Check Yourself: Milquetoast’s Caterwaul


Pink Pank Punks

If you Crtl+F my posts on Toilet ov Hell, you’d probably find “caterwaul” at least a dozen times to describe an array of vocal stylings. It is a really wonderful word, itself an unfettered cry that is delightfully phonetic without hiding its Old and Middle English etymology. Sometimes I fear I only know five or six colourful words to describe anything, and I feel a twinge of inadequacy every time I type “caterwaul” to portray a daring, adventurous vocalist given over to wild howling and wailing. Until now, though, I never thought about its primary derivation: cats wailing in “rutting time.” But that’s precisely how I’ve come to think about Milquetoast’s Caterwaul—a furry and fanged ball of rainbow heat that is as quarrelsome as it is horny.

Milquetoast is a group of Nap Town stoner cum punk rock weirdos who bring a mad grab bag of influences to the back-alley party. There’s the razor-edged rancor of Black Flag hidden inside the sweet stoner candy of The Melvins. Bands like Cows and Tar kept creeping into my mind as well, if only to reinforce how uniquely bizarre the whole affair is. If this were another decade, you could imagine Milquetoast featuring on a Dope, Fucking, and Guns in the Street compilation, though the pink pizza-faced Taco Baphomet glowering inside the album’s layout might perhaps make for a Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine Reptile instead.

At first blush, Caterwaul is roiling mass of sexy fun. Throughout the album, rumbling and jumbled 80s hardcore slams headfirst into a wall of tectonic fuzz, smearing the listener all across the railroad tunnel hole that turned out to be paint slapped on a mountainside. Listen no further than to the falsetto note punctuating the chorus of “Stoner Safari” and the Clutch-like Appalachian drawl of “Step Off” than to find a band who has no problem goofing around. Just stay outta their personal space, okay?

More often than not, however, Milquetoast throw a transparent veil of tongue-in-cheek humour over biting criticism. “Recognize” stands out for its flair for the dramatic, tackling serious issues with a delightfully sneering attitude that doesn’t undermine its own purport. There’s something about the performance of the following lines that is so striking. First, the listener is posed the question, “Have you feared potential violence just for being who you are?” Then, response given, the band echoes wryly, “Noooo?” before pointing out, “Well, there are… people that do! (People that do!)” It’s droll yet poignant. The ability to balance earnest social critique with such theatricality is no small part of what makes Caterwaul so appealing. We’re mad as hell—righteously so—but we’re also having just a bit of fun.

“Matapacos,” with its swinging rhythm and playful soloing, is all fun and games until you’re compelled to “bite that cop!” and realize “we’re fighting for our lives” (“gueriendo para nos vidas”). “Space Force” is a Dick Dale surf-punk lampooning of Trump-era “policy,” while “Wall and “Fake News Blues” are ripped from the Dead Kennedys songbook, though both with a dose of Big Business mixed in. Though we might lament the howls of “fake news” at ideologically inconvenient socio-political realities, we can all agree, at the very least, on the existence of the Pee Tape.

And speaking of tapes, I’m so glad I bought Caterwaul on cassette. David Jaggar’s Betsey Johnson layout of the album’s lyrics matches so well Ellie Shvaiko’s gleefully queer artwork. If tapes sell out before you get one, the band has added signed CDs to their bandcamp, though those too are selling quickly. Sean, the proprietor of Wise Blood Records, even included a hand-written thank you note—wax seal and everything!—with my order. The whole thing’s a party, and the guest list is wide open. Come on in and skank the night away.

Caterwaul is out now
on Wise Blood Records.
Grab a tape, a CD, a digital copy,
and/or a shirt.
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