Wide-ranging psych from Dire Wolves, a visit from Angela Davis, the return of Print & Resist, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Grant Phipps, Shaun Soman, and Steven Spoerl
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY APRIL 11
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Mary Timony has made a lot of ambitious, elliptical music in projects like Helium and Autoclave, but took a surprisingly straightforward turn in 2013 with the founding of the D.C.-based trio Ex Hex. Along with bandmates Betsy Wright (bass, vocals, guitar) and Laura Harris (drums), Timony dials in on unapologetically giddy power-pop, not giving up the complexity of her earlier work so much as reconciling it with a different set of constraints. The band’s second album, this year’s It’s Real, has more of a rugged edge than 2014’s debut Rips. On “Rainbow Shiner,” Wright delivers a lead vocal that perfectly matches the swaggering command she brings to the band’s live sets, over riffs tinged with the swinging menace of Iron Maiden. The added heaviness of It’s Real somehow just makes things more exuberant: Grimy guitar tones and Harris’ rumbling drum sound create a wonderful contrast with the vocal hooks of “Another Dimension” and give the band a lot of range to explore on the relatively slow-building “Want It To Be True.” At its core, It’s Real builds on the same fundamentals of punchy songwriting and ecstatic guitar solos that served Ex Hex so well on Rips, but still manages to find room for growth. To explore more of Timony’s work, make sure to check out our latest podcast short. —Scott Gordon
Milwaukee band Brief Candles has been finding different ways to play tender melodies off of billowy, scratchy soundscapes since the early oughts. The rich layers of reverb and delay in much of Brief Candles’ music make it easy to sum it up as dream-pop or shoegaze, but that doesn’t do justice to the mix of ideas at work here. Even back on 2003’s self-titled debut album, the brisk rhythms of “June” sat nicely alongside the languid buildup of songs like “All My Gates.” Guitarists Jenifer Boniger and Kevin Dixon trade off lead vocal performances, both singing with a balance of ethereal mood and up-front vulnerability. The latest Brief Candles release, 2017’s Retreater, is if anything the band’s most varied work yet, with a scope that seems to range from the gentlest twee-pop to the darker corners of post-punk. Over the years the band has made all its ideas melt together more and more naturally, and it shows on “Tiramisu,” framed around Drew Calvetti’s hulking distorted bass and drummer radishbeat’s at once plodding and restless patterns. Another standout, “Alarm Fatigue,” captures Brief Candles’ ability to pick up the tempo a bit while still creating warm and generous atmospheres. Brief Candles share the bill here with Madison duo Christian Dior and a new local outfit, Caryatids, which features members of projects including Hex House, Terran, and Coordinated Suicides. —Scott Gordon
The New York City band Sunwatchers creates fiercely churning instrumentals that pull from the headiest reaches of avant-garde jazz and psychedelic rock. Jeff Tobias’ saxophone at times girds the band’s shimmering with an overarching melody, as on “The Hot Eye,” from the 2018 album II, and at times explodes into near-atonal rages, as it does on “Psychic Driving,” from the new Illegal Moves. Drummer Jason Robira keeps the group’s compositions in a zone between itchy repetition and conversational flexibility, pulling back to let tracks like Illegal Moves‘ rendition of Alice Coltrane’s “Ptah, The El Daoud” swell together but goading opening track “New Dad Blues” into something a bit like a Krautrock groove. Around it all swirls the brightly saturated electric guitar of Jim McHugh and the driving but never too rigid bass lines of bassist Peter Kerlin. Sunwatchers do find room for tenderness and subtlety in all this, but it’s hard to miss the core of righteous outrage that powers this music. They share the bill here with Madison math-rock veterans Czarbles and a new project, Telechrome, which comprises psych-electronic explorers Tarek Sabbar and Terrance Barrett. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY APRIL 12
Saxophonist Dave Rempis, drummer Ryan Packard, and bassist Brandon Lopez (the first two based in Chicago, the third in New York City) are all dizzyingly well-travelled collaborators in contemporary jazz and improvised music, so it kind of just makes sense that at some point they’d converge. The trio began playing improvised live shows together in 2017 and released their first album together, The Early Bird Gets, this February on Rempis’ Aerophonic Records label. Each musician here has played in pretty abstract territory, though not exclusively so—Lopez in his work with the explosive drummer Chris Corsano, Packard with bizarro-prog outfit Wei Zhongle and guitarist Daniel Wyche, and Rempis in the trio Kuzu with drummer Tyler Damon and guitarist Tashi Dorji, to cite just a few instances. But the promotional materials for The Early Bird Gets note that it “may be the ‘jazziest’ project any of them are involved with,” and in this case the promotional materials have an important point. A tracks like “Raho Navis” is still every bit the wriggling heap of ideas one would expect from this trio, but Rempis’ sax is, in its barbed and fiery way, chiefly concerned with laying down a melody here, while Packard’s drumming creates a feel both swinging and frenetic, and Lopez meanders through challenging but still warmly engaging phrases of its own. Elsewhere, as on “Neo Aves,” the trio does prod at the more atonal edges of its capabilities, with help from the electronic elements Packard has been incorporating into his drumkit. There’s plenty of all three of these players to go around right now, but together they’ve created something incredibly vital. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY APRIL 13
The annual Madison Print & Resist event grew out of a scrappy zine fair that launched in 2004 and took on various forms before landing its current name and its current location at the Central Library’s bright third-floor space. As the name implies, Print & Resist showcases not just the enduring culture that surrounds print—from photocopied zines to letterpress posters to comics to buttons to a wealth of other artworks and objects—but also how print can empower marginalized people and build community around leftist political ideas. In recent years, Print & Resist has featured several dozen different artists and printmaking groups showcasing and selling their work, as well as self-guided project spaces that invite attendees to get hands-on and make some work of their own. Most of the exhibitors come from Madison and around the Midwest. They range from Artworking (a local non-profit that supports artists with developmental disabilities) to Marimacha Monarca Press (a Chicago organization centered around queer and trans people of color) to Madison’s feminist Spooky Boobs collective to longtime DIY-comics creator John Porcellino. —Scott Gordon
Should local moviegoers still crave all things Wisconsin Film Festival after it concludes on April 11, two days later the Cinematheque will be presenting a 35mm print of David Gordon Green’s micro-budget debut, George Washington, which originally premiered at the 2001 festival. Green, who’s gone on to enjoy a lucrative career oscillating between American independent dramas and studio comedies, found his own creative voice and critical acclaim by channeling the lyrical storytelling of Terrence Malick here. Notably, its application of Nasia (Candace Evanofski)’s idiosyncratic and colloquial voiceover narration echoes Linda Manz in Days Of Heaven (1978) and even Giovanni Ribisi in The Virgin Suicides (1999).
Narratively, George Washington is indebted to the literature of William Faulkner and tinged with notes of humorous fabulism (elevated through Tim Orr’s slow-motion handheld cinematography), as it follows a young nonprofessional cast through the outskirts of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Nasia, Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee), Sonya (Rachael Handy), and the rest of the ragtag crew pass the time by exploring the area’s abandoned spaces, hoping to uncover something miraculous or mysterious, perhaps even within themselves. At the same time they struggle with adolescent jealousies, particularly amid Nasia’s breakup with Buddy, who she deems to be too immature. She instead turns her attention to the quiet and vulnerable outcast, George Richardson (Donald Holden), who becomes something of an unlikely hero to other residents of the town, albeit in the midst of other tragedy.
The film also features an early role for Paul Schneider (Parks And Recreation) as a railway worker who befriends and confides in the adolescents. Further, the soundtrack sort of secretly stands as one of the best of the 2000s, and its adventurous ambient sounds peak in the epic, climactic “Basilica,” written by Michael Linnen and David Wingo (Ola Podrida). —Grant Phipps
SUNDAY APRIL 14
Dire Wolves has enough quiet and free-floating reflection in its improvised music that Mickey’s might seem a risky choice of venue, but the San Francisco band also has more than enough charismatic gravity to pull a potentially chatty crowd into its orbit. Even when the project skirts the distant rim of psychedelia, as on “A Quiverful Of Light” from 2017’s Oceans Of Green, it projects an ominous strength, bringing together drones and fragmentary melodic phrases (from guitars, bass, drumkit, violin, voice, and singing bowls) with an air of a decisive journey into the unknown. And when Dire Wolves launches into more of a full-on psych-rock mode, the effect is blistering: One 2017’s Excursions To Cloudland, droning vocal arrangements become a cavernous backdrop for scorching wah-wah guitar freakouts and frantic violin. Madison-based musician Taralie Peterson (Louise Bock, Spires That In The Sunset Rise) played on Dire Wolves’ 2018 album Paradisiacal Mind and will be sitting in here. Sunburned Hand Of The Man, initially scheduled to play this show as well, has dropped off the bill. Madison experimental duo Cap Alan opens up. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY APRIL 16
Scholar-activist Angela Davis attributes her freedom to “a vast international movement.” In August, 1970, Davis (already famous for her public battles with Ronald Reagan, who sought to bar her from working at UCLA) bought a shotgun that was later used in an escape attempt in a Marin County, California courtroom, in which a judge was killed.. Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder and spent 18 months incarcerated, but following a global organizing effort, Davis was acquitted of murder charges in 1972. She has subsequently devoted herself to fostering international solidarity among various movements for human rights. In her latest book, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle, Davis examines the underlying similarities between the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the Palestinian movement for liberation through the lens of intersectionality. During a recent lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Davis highlighted these parallels before arguing that “abolitionist feminism” is integral to curbing systematic, gender-based violence. While Davis argues that individuals experience state-sanctioned violence through imprisonment, she also shows how the prison-industrial complex functions to solidify anti-black racism and the gender binary, leaving trans-identified prisoners among the most vulnerable incarcerated groups.
Beyond her academic work, Davis helped found Critical Resistance, a national organization working toward undoing the prison-industrial complex, and is a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. At this event, which is a part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s ongoing Distinguished Lecture Series, Davis may touch upon these and myriad other topics during a one-hour moderated Q&A lecture followed by a 30-minute Q&A. All of the free tickets for the event have already been claimed, but people who don’t have a ticket yet will be able to line up the night of to claim any seats that open up. —Shaun Soman
WEDNESDAY APRIL 17
When William Basinski released The Disintegration Loops, a collection that’ll likely always be viewed as his magnum opus, the collection sent shockwaves through the music community. Each of the four volumes of its initial release were inextricably connected to a time where the world was still grieving the 9/11 attacks. On the album’s cover is the smoke wafting over the New York City skyline in the wake of the collisions, which served as a real-time visual backdrop for Basinski while he listened to playback of a preservation process that led to the unintended erasure of his own recorded history.
While The Disintegration Loops served as a landmark achievement for Basinski, that collection’s become a small but important part of an extended oeuvre. Last month, Basinski released On Time Out Of Time, his 26th studio album (and second for the Temporary Residence Ltd. label). Across that expansive discography, the humanity that served as the crux for Basinski’s signature release remains steadfast. Both Basinski’s studio work and live show have been noted for their commitment to both invoking and evoking pure emotion, something that provides this barely-publicized stop another layer of enticement. Florist‘s Emily A. Sprague will be opening the show, providing the evening with enough additional warmth that the cold rain in the forecast will hardly matter. —Steven Spoerl
Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have grown beyond the quintessential twee-pop sound that once defined their project Girlpool. Initially composed of just guitar, bass, and two voices, Girlpool has expanded into a full band with a grittier approach. Building upon the cautious foray they made into doomy, psych-tinged indie rock on 2017’s Powerplant, the Philadelphia-based band intrepidly explores diverse sonic terrains on this year’s What Chaos Is Imaginary. From the quasi-religious synths-and-string arrangement of the title track to the twangy guitars on standout track “Hire,” Girlpool make a genuinely interesting contribution to an indie-rock landscape overrun with tired ideas. Tucker and Tividad hardly sing in the unison style of Girlpool’s earlier material. That’s in part because the two have been living apart during much of the recording process and writing independently, but also because Tucker’s voice has deepened as a result of hormone therapy. (Rather than calling their experience a transition from female to male, a narrative which reinforces the gender binary, Tucker describes the process as their “gender flow.”) Although this means the band doesn’t always sound like that other version of Girlpool , the new stuff is just as compelling.
The kinds of musical choices Tucker and Tividad made just a few years ago don’t necessarily point to where they’ve ended up. Take a cover of Radiator Hospital’s “Cut Your Bangs” they recorded for NME in 2014 . They did so without much deliberation—there isn’t a moving story behind their selection. Yes, the duo’s tender “reimagining” will anchor queer teenage mixtapes for years to come. But the cover was an afterthought, and very in line with the Girlpool we first got to know and love. What Chaos Is Imaginary makes it clear that that Girlpool doesn’t exist anymore. —Shaun Soman