Curator’s notes: Matt Jencik, Matchess, and Auscultation

Join us for a Tone Madison-presented show on October 14 at Arts + Literature Laboratory.

Join us for a Tone Madison-presented show on October 14 at Arts + Literature Laboratory.


Matt Jencik.

Matt Jencik.

Tone Madison’s next show, featuring touring and local artists we’ve selected, is October 14 at Arts + Literature Lab. Here are a few thoughts on why we picked the artists who are playing. Donors to our Patreon page receive discounted admission to these events. For information about other upcoming events, and tickets, go to Tone Madison Presents.

One of the releases I’ve been reaching for the most this year is Weird Times, the debut solo album from Chicago-based musician Matt Jencik. Most listeners who know Jencik’s work know him as a veteran of some of the stranger corners of rock, reaching back to his work in the 1990s with bands including the cathartic Hurl and the bracing math-rock outfit Don Caballero. More recently, he’s played dark-churning psych-rock in Chicago band Implodes, toured as a member of the reunited Slint, and collaborated with Circuit Des Yeux, among other things.

Weird Times is a departure from all of the above, and in its way it says just as much about Jencik’s versatility, sturdy craftsmanship, and ear for atmosphere. The album consists of 10 ambient tracks that Jencik created using discarded guitar riffs as a starting point. But like his Implodes bandmate Ken Camden’s solo work, Weird Times makes it pretty easy to forget that this music has anything at all to do with guitar.

Jencik processes and rearranges the source material into pieces that at first can sound trebly and scratchy. There’s a muted, greyscale feeling that runs throughout the album, yet each piece still feels dynamic and patiently composed. “Dead Comet Flyby” gently swells and builds in the murkier end of the album’s sonic palette, while tracks like “Cosmic Horror” and “Glass Blow” let some brighter sounds chime through the eerie static.

Co-headlining on this show is Matchess, the solo project of Chicago multi-instrumentalist Whitney Johnson. Using components that include viola, organ, and vocals, Matchess has created a wondrous, searching and at times unsettling sonic palette that stands out among its contemporaries in drone, ambient, and experimental music. On the project’s 2016 full-length, The Rafter, Johnson uses synth arpeggios and clanking, throbbing sound samples to create a sense of rhythmic tension as dense atmospheres twist and stretch. Johnson builds “The Wind” around a descending organ melody and “Aweh” around chords and vocals that shimmer against a dark and rugged field-recording background.

Johnson’s vocals on The Rafter are often either wordless, or the words get obscured in the dense warp of the music, but they bring a genuine sense of yearning to the music. Never quite letting the listener just sink into the drone, Matchess makes you share her vast sonic space with a restless, keen, uncanny intelligence. Johnson has also played in projects including Verma and E+, and a quick look at the “process” page of her website gives you a sense of her ability wrangle unique and impressive approaches—her solo performances can use everything from viola to drum machines to reel-to-reel tape machines.

Opening up at the request of the headliners is Tone Madison‘s own Joel Shanahan, performing under the name Auscultation. Joel’s a friend and a part of this website so I’ll keep it brief, but his live performances lately under the Golden Donna and Auscultation monikers have been moving, present, and ever-shifting interpretations of house, techno, and ambient music.

Don’t forget to also join us for the following shows (more announcements coming soon):

October 26: Tom Rainey + Devin Drobka. Gates of Heaven, 8 p.m. all ages, $12, presale available

November 9: Tone Madison 3rd anniversary party with Tippy, 3rd Dimension, Exploration Team, Ilana Bryne, and Glynis. Art In, 8 p.m., $10, free for Patreon donors.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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