WORK’s lat­est al­bum marks a bit­ter­sweet, brief re­turn to Mil­wau­kee’s mu­sic scene

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Mike Hol­loway Staff writer

Ask Joseph Can­non about some of the over­ar­ch­ing lyri­cal themes on his punk band WORK’s new al­bum and he’ll flip the vinyl sleeve over to re­veal the track list­ing on the back.

“This one’s about grad school,” Can­non says as he points to the ti­tle “As It Turns Out, He Didn’t Ac­tu­ally Have Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.”

He briefly ex­plains that a song called “Je­sus Di­a­pered Our Sins” is a “weird fan­tasy” about a hy­po­thet­i­cal hostage sit­u­a­tion.

And he af­firms that the song ti­tled “Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey” is about whiskey.

As Can­non re­calls his in­spi­ra­tions for the 11 tracks, he ex­hibits an as­sort­ment of re­ac­tions. He is puz­zled and amused by his own ideas. At times, he pauses to think. At other mo­ments, he is over­come with laugh­ter.

Can­non’s big, bushy beard is pep­pered with gray, like a more re­cent Jim Car­rey — and a con­trast to the clean-shaven face seen in the videos of the band per­form­ing live.

Can­non al­ter­nates be­tween stroking the beard and wip­ing cof­fee from the whiskers as he thinks.

“I write in a very odd way,” Can­non says be­fore pulling a notebook from his bag. He shows sev­eral pages from the book con­tain­ing scrib­bles of ideas — pieces of songs that may or may not ever find their place in a co­he­sive whole. The book con­tains tornout pages folded and stuck be­tween bound pages — lyrics from pre­vi­ous note­books or per­haps thoughts scrib­bled in times when Can­non found him­self without his trusty notebook handy.

“It’s a lot of writ­ing and rewrit­ing, and a lot of stuff in here has been copied and re­copied from other note­books,” says Can­non.

WORK’s lat­est re­lease —the band’s third full-length, Strictly Cruis’n — is a lot like Can­non’s notebook.

The al­bum con­tains au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal con­tent about grad­u­ate school and an exlover. “Ev­ery­body Loves Me Like the Hole in My Head” — the first sin­gle — is named af­ter a quote Can­non over­heard while work­ing at a group home for psy­chi­atric pa­tients. He couldn’t re­sist jot­ting it down. Other lines con­tain ref­er­ences to some of Can­non’s fa­vorite lit­er­a­ture lu­mi­nar­ies.

“The lyri­cal ideas and con­tent come from a myr­iad of dif­fer­ent places,” says Can­non. “It comes from po­etry or nov­els I’ve been read­ing. Some of it is vaguely top­i­cal.”

WORK’s song­writ­ing used to be bla­tantly per­sonal. The band formed in the wake of Can­non’s di­vorce with Wis­con­sin dream­folk singer-song­writer Lady Can­non. He formed the band with drum­mer Kavi Laud and bassist Jeff Bruegge­man — two mu­si­cians he met through weekly din­ner par­ties.

WORK’s first al­bum, The Long Con, was re­leased in April 2014. Many of its songs ex­plore the fall­out from the di­vorce. Can­non ad­mits that even some songs from the band’s sopho­more re­lease, Do­ing the Lord’s — re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2016 — carry over sen­ti­ments on that chang­ing point of his life.

“WORK sort of came to­gether — in my ex­pe­ri­ence — as a way of pro­cess­ing what had hap­pened,” says Can­non. “The band is very dif­fer­ent now.”

Can­non un­abashedly ad­mits he is em­bar­rassed of some of the emo­tions ex­pressed on early songs — one rea­son that the band rarely per­forms them.

“They’re very much songs of a time,” he says.

And while those songs are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a very spe­cific time in Can­non’s life, Strictly Cruis’n marks an un­cer­tain time in the band’s life. Dur­ing the record­ing process, Laud an­nounced he ac­cepted a job of­fer in Austin, Texas. He moved but re­turned to play a string of Mid­west shows fol­low­ing the band’s al­bum re­lease show Aug. 31 at High Dive. It was a bit­ter­sweet re­turn to the stage for a band that hadn’t per­formed since De­cem­ber of last year.

Can­non in­sists the band will not con­tinue without Laud, but also that the band isn’t be­ing put to rest.

“Laud is ut­terly ir­re­place­able,” he says. “We’re go­ing to con­tinue play­ing, but it’s go­ing to be few and far­ther be­tween. We’ve talked some­what se­ri­ously about ways to col­lab­o­rate and write at a dis­tance.”

The un­for­tu­nate tim­ing of the re­lease of Strictly Cruis’n was out of the band’s hands.

Lis­ten­ers who en­joy the al­bum now may have to wait an in­def­i­nite amount of time to hear the songs per­formed live, which is a shame, be­cause Can­non takes pride in WORK’s high-en­ergy live per­for­mances — no mat­ter how old he gets, no mat­ter how much gray sprouts in his beard.

Strictly Cruis’n is a sonic em­bod­i­ment of that en­ergy.

At times, Can­non’s lyri­cal de­liv­ery hov-

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