I’ll come right out and say it: The dissolution of The Delphines is devastating. Hush has become my biggest obsession-album of the year so far. To think that you could make that album and then not carry on, that messes with my head. Obviously it can’t be nearly as trying for me as it is for the members of the band, and I’m excited for whatever they all come up with next, but it won’t, and it oughtn’t, be The Delphines. And that’s brutal, for the city of Milwaukee and for music at large.
This bit of news is only one of several crushing local band breakups of the year. The Scarring Party is Kickstartering its final album. The (totally bitchin) final Disguised As Birds EP came out in January. I don’t want to start any rumors about Call Me Lightning, but for having released a new album and being one of the most respected and loved Milwaukee bands of the past decade (deservedly so), they haven’t shown many signs that they’re a fully operational entity lately. A few days ago, someone who calls himself “Dude” commented on my Milwaukee Psych Fest piece to let me know that Catacombz has also thrown in the towel. We’re talking about some of the best bands in the city, here.
I know, I know, I should be used to this, it’s the nature of things, etc., etc. It’s not like I didn’t just suffer through the demise of Decibully, The Celebrated Workingman and Juniper Tar in a relatively short span of time. There’s still a ton of music to be excited about in this city, yes yes. We’re on the verge of new
Death Blues, Sat. Nite Duets, Canopies, Altos, Old Earth, etc. New bands will appear and knock our socks off. Plus, there’s that new Space Raft album. If you haven’t listened to that yet, you’re a ninny. And of course, there’s “Dippy Time”. Thus ends the obligatory optimistic counterpoint paragraph.
The Delphines' demise caught me off guard. They were always gushing about how welcoming and supportive the Milwaukee scene has been, in contrast to the many artists whose feelings have been hurt by a lack of coverage or accolades who like to bitch about how competitive and unsupportive the scene is. Then there's the endless back-and-forth between the city's tastemakers about the perception and potential of the local scene "making it" on a larger scale. And the truth is that it's all about expectations and attitude; if you don't have faith in your own future, a gradual process of success will always seem too slow. Most of my favorite bands sucked for years before they even made listenable music; go figure.
That whole conversation gets so tiresome after a while, though. I prefer to get back to the music itself. Who in this town had more potential to make waves in the world than The Delphines? Who's writing better songs? Who's got a catchier sound? Who's better live? Nobody, that's who. Now I'm even more pissed about that stupid East Side Music Tour, because that unseeable, barely-audible Roman Coin performance now becomes the last Delphines show I'll ever see. WEAK. As a writer and cohost of a radio show devoted entirely to promoting local music, I'm acutely aware of how hard it is to get people to pay attention. It certainly seemed like these guys were getting noticed in other places. I never heard a discouraging word about them. In this bubble I live in, their greatness was self-evident. It's hard not to feel like the rug just got yanked out from under me.
There's a weird dynamic between local musicians and local writers, if my experience is at all typical. Mainly, the musicians don't all hate the writers. There's a non-sycophantic dialogue that sometimes goes on, and a certain degree of humility in both camps. Seems like the big, fragile egos generally move away and fail in New York or California where they can nurture that clichéd resentment of critics like the rock stars they wish they were. But I've actually had musicians tell me that my criticisms were helpful. Which is great, but what I'd prefer is if my praise were helpful. I didn't get into this craft for the glory. My only goal is to turn people on to music I love, plain and simple. (And to make it not boring to read, I SUPPOSE). Like in any other artistic field, you can run up against a wall sometimes if you feel like your efforts are all for naught.
So yeah, it's frustrating when a band that's got us eating out of its hands calls it quits. But obviously, this isn't meant to be some kind of guilt trip aimed at The Delphines; interpersonal relationships will and should trump artistic expression almost every time. I tend to assume breakups are always justified; it's the reunions that piss me off.
When I started writing this thing, I thought it was going to be a lament about the state of the Milwaukee music scene, but I don't think I've got one of those in me. Maybe it's just a love letter to The Delphines, and to all those amazing bands that, try as I might, I couldn't even turn my friends onto before they broke up. And it's definitely an overreaction. After all, Catacombz and The Scarring Party have both been basically defunct for quite a while (fingers crossed for some more Little Otik!). Call Me Lightning had an amazing run, but I think most of us will admit that Human Hell is a bit uninspired (almost inevitably?) compared to their first two albums. And also, The Delphines still sounded amazing as a three-piece for what was to be their final performance--under that moniker, at least--on Local/Live last week. I bet whatever they do next, I'll be fully onboard, whether or not anybody else in the Brew City or the world is with me.