Trebino, Lesser Lakes Trio, Waxahatchee, “The Grifters,” and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY JULY 20
There’s plenty to recommend Philadelphia musician Katie Crutchfield’s first three albums under the name Waxahatchee—especially the balance she strikes between catchy power-pop and brooding singer-songwriter territory—but on the fourth, this year’s Out In The Storm, her work comes through with a striking clarity and openness. Songs like “Hear You” and surging album opener “Never Been Wrong” are as fraught and emotionally tricky as anything else Waxahatchee has put out, yet they feel unmistakably like the work of someone shedding a burden and relishing some newfound sense of freedom. On “Silver,” Crutchfield shows that she’s still a master at balancing sugary hooks with a deep-down ache. As a lyricist, she’s also great at investing small moments with profound, if fuzzy, significance, as on “Recite Remorse”: “When I stood in my front yard, felt the sun on my face / it just felt like a re-run, holding everything in place / for a moment I was not lost / I was waiting for permission to take off.” —Scott Gordon
Boston art-rockers Bent Knee have been on a creative tear lately, after opening a run of shows for Dillinger Escape Plan last autumn. Less than a month ago, they dropped their fourth album, Land Animal, which is also their first on InsideOut Music, a division of Sony. But the jump from the independent Cuneiform Records (which released 2016’s Say So) to a major label hasn’t forced any concessions or diluted the band’s utmost consideration for sound dynamics. Quite the contrary, as the tight songwriting on the record only seems to magnify Bent Knee’s chemistry and significance as a sextet. Land Animal soars on its alluring interplay of organic and synthetic instrumentation, periodically embellished with melancholy waves of string sections led by violinist Chris Baum. This is particularly moving on the brooding “Insides In” with the second verse taking cues from Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” crescendo. Elsewhere, on the title track, Courtney Swain’s quirky vocal inflections in the snappy verses yield to Ben Levin’s dark, sweeping guitar licks, which enter as dramatically as they are pulled away in the extended romantic bridge. Perhaps the grand highlight, though, is “Holy Ghost,” which begins innocently with Vince Welch’s gliding siren-like synth drone and plucked violin scales. Jessica Kion’s bass and Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth’s thunderous, driving rhythm section then smoothly kick in, and the song unpredictably evolves into a technical powerhouse of progressive pop. In the past couple years, Bent Knee have played smaller Madison spaces like Bright Red Studios and Mickey’s Tavern. This time, though, they’ll be visiting a slightly bigger spot, The Frequency, where the nuances in their distinctive sound will benefit greatly from a proper PA system. —Grant Phipps
Vittorio De Sica may be best known for the Italian neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948), but his body of work is surprisingly diverse. In a new Stateside release/restoration from Rialto Pictures, UW Cinematheque is presenting one of De Sica’s most undersung gems, the razor-sharp black comedy Il Boom (1963). Using the basis of Italy’s real post-WWII economic boom, De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini fashion a satirical plot of Kubrickian proportions involving a once-modest building contractor, Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi), who is consumed in the rapidly modernizing country’s lap of luxury. Addicted to the instant gratification and frills of high society, Giovanni and his equally spendthrift wife Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale) quickly find themselves buried in a mountain of debt. As Giovanni becomes desperate to pay off a loan, he submits himself to the desires of the exceedingly well-off Mrs. Bausetti (Elena Nicolai). While their initial contact seems to promise a common liaison, he soon discovers that she weirdly wants him to undergo an experimental procedure for his eyeball. Il Boom is especially fascinating to watch, thanks to the way De Sica sustains a tense, comedic tone when the story itself threatens to veer into medical-horror territory. Instead, its skewering of the vacuous aspiration to attain a “respectable life” solely by keeping up appearances will appeal to fans of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well (1965), which the Cinematheque also screened just last year. —Grant Phipps
The Italian exploitation film industry specialized in blatantly ripping off any and every popular genre available, almost exclusively for export to countries in need of drive-in fodder. In the 1980s, the industry hacks discovered perhaps their perfect muse, the Post-Apocalyptic Action Film. cranking out dozens of cheap action flicks that borrowed heavily from The Warriors, Escape From New York and The Road Warrior. Giuliano Carmineo’s 1983 film Exterminators Of The Year 3000 plagiarizes mainly from The Road Warrior, casually lifting large chunks of the first two Mad Max films’ style and plot lines while adding a whole bunch of its own bonkers sci-fi elements. Though these films were made fast and cheap, there is a certain charm to them. The low-budget special effects, ludicrous dubbing, crude synthesizer soundtracks, and totally dangerous gonzo stunt work are all endearing and kind of impressive in their own way. —Ian Adcock
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FRIDAY JULY 21
Trebino, Jay B. Coolin & DJ Sixteen, Genesis Renji, Zed Kenzo, King Retro, Ice, Duck, DJ Dee Franko. Lothlorien Co-Op, 8 p.m.
This big bill of Wisconsin-based hip-hop artists (dubbed “Strange Summer Vol. 1” by local rap promoters Strange Oasis) offers a good excuse to check out a few who explore austere, trap-infused territory. For Madison-based headliner Trebino that’s meant a pretty straight-ahead approach—menacing and often dexterous rhymes over tough, oozing beats on singles like “You Ain’t Gang” and the 2016 mixtape #BinoBusiness. However, “Intro,” from the forthcoming BinoBusiness 2, might be his most promising track yet, packing a lot of tense, rapid-fire lines into a minute and a half. Fellow Madisonian King Retro, playing here to celebrate his new mixtape Retrospective, has been pursuing a psychedelic-influenced style he calls “trippy trap.” On tracks like “LSD,” “Lean,” and “Bad Trip” combine thudding kicks with woozy, sparse, pitch-bent hooks. But he’s also present and alert as a rapper, laying down clipped, biting verses that at once reinforce and contrast with the substance-impaired themes. King Retro, real name Branden Higgans, is a multi-instrumentalist and says he might move on to making other kinds of music after wrapping up this project, so it’s worth catching while you can. Milwaukee rapper/producer Zed Kenzo also draws on trap elements in the beats she’s been making for her newer songs, but adds twisting rhymes and expressive, improvised dance moves to surreal effect. —Scott Gordon
Propelled by a soundtrack from Philadelphia sex-funk idol Teddy Pendergrass, 1984’s Choose Me is maybe the prototypical Alan Rudolph film. Highly stylized and idiosyncratic to an extreme, it’s a vehicle for an ensemble cast including Rudolph regulars Keith Carradine and Leslie Ann Warren, along with Genevieve Bujold and Rae Dawn Chong. Set in the fallout zone of the 1970s/’80s sexual revolution, Choose Me focuses on the intertwined romantic intrigues of a radio talk show host, a compulsive liar/asylum escapee, a sexually liberated bar owner, her regular patron, her menacing gangster ex, and the accumulated broken hearts in between. Luridly shot in neon darkness, Choose Me is meant to be a showcase for the actors’ performances, but some of the most gripping elements of the film are the hazy, noiresque street scene interludes and the utterly bizarre minor characters that populate Rudolph’s artificial nighttime landscape. —Ian Adcock
The jazz outfit Lesser Lakes Trio comprises three Wisconsin musicians—Milwaukee-based drummer Devin Drobka, Racine-based trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, and Madison resident John Christensen on bass—and focuses on original compositions and improvisation. The trio’s second album, The Good Land, released in May, tends to feel raw and subdued at once. On “Upon A Single Leg,” Drobka sets a slightly ominous mood with martial, rumbling toms, yet the implied tension is never released—instead, Breiwick’s trumpet lines slowly ratchet things up, as if tempting some mysterious violent force to unleash itself. Another key moment on the album is when the brief and atmospheric “String Of Pearls” pairs with the title track’s stately, bass-led melodies. Lesser Lakes Trio will be pulling double duty here, playing Café Coda after a happy-hour set at the Memorial Union. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY JULY 22
While it’s exciting to get another enveloping set from Chicago ambient explorer Forest Management, who was just here in May, I’m also stoked that this show will draw more attention to the work of Madison-based left-field imprint Vesten Records. A collaboration between Madisonians Hendrix Gullixson (who will perform here in his solo project Syneva, which recently released a new album, Limbo Victorian) and Aedric Donovan, the largely digital and sonically spacey outlet has dropped titles from 2016’s Eft from Madison-based dream-pop outfit Dash Hounds to its latest outing—a gorgeous, pop-ambient drifter in this year’s Scheming The Afterimage With God Herself from Chicago’s Velleitie, who will also perform. Iowan synth-pop instrumentalist and Vesten affiliate Shikimo rounds out the bill. —Joel Shanahan
WEDNESDAY JULY 26
The Urban Community Arts Network’s summer concert series highlighting Wisconsin hip-hop artists takes a rare trip indoors for this showcase, hosted by DJ Pain 1. The highlights here include Madison’s Landon DeVon, whose music swings between smooth, synth-tinged R&B on recent singles like “On My Mind” and “Need You” and austere, prickly rap on his latest, “Reign.” Also on the bill are Milwaukee duo Amerikas Addiction, hard-hitting bilingual rapper Nacho Chz, Milwaukee’s DJ Sixteen, Madison’s Jay B Coolin, and Hanks. —Scott Gordon
Perhaps there’s no such thing as a “conventional” family, but whatever your idea of one is, the mother-and-son unit in Stephen Frears’ 1990 film The Grifters (which wraps up UW Cinematheque’s superb series exploring films related to writer Donald Westlake) is that notion’s opposite number. Anjelica Huston and John Cusack play Lilly and Roy, the pair bound in this bleakly comic film not just by matrilineage, but also by a dedication to the dark arts of confidence games, emotionally dodging their marks as well as each other. Roy’s new girlfriend, Myra, played by Annette Bening, adds an extra layer of tension to the already fraught mother-son dynamic. The film earned a grip of Oscar nominations including Director, and both Leading and Supporting Actress, but most notably it landed Westlake his sole nod as screenwriter for adapting it from the novel by Jim Thompson. —Chris Lay
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