From glittering electronics to brash hip-hop.
This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.
April 2 brings us another Bandcamp Friday, on which the popular music platform foregoes its usual cut of sales and passes all the money directly to artists and labels. Bandcamp Fridays have become something of a monthly frenzy, and of course they’re a great occasion to support lesser-known artists at home and beyond. Musicians in the Madison area have been putting out compelling new work on Bandcamp at an impressive pace. It’s tough to keep up with, so here are a few things we’ve been listening to lately. As always, this is only a bit of what’s worth hearing, so make sure to browse the Madison tag on Bandcamp and catch up with Tone Madison’s recent music coverage. We’ve also got some feature coverage coming up on more local releases, so make sure to check back soon.
Air Cabin’s “Think It Thru” finds bandleader Bryan Myrold expanding on the blueprint established on last year’s excellent I Don’t Wanna Dream. While the narrative of the track shares the biting, caustic tendencies Air Cabin’s exhibited in the past, the music feels more romantic than ever. Swirling synths and other dream-pop aesthetics dress up a track that is, at its roots, more in line with slow-burning grunge-punk. “I don’t think that I want it that bad,” goes the hook, with Myrold allowing each utterance to float before turning to sharp stabs of guitar and distorted bass to punctuate the track’s underlying urgency. Ultimately, the track culminates in Myrold repeating a central question, seemingly as much to the listener as to himself: “Why didn’t I think it through?” It’s a question that, thankfully, can’t be applied to the track itself, as “Think It Thru” stands firm as a highlight of thoughtful dynamics, clever nuance, and a good deal of passion. —Steven Spoerl
Rapper and UW-Madison student Godly The Ruler’s Bandcamp currently features three singles released in March—”Zion,” “Olajuwon,” and “D Rod”—plus a seven-track January release, Work In Progress. Taken together, these releases build a larger-than-life vortex around Godly’s brash delivery. He’s flexible too, from the cocky drawl of “Zion” to the staccato urgency of “Olajuwon.” Godly mixed and mastered all these tracks himself, showing a keen ear for nesting his own voice into a variety of distorted, glitchy instrumentals from producers Wendigo, Solsa, and Sōsh & Mōsh. If he’s already making work these cohesive and powerful, chances are Godly The Ruler will be taking us to even more vivid places in the future. —Scott Gordon
Madison native Jane Hobson’s new solo record, released in February, delves right into tenderness and turmoil. The songwriter, singer, and guitarist builds stormy rock songs that cut like a first heartbreak: On the album’s opening track, “Talk Back To Me,” Hobson grasps at an unreciprocated connection, occasionally declaring, “I’m losing hang of it all.” Christian A. Grooms of power-pop band Bent Antenna layers in guitar and bass parts that give the listener space to soak up the ache of these songs, as does a solid performance on drums from Dan Hobson (of the great Killdozer, and Jane’s father). A few moments here, including “Concussion,” recall the biting lyricism of Nina Nastasia, striking a balance with the wide-open youthful vulnerability that runs through Early College’s seven tracks. —Scott Gordon
Nothing About This Is Beautiful finds Interlay guitarist Indigo Smith-Oles stepping into his own as a solo act. Across seven original tracks and a beautiful, understated cover of Elliott Smith’s “Ballad Of Big Nothing,” Smith-Oles flashes serious chops as a composer. Everything here was played, sung, and/or programmed by Smith-Oles, with the most notable outside contribution being a vocal sample from Madison enigma President Long Boi. Cycling through a glut of eclectic influences throughout the record (traces of Incubus, Foxing, and Nine Inch Nails can all be found at various points), Smith-Oles manages to find a path to cohesion, tying all of them together on tracks like the penultimate “No Name.” Largely acoustic-based but never too tranquil, Nothing About This Is Beautiful showcases the type of vision and range that should serve this project extremely well moving forward. —Steven Spoerl
Much of Thomas Wincek’s work in Madison band All Tiny Creatures places elements of electronic music into exacting rock and pop arrangements. On The Desert Of The Real Itself, Wincek lets his synthesizers explode into a glittering mass, stretched across two half-hour tracks. There are plenty of choices and patterns here, and plenty of structure from sequencers, loopers, and drum machines, but Wincek is improvising with those tools. Even in its most abstract moments, this music feels positively giddy. The use of processed vocals, especially during the middle of the second side, recalls the whirling freedom of “Street Lights Ten Thousand Feet,” from All Tiny Creatures’ 2009 release Segni. —Scott Gordon