Now more than ever, social media has become a political war zone. People take to their smart phones to argue their stance on anything from social issues to whether they hear the words “yanny” or “laurel” in an audio clip. Fingers are pointed, exaggerated facts and lies are spread and even more attention is given to those who already have too much power.
“The only way I can deal with the insanity and release the primal scream is through satire and dark humor,” says Allen Cote, singer and songwriter of the Milwaukee-based-experimental group Lyric Advisory Board. “I’m hoping there are some other people who feel the same way.”
Today’s contentious political climate has inspired Cote’s debut original full length music release with Lyric Advisory Board— and it’s an ambitious one. The album is titled The Great American Novelty and will be released on June 21. Through the use of satire and dark humor, Cote has created a concept album with an underlying commentary on society’s social tendencies, exploring a narrative with the use of sounds from a variety of genres.
Writing, recording and releasing a concept album is a difficult feat to pull off — one that Cote says was inspired by Ry Cooder’s Election Special. With the contributions of an impressive number of creative minds, Lyric Advisory Board’s debut album is an experimental journey, one that serves as a dizzying introduction to the band’s hard-to-pin down sound.
CEO of the Board
Lyric Advisory Board was born during the writing process of Milwaukee singer-songwriter Heidi Spencer’s album Things I Remember Golden. Cote — a guitar player on the album — had also contributed lyrics. Spencer wanted to credit the various lyrical contributors on the liner notes of her album, so Cote came up with the Lyric Advisory Board.
“Since I came up with the name, I became the CEO of the Board,” says Cote.
When it came time to release the album, Cote put together an opening act comprised of other contributors on the album using that same name.
In its initial form, Lyric Advisory Board was made up of whatever musicians Cote was collaborating with at the time. Since then, it has settled into a trio consisting of Cote (guitar and vocals), Jeff Brueggeman (bass) and Nathan Kilen (drums). The other roles are filled with an ever-revolving cast of local musicians, such as B~Free and John Patek, who both also work with Cote in the Milwaukee Montessori School music department.
“I always seek out collaborators based on personal and musical trust and respect,” Cote says.
In 2016, the band released a front-to-back tribute album of Revolver by The Beatles. All proceeds from that release benefitted Equality Florida’s fund to assist the families of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting that occurred on June 12, 2016 in Orlando.
Lyric Advisory Board also has a Latin offshoot group called ipaLABra! that specializes in classic Cuban music, which has performed at Arte Para Todos and Chill on the Hill.
An ambitious debut
When looking at the diversity of the projects that Cote and his collaborators have taken on, the complexities of the band’s debut release seems a little more standard. Cote wanted to create something that could resonate with those who were willing to look at our current political climate through the lens of satire.
“I have been struck quite a bit lately by the sheer ridiculousness of the national conversation,” Cote says. “Our leaders form trade policies and trade insults on social media; then the journalists create entire articles based almost exclusively on screen shots; then the people form creed and credo with very little fact checking.”
Cote says he could spend hours extemporizing on any of the themes that the album covers — which includes consumption, cult of celebrity, prejudice and addiction among many others — but it’s all neatly packaged up into a narrative separated into two acts.
Act I explores what occurs after the rise of an authoritarian, which is fueled by the “chorus of the fearful.” The people fight back, but they become so wrapped up in their opposition that it becomes self-serving party. Mother Earth and her young daughters die, and a victim of a mass shooting offers forgiveness. Act II explores the aftermath of these events — where chaos unfolds and society crumbles. The cycle is then eventually repeated.
“I had the general story I wanted to tell in mind when we started,” Cote says. “I didn’t really have the sequencing. I knew where to start and where to end, but let the rest sort of reveal itself.”
The album was recorded in the summer of 2017, with recording beginning coincidentally two days before the date of the 4th of July — an arbitrary choice, according to Cote, due to scheduling conflicts.
Collaborators on this album include Heidi Spencer, B~Free (flute), John Patek (violin), Lisa Ridgely (vocals), and Kat Wodtke (vocals). Cote also had help with a family member who also credited on Revolver.
“My daughter, Willa Moon Cote, heard the songs so often while I was mixing that she knows all the words by heart, and specifically asked if she could sing on the album,” Cote says.
The Great American Novelty, just like its deeply symbolic narrative, winds down many unexpected paths, and its difficult to describe Lyric Advisory Board’s sound. Their bandcamp page accurately labels itself as “an experiment in orchestration.” The track “Drunk on Power” sounds like it was ripped straight from a country-rock album. “Little Bourgeois Lice” — which was arranged and recorded on the spot in ten minutes — sounds like a polka frantically ascending into chaos as it dances between time signatures. Even tracks like “Heaven in the Suburbs” — which starts off with the smooth and comforting sound B~Free’s flute playing — take a sudden turn towards the end. The Great American Novelty is at times odd and goofy, but the absurdity is only an accent to what is otherwise a masterfully crafted experiment in storytelling and musical composition.
American Carnage from Andrew Gralton on Vimeo.
The gangs all here
On June 21, Lyric Advisory Board will be releasing The Great American Novelty online. It can be streamed and purchased at the band’s bandcamp page. Lyric Advisory Board will also be celebrating the release with an appearance on 414 Live Radio Milwaukee. The following day, they're celebrating with a show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. They’ll be performing the album in its entirety, but not in the original order, which should shake up the narrative in an interesting way.
“We will be completely reworking the sequence and arrangements, extending the improvisation, and just seeing what happens,” Cote says.
Sista Strings, B~Free and Quinten Farr will each perform opening sets, as well as joining the band later to help out with songs from the album. Lisa Ridgely, Kat Wodtke and Ryan Elliott (guitar) will be performing with Lyric Advisory Board as well. Ever the experimenter, not even the debut of Cote’s own concept album is safe from his desire to shake things up.
“We’re going to start and finish in the same place, but try to create a wholly different, yet equally dynamic story arc, and build up to as many musicians as we can fit onstage by the end,” Cote says.
You would be hard pressed to find a more suitable candidate for CEO of the Lyric Advisory Board.