What we’re listening to, and a platform’s crossroads.
Image: The album art of the five releases featured in this piece are set against a muted purple background. Four of them appear in the corners, while one is positioned in the center.
Since Bandcamp Friday’s inaugural edition on March 20, 2020, the streaming platform has generated a great deal of goodwill from an audience that is heavily invested in independent music. The platform explicitly set out to offer more support to labels and musicians by waiving its share of sales–which already stands as a considerably more generous business arrangement for artists than any streaming service offers–on the first Friday of every month. For the past two years, the series has continued on, with the exception of one brief hiatus.
On Wednesday, March 2, Bandcamp announced that it had been acquired by Epic Games, opening the floodgates to concerned speculation about what Bandcamp’s future may hold. The sale came alongside a particularly bleak development for forward-looking arts and culture publications: G/O Media’s intentional gutting of Madison-founded publication The A.V. Club‘s Chicago offices (and, subsequently, the publication’s Midwestern identity). Yes, there’s still a chance that Epic (the maker of Fortnite, not the Madison-area health-tech giant) won’t visit obscene ruin upon Bandcamp, which runs its own world-class music publication in addition to being the most artist-friendly music streaming platform. But now seems like a good time for those of us in Bandcamp’s core audience to enjoy what we’ve come to love most about Bandcamp, in case it’s about to change dramatically.
All this uncertainty gives this particular Bandcamp Friday a strange urgency. While there are some criticisms to be drawn against Bandcamp Friday, they don’t quite hold the same weight as those same criticisms (market saturation, etc.) do when levied against something as deep-pocketed and ubiquitous as Record Store Day. Bandcamp’s community-forward approach has played a pivotal role in incubating all sorts of musical niches–including local music communities like Madison’s. Local Madison acts past and present, and all their accomplishments, are still easy to access and honor. That’s what’s always been at the heart of Bandcamp Friday and what’s driven Tone Madison‘s past recommendations for the event.
For this edition’s slate, there’s a single, a compilation, a mixup, a celebration, an old release’s Bandcamp introduction, and a new album. A little bit of just about everything. No matter what winds up happening with Bandcamp, there will always be Madison music—and musicians—worth celebrating.
In the years that followed the initial recording of the forthcoming Heavy Looks record, which has yet to be given a release date, the band replaced bassist/vocalist Jarad Olson with Tricia DiPiazza. A few years later, they replaced drummer Shawn Pierce with Olson’s Good Grief bandmate, Jess Nowaczyk. Both Olson and Pierce appear on “Get Away From Me,” the record’s lead-off single, which has been languishing in the production stages for some time. Fortunately, the song’s a punchy, peppy reminder of why the band’s material is worth an indeterminate wait. Earworm hooks, concise structure, and pointed delivery remain the foundation of what makes Heavy Looks one of Madison’s best power-pop acts.
In January, Supa Friends member Dro Cup embarked on an ambitious “12 Months, 12 Tapes” project, releasing a remix album for each month of 2022 (so far so good). January’s Kendrix was a marriage of Jimi Hendrix and Kendrick Lamar. February’s edition, Wu Jack Swing, was a mash-up of New Jack Swing and the Wu-Tang Clan. For March, Dro Cup has offered up a remix collection of Tyler, The Creator and Black Moth Super Rainbow in Flower Gum. Each of these iterations has been worthwhile, but Flower Gum‘s attention to preserving a warm, carefree aesthetic makes it perfect for spring listening. There’s a vibrant spirit flickering throughout Flower Gum that contextualizes a bridge others may have never dreamt of connecting.
Last December, tireless Madison musician Tyler Fassnacht (Proud Parents, Baby Tyler, TS Foss, etc.) released a compilation of covers he’d recorded for 155 Pod‘s weekly cover series. Fassnacht had been a regular contributor to the covers series and the series’ community noticed, paying Fassnacht back in kind with The Fit Pit Split. On The Fit Pit Split various other 155 Pod contributors offered their version of two Baby Tyler tracks: “This Fit” and “This Pit.” The Fit Pit Split serves as a heartening testament to the fact Madison musicians’ efforts frequently extend far beyond the city limits. And because Fassnacht is seemingly indefatigable, he also went ahead and released another Baby Tyler EP in January, which finds the musician diving headfirst into blistering hardcore to solid returns.
Few musicians are as inextricably linked to Madison as Butch Vig, who gained a massive following thanks to his work as a musician, the creation and operation of Smart Studios, and cultivating a legacy as a legendary producer. Spooner, a Madison band that Vig joined as a drummer in the ’80s, recently uploaded Wildest Dreams to Bandcamp for the first time. Many see the 1984 record as the roots-indebted power pop band’s classic. There’s a plaintive drawl to the release, not too far removed from Elvis Costello, but it’s counterbalanced by moments of attention-piquing experimentation, like the chaotic rolling piano figure that opens “Eyes of the World.” On the titular, penultimate track, there are Tom Petty-esque adornments that lean into dusty Americana throughout the verses, eventually erupting into a distinctly ’80s yearning. Wildest Dreams is both a product of its time and a timelessly artful example of smart songwriting.
In theory, when we hear projects release music, we should be able to discern how they’re learning or progressing. In practice, that’s only occasionally true. Plenty of acts stagnate or aspire to repeat a formula that previously brought them success, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Red Pants, though, has improved with every new outing, allowing listeners to track their growth with a rare degree of cognizance. Impressively, the project’s never put out anything disappointing or underbaked. When We Were Dancing finds Jason Lambeth teaming with Elsa Nekola (Treefort) to establish a new high watermark for the solo project. Hazy, Yo La Tengo-ish psych-pop dominates When We Were Dancing, but keeps the record on a deliberate pace, teasing out unexpected highs as it rolls along.
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.