Olympia, Washington is the sort of small town you go to get lost in. Take a walk down 4th Ave and you’ll encounter any number of drifters, tramps, junkies and the various other degenerates that exist on the periphery of society. Rent is cheap and jobs are scarce so kids bum around, experimenting with drugs and wandering about inside their minds. Local businesses hang “No Tweekers” signs to keep out the addicts, and time slows down until you’ve soon forgotten that the rest of the world is even there.
It’s fitting that a band like Milk Music would emerge from such a place. With guitar leads that bow and twang, the songs off Cruise Your Illusion meander along in a listless way that feels more akin to a THC-fueled jam session at times than thought out composition. The tone is muddled and fuzzed, a burning haze of dirty 4-track recordings overlayed with sugary solos that border on the psychedelic. You can feel the small-town seclusion, a sleepy indolence that peeks through in songs like “Illegal and Free” and “I’ve Got a Wild Feeling.” I’m reluctant to say that these guys are a product of their environment, but sometimes a record comes out of certain place and it just makes sense.
Since releasing the Beyond Living 12” more than three years ago, Milk Music have made their mark as punk-hippies (or vice-versa), riding a fine line between various sub-genres as they sought to realize their identity in a DIY scene that can be admittedly fickle. The band has undoubtedly progressed through that time, shedding the SST/Dinosaur Jr/grunge rock labels that they’d been so aversely pegged with following that first release. Cruise Your Illusion has more of a classic rock feel to it, the songs oozing with a sauntering groove and rumbling fury. They’ve cleaned up their sound a bit, but not too much. The grit is still there, and songs like “Cruising With God” prove that they haven’t strayed so far from their earlier influences.
But then “Crosstown Wanderer” and “Lacey’s Street” have a real Stones feel to them. They kick in with bouncy riffs that feel lifted straight out of the 60’s, doing tribute to the likes of Hendrix and Clapton. The vocal tracks sit higher in the mix than on the earlier recordings, Coxen’s never-quite-in tune lyrical moanings evocative of a Springsteen sing-even-if-you-can’t vibe. He feels confident and yet stops short of conceit, the line, “But I couldn’t even hit a fucking note that high,” a reminder that they still don’t take themselves quite so seriously, in spite of the slide guitar interlude and whistle tracks.
Yet for a band whose aesthetic leans so heavily on their firm ethical standpoint, going with Fat Possom for the LP was certainly a strange move. Perhaps all the self-proclaimed aversion to record labels and music-industry sharks was little more than rhetoric, an ode to the time-honored tradition of “selling out” as the saying goes. But then again, back-pedaling seems hardly mentionable in a world where self-proclaimed DIY bands flock to the likes of Matador in droves. Besides, the label is only taking care of the CD release and who really buys those things in 2013 anyway?
With Cruise Your Illusion, Milk Music decidedly drifts further “out there” from the confines of punk, pulling at new influences in what feels like a natural progression from 2010’s Beyond Living. The record closes out with an 8-minute elegy to Coxen’s own death, complete with backing ooh’s and ah’s and a bit more of the slide. It's a cohesive offering, still raw yet boasting a newfound sophistication.