What Made Milwaukee Famous, aside from its cheeky name, is quietly recognized as one of the most notorious indie rock bands of the last decade to come from Austin, or anywhere for that matter. They toured with indie icons like the National, had placement on national television, and were regular and much anticipated faces on the summer festival circuit. Yet despite getting all the appropriate breaks, they still never have managed to gain significant traction. But with such a regal, indie pedigree, it makes sense that Drew Patrizi’s solo endeavor of his own stockpiled material from the last couple years — which has donned the name Trumpeter Swan — would take the power-pop, crank-the-stereo idioms that defined WMMF’s visceral and heartfelt rock to the next level. Patrizi, in his solo effort, has opted for chamber-pop and studio acrobatics to produce an emotive and lush record, comparable in emotional scope to any of his previous group’s pursuits.
Trumpeter Swan tends to wallow in a space where the songs’ many parts work in tandem to create a collage of sounds that have fierce allegiance a certain musical alignment — a saturation of particular tastes. This album was certainly written as an art foray, not just a collection of tunes or some toss-off release from a guy who used to be in What Made Milwaukee Famous. From the unabashed power pop of “Loose Lips” to the full-on post-punk bravado of “Fool’s Parade”, Patrizi has stamped each song with its own genre/influence identity, almost as if he’s operating vicariously through sounds and passages he’s accumulated before in his head. Listen for the Clues is rich in texture and color, lyrically grandiose, and so decidedly ambitious, it positions itself as an album that draws a line for critics, reviewers, listeners and fans.
Trumpeter Swan sings about heavy things: the impermanence of love, a world under siege by pessimism and a remembered youth running away with age. If “Loose Lips” opens up inappropriately lighthearted, then the weight kicks in with the 80s pop of “Acolyte”. “You’ve changed, they can’t define you/ but your past is all around you,” sings Patrizi, cheap synths and bass stutters in accompaniment. “Silent Film (Noir)” continues in the same vein, almost to a fault — plenty of schmaltz laid on in the final seconds of the song via a shapeless reinterpretation of the song’s melody on a lone piano. Another extended piano ditty, “New Lang Syne”, finds itself more appropriately placed for such heartfelt balladry near the end of the album. That kind pandering to emotional tugs can play detriment to an album if done without taste, but thankfully for Trumpeter Swan, Patrizi has plenty of it. He just needs to decide where to use it.
If the first half of the album catered more towards Patrizi’s darker intuitions, then things turn with the hopeful and symphonic “Early Midlife Crisis”. While the lyricism kind of echoes the same sentiments heard in Jimmy Eat World’s cheer-up-kid radio hit, “The Middle”, Swan’s subtle orchestration between chord shifts and melodic passages keeps the music as the driving force, allowing for some lenience. The lines in the chorus, as the liner notes claim, were adapted from the morose Stevie Smith poem, “Not Waving but Drowning”. B-side standout “Greenbelt” offers a cherished break from Patrizi’s relentless spilling of his guts in all of the tunes he’s written and kept to himself the last couple years, as it’s the most “indie” of the tracks on Clues. The beachy and shimmering guitars offer great sonic surrounding for Patrizi and vocalist Molly Coogan to spout off impressionist lines of riparian scenes: “The weeds are tangled tall and thin/the water’s deep, the water’s cold.”
Listen for the Clues is an enterprising album full of affect. Patrizi, or Trumpeter Swan, whatever you wish to call him, has managed to pack a lot into 12 songs, making it a little hard to digest at first, but after a few spins, tracks and themes start to stand out. What I can say is that this is certainly not another What Made Milwaukee Famous album. The songs operate on a conceptual level, the music striving to enhance the lyrical message and vice versa. Given that Patrizi aimed so high, falling a little bit short isn’t so bad. At times his ambition and attempts to make a rich and colorful album come off as flat extravagance, and other times, it seems entirely appropriate.