More Madison albums and EPs that stood out in 2020

Honorable mentions from the year in local music.

Honorable mentions from the year in local music.

As this year drew to a close, we found ourselves sifting through dozens of releases from Madison musicians. There is no neat and tidy way to narrow down the best local music of the year in a city where the music community is so fragmented and ever-changing. To follow up on our top 20 Madison records of 2020 list, here are still more albums and EPs that we admired in 2020. 

According To What, A Time You Felt Insecure Around All Your Friends (Jigsaw Records)

Scrappy but mindful post-punk has always been According To What’s specialty but the band layered in some new dimensions on their first full-length by expanding their dynamic approach. A Time You Felt Insecure Around All Your Friends is the sound of a band finding their stride by way of realizing their ambitions can be pushed further.  —Steven Spoerl

Asumaya, Of Water, Land, & Sky (Dagoretti Records)

As part of an environmentally themed arts residency, Luke Bassuener turned the birds and waters of Wisconsin into his sound sources. In a turn from Asumaya’s usually tense, political songs, Bassuener creates a series of rhythmic but pleasantly unvarnished sound collages. —Scott Gordon

Tony Barba, Blood Moon (Shifting Paradigm Records)

After two solo records of glacial ambient music, saxophonist Tony Barba issues a lively set of compositions with guitarist Matt Gold, bassist John Christensen on bass, and drummer Devin Drobka. Make sure to read Bob Jacobson’s review from earlier this year. —SG

Bell & Circuit, Ambient 3 (self-released)

Ambient 3, Russell Emerson Hall’s latest installment under the electronic moniker Bell & Circuit, is a near half-hour soundscape with the serenity of a first snowfall: a humming wind sweeps in a wave of silver and accumulates into a broad sea of muffling cushions. But the moments of comfort give way to a long-lasting frigidity. Recorded and mixed during the early months of the pandemic, consider this Hall’s prediction for a storm. —Luis Acosta Jr.

Bell Monks, The Sun Will Find You (Clang)

One of Wisconsin’s best experimental duos continues a reign of remarkable consistency on The Sun Will Find You, another entry in a long line of beautiful and compelling work. Tranquility and conflict coexist within the world of The Sun Will Find You, leading to an involving listen. —SS

Wes Broske, Weird Bones (self-released)

Ilana Bryne, Strange Adventure (Naive)

Burnidette, George Gloomy (self-released)

“What would you say right now / If i threw up in your car? / I would not say sorry,” Burnidette guitarist/vocalist Karl Schultz sings on “Weekender,” the second track of the scruffy emo band’s debut EP. All three of these songs are dead-earnest, wild spills of torment, but Schultz gives George Gloomy a tragicomic spin that hopefully points to even more nuanced and charming material ahead. —SG

Combat Naps, These Decibels (self-released)

Curry, Hetzler & Di Sanza, Don’t Look Down (self-released)

Jazz, electronic music, and a bit of sparse spoken-word combine in this meditation on our overloaded attention spans. Tom Curry (tuba, electronics, piano), Mark Hetzler (trombone), and Anthony Di Sanza (percussion) play on that theme by simply giving the listener time to process, by way of melodic themes that unfold in shimmering, spacious arrangements. “It’s not really there / It’s all around.” —SG

Educational Davis, Navigation (self-released)

D’Funk And The Grease Monkeys, Grease And Loathing (self-released)

The live hip-hop/funk/rock band’s debut EP throws a lot of sonic and lyrical ideas into a freewheeling brew. Whether channeling the brashness of West Coast rap (“Purple”) or delving into restless, moody R&B (“Change,” “Wide Awake”), D’Funk And The Grease Monkeys steer deftly through the exuberant chaos. —SG

Tani Diakite, Live At Alchemy Café and Live At Café Coda (self-released)

Tyler Ditter, Instrumentals (self-released)

Over the past decade, Tyler Ditter has been one of Wisconsin’s more active musicians, playing with everyone from Surgeons In Heat to Dusk, while quietly releasing solo material. Ditter’s latest solo offering, Instrumentals, is a strong reminder of the multi-instrumentalist’s knack for arresting melody, consistent atmospherics, and smart structuring. —SS

Rob Dz, The Grown Things EP (self-released)

Longtime Madison MC Rob Dz has kept us waiting for a proper solo record and teasing us with the occasional single and his playful Yacht Hop mixtapes, while preoccupied with all sorts of other things, like mentoring young artists through the Madison Public Library’s Bubbler program, collaborating with jazz pianist Johannes Wallmann, accepting medals from the occasional dignitary, stuff like that. The Grown Things EP is just five tracks of the solo material he’s sitting on, but it brings out his gift for combining empathy and resilience with a bit of flirtatious man-about town energy. The closing track, “More,” pairs Dz’s mature, soft-touch delivery with an aching vocal hook from Madison R&B artist Mr. Jackson to tackle themes that range from mass incarceration to personal growth. —SG

TS Foss, self-titled (self-released)

Tyler Fassnacht is best known for his work in raucous Madison bands Proud Parents and Fire Heads, but turned back to a solo folk project to deliver a beautiful record intentionally structured around three field recordings. A new calling card for an accomplished musician, TS Foss showcased a rare type of versatility. Fassnacht later added to a strong 2020 by way of the raucous Drumb Masheens, released under the new moniker Baby Tyler.  —SS

Gentleman Loser, Gentleman Loser Is NOT A Cult (self-released)

The German Art Students, Rest Area Relief (self-released)

Any band that exists for as long as The German Art Students have is bound to go through changes, but all that time has also given this Madison power-pop outfit a high level of control over their craft. Rest Area Relief, an EP partially inspired by less-than-glorious touring experiences, sees The German Art Students occupying a place of invigoration that pays a good deal of dividends. Irreverent and charming to the end, Rest Area Relief is a solid reminder of the band’s appeal. —SS

Oliver Gomez, The Grief Suite (self-released)

Matthew Grimm, Dumpster-fire Days (self-released)

Kat And The Hurricane, Libra (self-released)

Kat And The Hurricane’s second EP elevates Kat Farnsworth’s introspective folk-pop songwriting with crisp, roomy production and soaring hooks. The gang vocals of “Over You” and tastefully flickering synths of “Red Line” undergird tender meditations on love and loss, balancing intimacy with grandeur. (Full disclosure: Drummer Alex Nelson is the co-host of Record Store Dropouts, a podcast that partners with Tone Madison.) —SG

Klack, Probably (self-released)

Electronic body music (EBM), a combination of industrial and poppier dance music styles, is alive and well in the hands of Klack. Their latest EP, Probably, merges dreamy synth harmonies (“Faith In Me”) and throat-croaking chants (“Bark, Bite”) with vocal samples (“the answer for everyone should be: keep fit and stay alive”) to create a cocktail of motivational appeals for a stagnant, screen-crazed American society to peel away from the status quo. Eric Oehler and Matt Fanale’s synth arrangements and forceful drum samples reminds us of the danceability found within rebellion. —LA Jr.

Kleptix, Open Your Heart, Pray For Light (self-released)

Musician and multimedia artist Troy Peterson has done some pretty off-the-wall stuff in his solo outlet Kleptix, but the project has always had a quiet side as well. Open Your Heart, Pray For Light builds its dreamy synth pieces over insistent but gentle rhythms, occasionally retreating into rumbling drones and clattering fragments of sound. —SG

Luke Leavitt, Bildungsroman For Cricket (Abstract Without Abstraction)

Julian Lynch, Animals 2 (self-released)

Mad Max Elliott, The Blue Moon Goon (Nudie Records)

The saying “less is more” speaks volumes on Mad Max Elliott’s debut solo album, The Blue Moon Goon. Corroded guitar twangs and a macho mentality are rampant throughout this warped debut. But don’t take it as traditional rockabilly: tracks like “My Girl” and “The Big Tragedy” play with the crass misogyny that’s often embedded in rock lyrics, but with a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek approach. The greasy wolf-man persona Elliott used during his stint as vocalist/guitarist for The Lonesome Savages still roams mightily, but in a way that abandons the beast, and keeps the old soul. —LA Jr.

Mori Mente, Special Technology (self-released)

Nnirror, Fenestral Spirit (self-released)

The Periodicals, Journal Of Love (self-released)

Red Pants, Dirty Laundry (Painted Blonde)

Red Pants, the solo recording project of Jason Lambeth, had an impressive 2020, which culminated in the Dirty Laundry EP. Laser-focused, raw-throated mid-tempo bedroom punk that ropes in a strong Americana influence, Dirty Laundry served as a nice companion piece to Red Pants’ first EP from this year, the similarly worthy Sudden Color—SS

Red The Bully, Baduwop The Mixtape (self-released)

Retro TooCold, Retrospective II (self-released)

Tarek Sabbar, Outside Frame (Variable Shadows)

Squarewave, Hazy (Artisanal Records)

Psych-rock outfit Squarewave‘s latest is like waking up from an emotionally plaited dream. Across this melodious and spiritually heavy record, Squarewave will sit you down and ask you to highlight the parts that made you hopeful and cry out the ones that made you somber. —LA Jr.

Anders Svanoe, Solo Flight: State Of The Baritone Volume 4 (Irrabagast Records)

Saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe continues his quest to demonstrate the versatility of the baritone sax with this set of compositions for just baritone sax. Sometimes playing solo and sometimes overdubbing himself in sharp, economical counterpoint, Svanoe also continues to stretch his instrument of choice across different reference points in jazz and beyond, from the dizzying dissonance of “Bird Turbulence” to the playful, Thelonious Monk-inspired phrasing of “Brilliant Maneuvers.” —SG

Gregory Taylor, Peregrination (Palace Of Lights)

WitchUrn, The Debt (Here Is Nowhere Records, Dead Red Queen Records)

This solo black-metal project’s debut album lands with the fullness and chemistry of a dialed-in band. Vocalist/guitarist/drummer Llaves gives us slashing paeans to ruined worlds (“Deserts Beyond The Tomb,” “Pilgrimage To The Salted Land”), going beyond the clichés of black metal to work in elements of swaggering doom and brain-rattling death metal—all of it complementing a spectacularly retching vocal performance. The album closes with the seven-minute instrumental “Those Who Go Before Us Do Not Walk Alone,” a sharply orchestrated clash between fury and despair. —SG

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