From experimental jazz to emergent MCs to ambient music. | By Steven Spoerl and Scott Gordon
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Back in 2020’s first quarter, Tone Madison started running a series called Spring Listens that allowed readers to check up on some of Madison’s notable new music releases. A handful of volumes ran, but the project ultimately fell by the wayside as our attention shifted to the social and political events that have largely defined this year. More than enough has come out in recent times to warrant a series revival. From experimental jazz to emergent MCs to indie-punk mainstays, there’s a lot to celebrate. Don’t let these releases go unheard. Make sure to keep up with our other local music coverage, and always feel welcome to tell us what you’ve been listening to.
Arthur Caplan has spent a lot of time behind the drum kit at local fairs and festivals, whether that be playing with Slag (Madison Music Foundry’s house band), Jazz West, or Keanu Grieves. Over the last six years, he’s also been developing his voice as a producer, and he seems set to make a push towards something memorable. “Clutch,” Caplan’s latest single, is a convincing piece of soulful, ambient R&B minimalism, making effective use of Chicago-based Noah Sims’ smoky vocals and a haunting piano sample that’s deconstructed over the course of the track. Intuitive, atmospheric, and thoughtfully composed, “Clutch” sees Caplan coming into his own. —Steven Spoerl
On his second release of the year, Red The Bully hints that he’s sitting on a trove of unreleased material, reflecting on the impatience that sets in “when you write 100 songs and everybody else droppin’ they shit.” The young rapper is also restless to branch out stylistically: Baduwop The Mixtape‘s four songs work in some more melodic elements alongside the gritty baritone delivery that has his work so far. “Lifeline” especially finds Red embracing hip-hop’s increasingly fluid continuum of rapping and singing. In between the silky choruses of “Love Of My Life,” and elsewhere, there’s still plenty of sharp, nimble rhyming: “I ain’t playin’, snap a controller in half / You not in my division, you are just OK at math / Take all the talent I have / And break it in half/ of a half / What we have left is a fraction of ass n__as pretending rap quicker to hide that they’re whack spitters.” Combine this with this summer’s album Juice 4 Your Soul, and you’ll hear an artist eager to adapt his writing and vocals to a healthy variety of sounds and rhythmic structures. —Scott Gordon
Abby Sherman’s role as the bassist and vocalist Trophy Dad made her a prominent fixture of Madison’s DIY punk community. As that band progressed, Sherman’s penchant for wryly sardonic songwriting grew increasingly evident. Addison Christmas, a solo project that features friends and collaborators, is the natural extension of that progression. “Afterparty,” which just received a nightmarish music video, finds the project going big with strong results. Disq’s Logan Severson and Isaac Debroux-Slone make effective contributions to a sinister piece of slow-build post-punk, while Sherman dives into a fit of damaged romanticism. When the violently cathartic climax hits, it becomes clear that Addison Christmas is a project that’s about to turn a corner. —SS
The crisp, concise approach Tyler Ditter brings to his guitar work in Dusk translates to every element on this set of eight genially rocking instrumentals, from the production to the multi-layered guitar parts and keyboard sounds. Everything gets enough room to breathe, nothing hogs the space. Ditter plays patiently ringing guitar chords off of spacious Wurlitzer melodies on the cathartic “Waves,” and layers together conversational but plaintive acoustic guitars on “Sunrise.” Each track is richly arranged enough to work as a stand-alone instrumental, and tightly constructed enough to work as a good pop song. —SG
Don’t Look Down finds the trio of Tom Curry, Mark Hetzler, and Anthony Di Sanza using the societal impact of modern media as a starting point for their boundless take on jazz. Tracks like “Rules And Wisdom” and “I Love Documentaries” offer a reflective space for the over-connected, info-fatigued mind: Curry’s tuba and Hetzler’s trombone arc slowly over Di Sanza’s atmospheric percussion and Curry’s bristling, texture-heavy electronics. It’s a welcome counterpoint to the exuberant maximalism of another Hetzler project, Mr. Chair. —SG
Ambience and abstraction
As we head into the veritable depression tasting menu of winter 2020, Madison’s electronic artists offer a variety of ways to embrace or escape the bleakness. Julian Lynch’s Animals 2 is the most pared-down music the solo artist and Real Estate guitarist has released so far, focusing in almost entirely on shimmery, often playful synthesizer parts. Artemis’ Arrow has put out quite a few EPs and singles this year, including September’s Kamuy, a collection of warm but not sugar-coated electronic contemplations. On the more severe end of the electronic spectrum, Bell & Circuit’s Ambient III combines ominously pulsating synths with spiky guitar, and Syneva’s Star Taker pulls the listener in with a dissociative wash of overlapping phrases. QinetiQ’s 7_54:0b_14/h/5614_#c, meanwhile, draws on a brighter sonic palette but throws in plenty of disorienting rhythmic twists. —SG