Appreciating a few of our favorite songs from local artists this year.
In addition to our top 20 Madison records list and our look at a few more albums and EPs that proved memorable in 2019, we wanted to look a few singles, album cuts, and one-offs from the past year in local music.
90’sdreamboy, “Contemplation Disorder”
The first single from this relatively new Madison trio captures the dark undertow of its defiantly barbed post-punk. “Contemplation Disorder” creates an austere sonic landscape with just a hint of atmospheric softness. Guitarist Danielle Jordan and bassist Ash Quinn trade lyrics that evoke loss and a sense of foggy detachment: “I sober up, in the corner / I watch you drift away, farther away from me.” Drummer Vivian Lin supplies a lot of tension here, never quite letting the listener get away with an easy resolution. —Scott Gordon
Dear Mr. Watterson, “Adam Flottmeyer Must Be Stopped”
In true Midwest emo fashion, Dear Mr. Watterson’s 2019 release “Adam Flottmeyer Must Be Stopped” checks all the necessary boxes: A sound clip to start the song, a reference to a friend and fellow Madison musician, and an insane, syncopated guitar riff to light the fuse on this track. The song combines Dear Mr. Watterson’s vulnerable qualities are mixed with a fast-moving, rough approach and melodic gang vocals. Calen William’s rushed, longing vocals focus on a loss of place as the guitars pile up in a bright clamor. This song sounds like a sweaty basement show personified and by the end of it, I find myself itching to smash the repeat button. —John McCracken
Dequadray, “Mindin’ My Own Business”
Vocalist and multi-media artist Dequadray White has proven dizzyingly versatile these past few years. In 2018 alone, he released a full-length solo album and an equally impressive EP that incorporated a range of approaches to hip-hop and R&B. This year he collaborated with Mr. Chair on “Purity,” a nearly 10-minute gospel/poetry/jazz/prog odyssey that marks one of the high points on Mr. Chair’s album Nebulebula, which made our top 20 list. The single “Mindin’ My Own Business,” released this fall, is one of the more understated pieces of music Dequadray has put out so far, built around spacious synths and a gently funky hook. But it’s still fiercely catchy and captures White’s voice sliding between roles: a softly enunciated chorus and almost dialogue-like verses that frequently switch up timbres while highlighting lots of sharply written internal rhymes: “Petty pests pecked better check for residuals / Majored in finesse, worry less, study minimal, shit is critical.” It’s a song that reflects on balancing immediate needs with long-term desires (“See the weight of the world is on your shoulders / And I wear it pretty”), and White accompanies those themes with an air of confident reflection. —Scott Gordon
Graham Hunt, “Change Their Mind”
Before he moved from Milwaukee to Chicago to Madison this year, Graham Hunt began putting out music as a solo artist, building on the power-pop songwriting of his band Midnight Reruns. Hunt is also developing a deceptively ramshackle sound as a producer, often capturing the fullness of a rock band and the frizzy edges of an intimate solo recording. “Change Their Mind” (co-produced with Gorski and Sahan Jayasuriya) keeps up an infectiously loose, swaying rhythm even when it’s giving you a friendly shove forward into the chorus. Like the solo album that preceded it this year, Leaving Silver City, this single feels unpolished but thoughtfully detailed, especially when it comes to the zippy guitar hook that follows up said chorus and the back-and-forth panning of the rhythm guitar tracks. The sunny, rugged arrangement accompanies lyrics that mix frustration with fondness: “New day, new favorite thing / They must call it a crush ’cause I feel like a box spring.” —Scott Gordon
Lil Guillotine, “Fuck I.C.E.”
Just about all of anarchist rapper Lil Guillotine’s songs build on the tension between the political urgency of his lyrics and the relatively zany presentation. It’s in his name itself, with the “Lil” attached to the “Guillotine,” but nowhere is it harnessed more powerfully than on this track from his 2019 album Free To Starvin’ The St. If you took a blind listening test of the song’s schmaltzy saxophone beat, for example, would you ever guess it would accompany lyrics like “Keeping families locked in a stable / We don’t need no cops that’s a fable,” or a strident refrain of “Figgity fuck ICE, fuck I.C.E., fuck I.C.E.”? But by making the lyrics contrast heavily with their situating beat and cadences, Lil Guillotine makes the message that more likely to take hold. And when the message is something as critical to spead as (figgity) fuck I.C.E, the more crystal the clarity the better. —Henry Solo
Mazumi, “Clubba Hubba”
This track from the production duo of Jordan Ellerman, aka DJ Umi, and Garret Ohrt, aka DJ Maze, is squirreled away on a compilation called American Dance Music Vol. 2, from Chicago label Argot, alongside contributions from contemporaries including Ariel Zetina and Naeem. “Clubba Hubba” roots itself in a reassuring house beat, and brings in a pulsing bass part that provides just a bit of edge to balance out the track’s contemplative atmosphere. Ohrt and Ellerman quietly introduce swirling pads and a pleasantly distant voice sample, inducing a state of mind that’s somewhere between joyous dancing and just zoning out. Both musicians’ work as part of the Foshizzle Family DJ/promoter crew and the production trio Ucarri Maze has shown a tasteful grasp of house and techno, and this track suggests there’s further evolution ahead. —Scott Gordon
Tippy, “Bob Barker”
Madison musician Spencer Bible has refined the solo-electronic side of his project Tippy over the past couple of years (sometimes Tippy is also a rock band). (Full disclosure: Bible co-founded Tone Madison‘s partner organization, Communication, but ended his involvement there earlier this year.) On his 2019 album To You At All, Bible ends up with tracks that sharpen the production value and clarify his mercurial approach to pop songwriting. He unpacks his ambivalence about Madison on “Posicomp” and conjures up a fevered hallucination on “Welcome To Dildopolis,” but the clear standout track here (and often a climactic point in his live sets) is “Bob Barker,” a funny but beautifully sad anthem about crashing into the digital age. Bible recounts a time he claimed that the retired Price Is Right host was dead, only to be shot down by a friend who immediately looked it up with an iPhone: “That was the first time I was iPhone fact checked / I had a Razr and I couldn’t understand why I would need more than that / And I felt kinda angry that it was as simple as this.” Bible goes on to muse on our constant and overwhelming access to information and “the real so hyper it hurts,” but instead of making it self-important he roots it in an almost offhanded story of youthful ignorance; “Yeah I was running my mouth, but I felt like it fucked up the free exchange of ideas.” Bible starts with a little item of pop-culture trivia (well, maybe not trivia to Barker, who is indeed still alive) and ends up mourning the loss of a slightly less connected era. —Scott Gordon