All output from Olympia, Washington nostalgia-punk quartet Milk Music before their full-length Cruise Your Illusion pointed pretty directly to the influence of SST record's roster of late-'80s and early-'90s guitar-centric post-punk bands. The angular ruggedness barely concealing pop cores recalled Hüsker Dü, the stripped-down production aesthetic hinted at the economical approach of the Minutemen, and just about everything else echoed resoundingly of Dinosaur Jr. With this 12-song debut, the band keep their backward-looking esthetic but also manage to deliver a sound that's developed past its immediately recognizable influences. This change isn't due to the usual polished production values that sometimes clean up a band's sound. Cruise Your Illusion, recorded on four tracks of 1/2" tape, relies completely on analog warmth and the power of the performances to move the album along. Beginning with the instrumental introduction "Caged Dogs Run Wild," the album is nothing more than the sound of a great band playing in a room. Rockers like "New Lease on Love" and "Runaway" definitely recast the melodic buzz of Dinosaur Jr.'s most primitive and earliest albums, and vocalist Alex Coxen's howling vocals sit somewhere between J. Mascis' froggy baritone, Bob Mould's sneering bite, and the tormented wailing of the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Guitars definitely take the lead role of the production, with the drums sometimes sink into the background behind the walls of fuzzy tones. While the SST throwback vibes are still high in the mix, Milk Music also explores the jammier territory of Crazy Horse, or even a more rudimentary nod to the noodly textures of the Dead with grooving tracks like "Crosstown Wanderer" or a series of instrumental interludes. However, it's never long before the band is bounding back into raging guitar solos, symphonies of feedback, and Coxen's braying lead vocals, delivering lines as ear catching as "Let's steal a car, I know this crazy guy" and as dumb as "Got to get high or we're gonna die" in a guttural Greg Sage growl. Cruise Your Illusion holds enough of the band's personality to keep them from being a '90s cover band, but at times, the weight of their ragged influences sits heavy enough on the songs to obscure their most original aspects. However, much as Dinosaur Jr. were called out for being blatant Neil Young appropriators in their early days, the most interesting parts of Cruise Your Illusion show Milk Music having potential to outgrow their SST roots and bloom into something completely different.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas