More than a little misleading in both their band name and album title, Philadelphia’s Milton & the Devil’s Party present their sophomore set How Wicked We’ve Become, a sweet and often deceptively haunting album of unapologetic jangle pop. One that, while hardly original, hardly sounds dated.
Considering how both singer/songwriter Daniel Robinson and guitarist Mark Graybill moonlight as English professors at Widener University, it’s only fitting that the duo would know how to mine the rich archives of classic college rock for inspiration. Along the way, they manage to hit all the major alternapop touchstones. Some R.E.M here (“Perdita”), The Smiths there (“Have to Have Everything”), a little Lemonheads (“I’ve Had Your Wife”), and so on and so forth.
This could easily come off as simple shameless mimicry if not for Robinson’s lyrics, which possess both a biting sincerity and surprising accessibility. In addition to the aforementioned and slightly disturbing “Wife,” there are myriad other droll insights like “Misery is a luxury when you’re seventeen (or you’re Morrissey), but I’ve got people depending on me” (in another Wicked highlight, “Too Old to Die”). These insights are even easier to pick up on and appreciate because of the bubbly musical manner in which they are presented. Between the sharp songwriting and the light, jangling rhythms, one can’t help but sing along and feel a little smarter for doing so.
There may not be anything here that you haven’t heard before, and Milton’s nostalgic charms do start to wear off by albums end— the slight “The Gods Have Given Up on Immortality” and “Reformation” in particular play like phoned-in R.E.M. covers; Automatic for the People, indeed. But given how Michael Stipe has arguably grown too self-important, Morrissey too bitter, and Evan Dando too sober, it’s nice to find a group who remember the simpler if not unknown pleasures of their selected genre.
How Wicked We’ve Become is currently available via Transit of Venus.
01. Coward of the Conscience
02. I’ve Had Your Wife
03. Have to Have Everything
04. Too Old to Die
05. My Head Is Bowed
07. Muse of Mundanity
08. The Sole True Something
09. The Gods Have Given up on Immortality
Written by: Rob Huff