By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Melody, heart and--for lack of a term as concise--balls; together, these qualities mark the best Midwestern bands, from Rockford's Cheap Trick, to Minneapolis' Replacements and Hüsker Dü, to Milwaukee's Modern Machines. Say who?
Modern Machines, a trio that's been breathlessly compared to its Midwestern predecessors in the punk press, are proud of their link in the chain. "It's not about who you know or some fashion show," says bassist Danny Zajackowski. "We care about music way above everything else. That's what I think of when I think 'Midwestern bands.'"
Like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, Modern Machines were born a teenage hard-core band. But by the time they'd moved from rural-ish Washington County, Wisconsin, and released their blessedly messy 2002 debut album Thwap!, they'd embraced melody and lyricism to an extent rare in any other part of the country for a band with a splattering guitar assault. "Their Midwest-sounding songs are so consistently well-written that this release no doubt will be considered a classic," raved Punk Planet. "Fuck yeah," applauded Maximum Rock and Roll.
With former second-guitarist Ben Woyak in the Peace Corps, the new Take It, Somebody is quieter than Thwap!and its high-pressure follow-up, Taco Blessing. But Zajackowski, frontman/guitarist Nate "Nato" Paisano and drummer Jon Hanson compensate with catchy, power-trio efficiency and a palette that includes bright pop, Nuggets-ish ravers and even through-and-through folk song "Treadmill Waltz."
On the track, Paisano anthropomorphizes Wisconsin as a struggling worker and coins a modern metaphor: "If there's a will, then there's a way/If you believe the old cliché/But is there always a way, when there's a will/Or will we still waltz the treadmill." Sung with quiet conviction, it's the kind of empathic loser ballad Paul Westerberg might have written 20 years ago--or Bob Seger a decade earlier.
"I put some stuff in songs that really couldn't happen in any other part of the country," Paisano says. "This is where there used to be all this industry, and now there's all these abandoned brick warehouses and factories. I feel a connection to this region--it doesn't just creep into the songs, it walks right in."
Also regionally appropriate--especially for a band from the birthplace of Pabst Blue Ribbon--is Modern Machines' beer habit, which they satisfy by shopping at an establishment they've dubbed "XBS" ("expired beer store"). It's an avocation reminiscent of the Replacements, as is the all-or-nothing ethic of a relatively unknown band that tours the coasts three times a year.
"There have been times that we've played in a city where we thought more people would come out, and that makes you occasionally wonder why you do it," Paisano says. "But there's no way we'd stop. I'd be writing these songs and singing them to whatever unfortunate person hears me, no matter what."