2018 proved to be one of the most productive musical years for the Fox Valley in recent times. An abundance of new released music from an exciting collection of newcomers and strong releases from staples such as Janet Planet, Amos Pitsch and Andrew Johnson together produced a year in the Fox Valley that can hold its own against any other community in the midwest.
We assembled our music writing trio and came up with 21 of the best Fox Valley area releases in 2018 (with a minimum four songs). Many of the featured bands have their music available at The Exclusive Company and Eroding Winds, and buying local is always best. It is in your best interest to check out as many of these bands as possible.
21. More then Merry – No Ceiling
Three piece Oshkosh rock band More then Merry put out their second album No Ceiling in June 2018. It is More then Merry’s second six song release in as many years, with the band achieving a bit more of an original, heartland rock ‘n’ roll feel with No Ceiling. They’ve had a busy year playing music throughout the valley, including a few sets at Mile of Music 2018.
20. Cold Soda Club – Passing Greenbush
Sheboygan’s pop-rock crew Cold Soda Club released their EP Passing Greenbush in April 2018 overflowing with sounds of happiness and summer lounging – think a midwest version of a mid-90s California college brass-less ska-ish band. These guys are all over eastern Wisconsin, with more than 40 sets in 2018, including the Independent Racket Nights series in downtown Oshkosh this past October.
19. Walt Hamburger – You Aren’t Here
Appleton-based acoustic rock outfit Walt Hamburger set out and crafted a personal, candid album that rings with catchy phrases set over accessible song structures (listen to “Splinter” off of You Aren’t Here reviewed by the Music Review Roulette team above). Walt is constantly using his music to help support a plethora of animal causes – you can check out the Walt Hamburger Foundation for more info on that.
18. Fools & Lovers – I’ve Been Here Before
Precisely what you hope for with an emerging gritty koshrock 3-piece. This crew has taken a significant leap forward with the release of I’ve Been Here Before in December, highlighting their swampy guitar riffs and rough, soulful vocals. We’re super excited to have them join us in 2019 as part of Independent Racket Nights.
17. Bottom of the Lake – I’ll Keep This Safe Here
Bottom of the Lake could single-handedly be holding the Fox Valley torch for the sounds of early 2000s emo-rock, and we’re happy to have them do it. Their second release I’ll Keep This Safe Here offers slow heart-felt lyrics and aggressive distortion layered over catchy melodies and accessible chord structures. The result is songs that stick in your head making you want to go back and hear more. The band is going to join us for a set at 2019 Water City Racket Fest Feb 14-16 in downtown Oshkosh.
16. Pudge – Pachyderm Sessions
Pudge had a productive year in 2018, releasing the full length album Open Cuts at the beginning of the year followed by the Pachyderm Sessions, named after the studio they recorded the four song release at. The “Sessions” release highlights the band’s energy and rock prowess, offering an accessible rock ‘n’ roll collection that is some of the band’s best work to date. Pudge is also playing at Water City Racket Fest on opening night Feb 14, 2019 at Fletch’s in downtown Oshkosh.
15. Adriel Denae – Adriel Denae
Recorded back in 2014, Denae didn’t release her debut solo self titled album until this past year. The album highlights Denae’s beautifully intimate vocals teamed with her relaxing piano accompaniment while blending elements of country, folk, and pop. The album was produced by long-time friend and colleague Norah Jones.
14. Nicholas Raymond – Summer Shoes
The first full album released by Nicholas Raymond since the Traveling Suitcase era highlights a return to earlier days of Raymond playing acoustic sets in downtown Oshkosh, though at times with a feel of grandiose production that sounds flat out exceptional. Produced in collaboration with long-time bandmate Brandon Domer, the nine-track album was recorded at The Refuge in Appleton.
13.Spy vs Spy – Spy vs Spy
Oshkosh area rock ‘n’ roll band Spy vs Spy quietly put out one heck of a five song EP earlier this year, with carefully crafted songs that stick in your head demanding to be played again. And again. It is no surprise the album sounds so good with the quality of musicianship that is featured on the album: Bill Grasly on bass (Traveling Suitcase, Reality Something), Jay Spanbauer on drums (Dead Horses, Redshift Headlights), along with Eric Blumreich on guitar, Jeremy Helbling on guitar, and lead singer/main songwriter Dean Hoffman. The album was recorded at Honeytone Studios in Neenah. The band played Independent Racket Nights year 1 in 2018, and will be playing a set at Water City Racket Fest on Saturday, Feb 16 at the Algoma Club.
12. Solar Max – Solar Max
The band’s first album exceeds the expectations of anyone who has yet to see the band live: intricate guitar harmonizing, melodic structures that contrast the hard-edged classic metal that the band is known for, and a solid dose of ‘60s psychedelia. Make no mistake, Solar Max is best experienced as a live show in a rock ‘n’ roll dive bar. But this album is a tremendous first release for the band.
11. The Raglanders – The Raglanders
Green Bay’s 5-piece alt-country band The Raglanders released their first full length self-titled album in November. It features polished song writing, twang-tinged vocals, and well-incorporated fiddle. This album is just a clean, straight forward quality set of midwestern rural music. They have become regulars throughout northeast Wisconsin, playing with frequency from Appleton to Door County.
10. Feed the Dog – Tenderloin
Feed the Dog achieved something great with this 2018 release. Jam bands and those that highlight extended and rotating solos such as Feed the Dog often struggle producing authentic, quality studio recordings that capture the energy, musicianship, and creativity offered through the live experience. Tenderloin does a great job on all of these fronts, but the recording quality is also exceptional at creating a crisp sound for the array of instrumentation. This enables the listener to pick up on song intricacies that are often missed at live shows. Members of our crew are proud to have supported the making of this solid album.
9. Tyler & the Streeters – Void in my Heart
Folk-punk meets soulful doo-wop with an array of brass and wind instruments on the Streeter’s latest release. The 13 song album offers a unique and raw sound that is a welcomed addition to the Fox Cities’ original music catalog. The band joined us for energetic set at the Independent Racket Nights series this past year, and is set to return in 2019.
8. Car City – Car City
Classic power pop at its finest, with some of the valley’s finest rock ‘n’ roll musicians (Jason Lemke, Bill Grasley, Amos Pitsch, Timm Buechler, & Walt Hamburger). If you make it through twice, you’ll be hooked. By the third time you’ll be singing.
7. Kyle Menga & the Monsoons – The Great Divide
Second on this list in musicianship only to the Janet Planet and John Harmon release, very accessible and repetitive chord structures make The Great Divide an easy listen that celebrates explosive solos and the legendary Mike Underwood on drums. The group is widely respected as one of the best live performance sets in northeast Wisconsin, and the addition of this full length album further solidifies their place at the top of the Wisconsin music scene.
6. Redshift Headlights – Oshkosh
The sophomore release from Oshkosh/Neenah band Redshift Headlights was recorded in the band’s practice studio along with some pretty outstanding guest musicians (Eric van Thiel from the Haunted Heads and Stephanie Tschech of Auralai on supporting vocals, Miyoko Grine-Fisher from Lawrence University on cello, and Renée Millard from the Redhawks / Tyler & the Streeters on trumpet & fugelhorn). The album shifted from the band’s vast orchestral debut to an album heavy on atmospheric guitar and poetic verses of local lore, all built within a creative exploration of indie rock’s unconventional complexities.
5. Horace Greene – The Diamond Engine
The secret to Horace Greene, as we have learned, is to first see them live. Few guitar players in the area are capable of playing with a captivating style that includes humor, passion, groove, and exceptional shredding. Horace Greene’s lead singer and guitarist Tony Oakley nails all of those, and the rest of the band is right in step with him, creating a set that you both smile in awe at while nodding your head (or whole body) to the music. After the live show, check out the album. You’ll find yourself reliving the stellar guitar licks and falsetto harmonies as you listen, agreeing with us that it is one of the best releases in Wisconsin this year.
4. Dusk – Dusk
Midwest flavored country rock has never been better than with this Dusk album. Two parts dirty, one part soulful, two large handfuls of twang, and a dash of a sunny countryside afternoon , all rolled together into catchy, well conceived songs places this album as one of the best in the state as well as the genre. Fox Valley rock legend Amos Pitsch is exceptional on these songs, but the tremendous retro keys sound and passionate vocals contributed by Julia Blair pushes this album into the realm of greatness. The Appleton band had a busy year touring throughout the US and Canada, and helped kick off the inaugural Water City Racket Fest back in February.
3. Janet Planet & John Harmon – Da Capo
John Harmon is a legend. So naturally Harmon and Janet Planet together on an album is a fabulous thing. Da Capo features beyond-splendid piano work including Harmon’s ever-stunning chord structures along with his captivating solos that flow through octaves of the piano with ease and wonder. Janet nails everything from the melancholy to the energetic, of course including a good dose of her meticulous scat singing. This release reflects possibly the most intimate album the two have collaborated on, and overtime will be recognized as one of the all-time great original jazz albums to come out of Wisconsin.
2. Kurt Gunn – Long Drive To Nowhere
Kurt Gunn released his fifth album in July 2018 Long Drive To Nowhere, recorded downtown Appleton at Rock Garden Studio. The musical work of art plays like one smooth flowing story with accomplishment, challenge, introspection and loss. The album is void of the lecturing and pretentiousness that often is present in singer-songwriter efforts. Instead, the music comes across with a degree of humility and sincerity, built around Gunn’s vocals with balanced instrumentation. For the last three years Gunn has been a nominee for Wisconsin singer-songwriter of the year. This album represents his best work to date and warrants serious consideration for the award yet again.
1. Haunted Heads – Everything We Agreed About
According to Stephen Michael McCabe (Redshift Headlights, The Willis, etc), Everything We Agreed About is not only the best album released by the Haunted Heads, it is one of the best albums ever released in Wisconsin. It is just the second full length release in the Oshkosh band’s nearly 8 years of playing together, during which they also released the seven song Haunted Heads EP (lead singer Andrew Johnson also released the full length We Will Give This World Away with Holly & Plastic during this period) .
We’re going to pass the album details off to HH fan “melisks” who had this to say: “I am enamored by this record. I love the interweaving melodies of the guitars and vocals and the fullness of the drum sound. Little hooks stay with me for days and by the last song (my favorite) I’m cheering along. Thanks, Haunted Heads, for my summer soundtrack.”
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You’ll be able to catch many of these bands live at the 2019 Water City Racket Festival in downtown Oshkosh February 14-16, with 29 sets performed at 7 venues centered around the Algoma Club. In addition to the exceptional local talent, Racket Fest will be hosting visiting bands Nickel & Rose (Milwaukee), Good Night Gold Dust (Mankato, MN), Faux Fawn (Madison), Adelyn Rose (Minneapolis), Gauss (Milwaukee), CONTROL (Madison), and more.