Lo-fi hero

The Dead Milkmen’s Joe Jack Talcum brings offbeat punk to Olympia

By Rev. Adam McKinney on October 4, 2018

Early in the lives of many a burgeoning music nerd, there occurs a watershed moment where you're exposed to a band that unites your current passion for discovery with your love for novelty songs instilled in you in early childhood. These bands are a little funnier, a little weirder, a little subversive, possessing a perspective that's completely unique from the largely sincere music you've heard all your life. I remember precisely where I was when I was introduced to bands like They Might Be Giants and Ween, iconoclasts like Harry Nilsson and Tom Waits, and the sillier sides of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. A switch gets flipped in your mind -- the same switch that will hopefully get flipped again and again, over the years -- where you think to yourself, "My God, music can do this?"

I also remember where I was when I first heard the Dead Milkmen. My friend had a copy of Philadelphia in Love, a compilation of all their music videos, as well as some archival footage and rare tracks. It painted such a completely charming picture of this band that I was immediately taken. What I saw in the Dead Milkmen was a scrappy group of dudes who were being true to their more lighthearted natures in a scene where that wasn't the most popular; like the Talking Heads flexing their art school bonafides in the punk mecca of CBGB, the Dead Milkmen were crafting witty, jangly punk in the midst of the Philadelphia hardcore scene of the ‘80s.

The Dead Milkmen would break up in 1995, after a decade of being college radio darlings, but from nearly the beginning, guitarist and co-vocalist Joe Jack Talcum was recording solo material, releasing them as cassettes. Many of these songs were eventually collected in two compilations: Home Recordings 1984-1990 and Home Recordings 1993-1999. The recordings are homespun, complete with the requisite tape hiss, and are winningly tossed-off affairs. Fans of bedroom pop will be familiar with the form these songs take, with mostly strummed acoustic guitar, flourishes of electric guitar, and some minor percussion like handclaps.

What remains present is Talcum's wry sense of humor and innate sense of melody. When a song like "Talk" can legitimately present a compelling chorus out of Talcum just singing "blah blah blah," it becomes clear just how instinctively this person composes effortlessly catchy songs. While the influence of the Dead Milkmen's sound remains, there are also echoes of other lo-fi heroes like Guided By Voices and Chris Knox. Talcum's unpolished voice is inviting, presenting a relaxed warmth that makes for a disarmingly intimate listen.

Though the Dead Milkmen properly broke up in 1995 (and reunited in 2008), Talcum's never stopped making music, playing in several other bands, including his initial solo outfit Butterfly Joe, and his recent group the Low Budgets. Talcum also doesn't really take a lot of time off the road, finding himself once again on tour and stopping off in Olympia. At the Pig Bar, he'll be joined by fellow oddball Coolzey, as well as blisteringly noisy Tacoma dirtbags Werthless.

JOE JACK TALCUM, w/ Coolzey, Werthless, 9 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 10, The Pig Bar, 619 Legion Way SE, Olympia, $10, 360.943.6900


How is it possible that Cloud Person's sound continues to get bigger every time I hear it? What started as a solo project, before moving onto a trio, has now ballooned into a six-piece amalgamation of indie rock, psychedelia, hard rock and folk. The Seattle band's style, these days, is more Nick Cave than David Bazan. They seem to have reached the same place that the Decemberists did with The Hazards of Love, mixing reams of erudite lyrics with increasingly progressive rock-indebted form. Their show, this Saturday, is in the lead-up to the release of their latest LP, Cold Starts.

CLOUD PERSON, w/ Nails Hide Metal, Vacant Voice, 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, no cover, 253.248.4265, thevalleytacoma.com