Join us on Thursday, March 31 at the Gates of Heaven for a night of art-rock and far-flung drone.
New York band Skeletons and Madison drone duo Mid Waste will play the next installment of our GateSound music series this Thursday, March 31 at the Gates of Heaven in James Madison Park. The series got off to a successful start in February with a show from percussionist Ches Smith’s trio and Madison/Minneapolis/Chicago improv outfit Nestle. Madison-based musician Rob Lundberg and I are working together to book the series. Most of the time, the headliners are Rob’s idea and I select a local opener, and as Rob explained last month, we’re trying to reach across genres and showcase a broad spectrum of artists who are pushing themselves to make bold and adventurous music.
In the case of Skeletons, that means taking a melodic rock framework and stretching it out to embrace diverse instrumentation and harmonically dense arrangements. On the new album Am I Home?, leader Matt Mehlan and his many collaborators end up with something combines bright familiarity and a searching itchiness. The beginning of “Don’t Smother It” lays a yearning vocal melody over sustained organ chords and booming percussion. The rest of the song is largely instrumental, veering between exuberant, overstuffed crescendos and passages of stark, meandering saxophone.
Most of the album’s other tracks center heavily on Mehlan’s conversational vocal melodies and discursive lyrics. On “The City,” prickly horns and scratchy rhythm guitar conjure the bristling excitement of living in a big city, but Mehlan’s lyrics juxtapose that with the grinding familiarity that can sink in even amid a heady urban environment. He sings about people jogging in “thousand-dollar sweatpants” and bored parents pushing their kids in swings, and concludes, “I judge not, nor pretend to be the judge / we all gotta make it work.”
Throughout the album, Mehlan touches on themes of feeling unmoored, searching for purpose, belonging, and maybe a little comfort. All these ideas come to a head over flowing piano and hazily atmospheric chords on “Success,” as Mehlan sings, “What if there’s simply no such thing as magic?” The line doesn’t come off as whimsical—instead, it comes off as something you say as you’re getting older and facing down disillusionment and narrowing possibilities. It’s surrounded by 9 minutes of swirling instrumentation—evoking both accessible singer-songwriter material and stormy post-bop jazz—that suggests the possibilities are open yet.
Mid Waste, comprised of Epiphany Compton on sampler and tape loops and Spencer Bible on guitar, will be performing two 15-minute pieces they’re preparing for an as-yet-untitled new record. They’ll be accompanied here by live projections by Madison musician Tim Consequence. Mid Waste’s live performances, and their recent debut EP As Relayed, create an at once serene and forbidding zone of droning guitar chords and squelched, crackling found sound. The most impressive aspect of it is how Compton marshals a really odd jumble of gear—handheld tape recorders, effects pedals, an old four-track—into soundscapes that feel not merely strange but purposeful. I’m looking forward to hearing this stuff rumble through the cozy acoustic chamber that is the Gates, and I hope you’ll join us.