faster and louder. The vocals return for only a brief moment, then the fuzz hits and it climaxes. But it doesn’t stop there. All that bedlam and noise from the end of “Fireplace” continue and invade their way into “Whatever Happened to Tomorrow?”, adding chaos to what otherwise might have been a stable song. It’s beautiful; the transition reminds me of “Haiti” and “Rebellion (Lies)” on Arcade Fire’s Funeral. This new version of “Whatever” is manic yet steady. It proves that with a strong song, you can add so much anarchy yet keep it very grounded. If only more bands would take this advice, then music could advance much faster as we’d be less afraid to take risks.

“VeloCity” closes the album. This is the same version found on the Lunatic’s 11-song demo, yet it does not feel out of place. The addition of Mergist’s wife Krista to the song recalls her former presence in the band as backup vocalist and synth player. With as many overdriven, delayed guitars as anything else on Milk, “VeloCity” is still much more relaxing, a calm closer after the chaos of “Whatever Happened to Tomorrow?”.

I only have one complaint about Milk. It does not include my favorite Lunatic song: “End and Start”. I hope that an updated version appears on a future release.

You can buy the album at which is something you will never, ever regret.


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