Standout Track: No. 3, “Whiskey Flows Downhill,” a nihilistic, three-chord ode to the stuff that keeps the DT’s away. As an accordion, tuba, and sousaphone drop a mournful klezmer riff over a snare-heavy marching beat, squeezeboxer-singer Russ Henry recounts a tale of woe: “I think my pants are on backwards and my leg is on fire/Laying in the backwoods burning up a tire,” he sings. Following a trumpet solo, Henry bemoans gun control, noise ordinances, and drunk-driving laws in a twisted minor blues that sounds like Tom Waits in an argument with an oompah band over a bottle of Wild Turkey.
Musical Motivation: “I don’t write from true life experience,” says Henry. “I always imagine a fictional character in the extreme.” “Whiskey’s” protagonist, he says, “is a complete drunkard out of control.” Though the song isn’t autobiographical, alcohol is part of this quartet’s genesis story—Henry tended bar alongside trumpeter Johnny Garner at Staccato, a now-defunct “piano bar that degraded into a hole-in-the-wall rock club” at 18th and U, where the duo bonded during after-hours jam sessions. Now, times have changed. “I work at the University of Maryland doing IT stuff,” says Henry, 29. “Those days are over.”
Sousaphone Home: Sousaphonist Matt Moffa leaves the band for law school at the end of the summer, and a replacement’s been hard to find—a run of unanswered Craigslist ads has Henry eyeing members of Maryland’s marching band for recruits. Regardless, Milk Machine is determined to avoid electric instruments. “We inject an oompah feel into a rock song,” Henry says. “We experimented with bass players, but it didn’t have that je ne sais quoi.”