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From traveling jazz to balanced pop

More Madison music highlights for October 2021’s Bandcamp Friday.

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.

As another Bandcamp Friday arrives on October 1, we’ve picked a few releases from Madison artists that you can (mostly) pick up on the platform, which will be waiving its cut of sales for a day in order to maximize support for artists and labels. Don’t forget to check out our recent music coverage for other highlights, but here are brief notes on a few standouts we haven’t covered yet.

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Roboman, Audio Representation

Rob Oman has been playing out for years now as the one-man band Roboman, handling the percussion with his feet and playing mutant guitars he modifies himself for an extra low-end kick. Like Oman’s long-running band Knuckel Drager, Roboman combines the rippling twang of surf-rock with fevered punk aggression. It is best experienced up-close in a crowded bar. The short Audio Representation EP does justice to a few different sides of Roboman: “Speed Boats On Lake Decatur” and “The Robo Twist” are compact, reverb-smacked capsules of instrumental surf, and “Liquid Courage” captures a wild snarling vocal performance. The EP wraps up with a cover of The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” a great example of Roboman’s ability to channel the more melodic and sugary corners of punk. “Was gonna try and put out a vinyl single, until I found out what turn around times were for pressings. Then I lost my files. This is what I got,” Oman explains in the Bandcamp notes. Pick it up alongside one of the delightful miniature “non-action figures” Oman is also selling there. —SG

Mickey Sunshine, “Best Dad” (Demo) + “Repressed”

Andrea Gonzales-Paul has been exceptionally busy since a recent move from Detroit to Madison. In about a month, Gonzales-Paul’s new project, Mickey Sunshine, released its debut single, unveiled a demo for “Best Dad,” and delivered a pointedly scrappy WSUM set. A few days after the WSUM set, the project released the new single “Repressed.” Across each outing, Gonzales-Paul toys with overt sexuality and societal expectations. On the demo for “Best Dad” this happens by way of exploring a casual BDSM relationship with a 40-year old father. On “Repressed” Gonzales-Paul continues to exploit the intrinsic tension of wiry post-punk with sexually fraught narratives: “I don’t wanna be repressed / Go to work every day in a dress.” Each track has a decidedly low-key aesthetic that enhances Gonzales-Paul’s biting delivery. —SS

Gate Check, Places

Trombone player Darren Sterud is probably best known around town for exploring the New Orleans roots of jazz and funk and leading big bands, and beyond that he plays a truly versatile role in too many different jazz and blues projects to list here. On his quartet Gate Check’s new album, Places, Sterud focuses on original compositions that carefully build up themes and atmospheres, aiming to evoke a different destination. The music plays off the literal, physical features of each place, but what really comes to the fore is the state of calm, sober reflection that comes with being truly in tune with one’s surroundings. “Fjords” begins with drummer Matt Endres’ rumbling toms, suggesting a bit of geological grandeur before the piece opens up into Sterud’s lyrical trombone leads and Chris Rottmayer’s almost playfully cascading piano lines. On “Sighisoara,” creaky bowed bass passages from Ben Ferris provide just the right textural contrast to Rottmayer’s tense, dissonant chords. It’s as if the band is deliciously soaking up the Romanian town’s spooky associations, without trivializing its mountainous, medieval ambiance. While this album finds Sterud articulating his own contemporary voice as a composer, it still makes graceful reference to blues, gospel, and second-line forms, especially on “Indian Rocks” (which detours into a gently joyful bit of “Saving Grace”) and of course the dashing “Bywater.” Sterud and the group featured on this record will celebrate its release with a Friday, October 1 show at North Street Cabaret. —SG

EMTN, “Keep On Dancing”

On August 7, EMTN released its debut EP, Brainstem. After several years of shows and singles, the quintet managed to hit on something unexpectedly charming for this first collection. “Keep On Dancing,” Brainstem’s opening track, makes that point clear by balancing delicate, Sufjan Stevens-esque folk sensibilities with a commercial pop bent. Being outwardly accessible without being cloying isn’t an easy task but EMTN seem to have managed. Maybe it’s because the band’s take on genre comes across as respectful instead of exploitative, or maybe it’s due to a penchant for subtle composition. In any case, “Keep On Dancing” has a curious, hard-won sensibility woven into its intentionally understated aesthetic. Light post-rock guitar riffs, selectively-used twinkling piano figures, a pleasing vocal melody, and a calm groove combine into a winsome example of EMTN’s unassuming talent. “Keep On Dancing” is a quiet triumph, giving listeners a reason to both keep dancing and to keep listening as well. —SS

Cal Lamore, Deer Bed

Hex House’s Cal Lamore has given us a lot to keep up with over the past couple years: two albums from his over-the-top punk duo Soot, a demos EP, and three album- or EP-length solo releases under his own name. The latest of those, Deer Bed, white-knuckles its way along the brink of an explosion, coming down just barely on the side of control. Playing and recording everything on this release, Lamore fashions himself into a steely post-punk outfit. On “Drawn To The Song” and “1992,” his vocals edge over into screams and back, and his guitar figures warp and twist with an austere precision that recalls some of Jawbox’s most aggressive songs. In the middle of all this frenzy, Lamore also knows how to pull back and let things breathe. This mostly involves breathing in a simmering dread, as on the instrumental companion piece “Departures” and “Arrivals.” Things are a bit more calm on “The Broadcast,” but Lamore pairs its gentle guitars with audio from the Hindenburg disaster—a bit on the nose, but it doesn’t throw the album off its frightfully focused emotional track. You can experience Deer Bed as catharsis or as an endless churn in the pit of your stomach, and that’s the thrill of it. —SG

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