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More Madison records we loved in 2019

Our year-end music coverage continues with a few honorable mentions. | By Scott Gordon, John McCracken

To follow up on our top 20 Madison records 0f 2019 list list, Tone Madison‘s writers looked back on a wide range of other albums and EPs that stood out this year among our city’s varied musical offerings. Up next, we’ll look at some of our favorite singles, one-offs, and deep-cut tracks of the year. 

Mike Cammilleri Organ Trio, Bar Open EP (self-released)

Mike Cammilleri is a student of the Hammond organ, not only lugging the monstrous instrument/heirloom furniture set/Rube Goldberg workstation around town but thoughtfully digging into its history in jazz, funk, and pop music. With Al Falaschi on drums and Vince Jesse on guitar, Cammilleri whirls and glimmers his way through five covers that invite listeners to dance or just kick back with a cocktail. The trio focuses here on relaxed chemistry, turning Jane Child’s “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” into a spacious showcase for Jesse’s nimble guitar runs and reinterpreting Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster” with a slinky, swinging groove. —Scott Gordon

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Chants, Seven Spheres (Astral Plane Recordings)

Electronic producer and jazz drummer Jordan Cohen’s solo project, Chants, was exploring more ethereal territory at the beginning of the decade, with releases like 2012’s Night After EP. Over the course of three more recent EPs, Cohen has channeled his stubbornly slanted rhythms and meticulously fractured sonics into tracks that hit harder and lend themselves more to club-oriented DJ sets. His latest album, Seven Spheres, continues the oblique assault on dancefloors with tracks like “Assiah Dance” and “Filament.” It also pushes Chants into a new realm that’s at once bleak and tender, incorporating melancholy melodies “Gulfoss” and live drumkit and marimba on “Humanity (Duet).” Cohen, who also began hosting the Digital Warmth podcast on Tone Madison this year, joined us for a conversation about the album this May. —Scott Gordon

Daughters Of Saint Crispin, self titled (self-released)

The opening track of Daughters Of Saint Crispin’s debut EP, “Ex-Spies,” clocks in at just under 7 minutes, introducing us to the duo’s sparse and refined approach to doom and post-hardcore. Driven by Madison post-punk and metal veterans Russell Emerson Hall (Tyranny is Tyranny, Twelves) and Peter Leonard (Rust Belt Sermon, Droids Attack), this music is a menacing, foreboding machine slowly clinking and crawling towards its victims. Replacing overly complex and technical doom with a drum machine and guitars that sound like a living rain cloud, Daughters Of Saint Crispin are fear personified. While the influence of Godlfesh and sludge-metal can leave tracks moving at a slow pace, a genre forte, the deliberate minimalism on the closing track “Head And Heart” is a skillfully crafted, slowly tightening noose. Halfway through the song, Hall’s vocals screech through with a remorseful “Hold your head up high” again and again towards the end as their death march beats on. —John McCracken

Paul Dietrich, Forward (self-released)

One of our city’s great musical riches right now is that we not only have a solid critical mass of jazz musicians of varying age ranges, approaches, and backgrounds, but that they’re actually getting a platform locally to showcase their original compositions and improvisations. Trumpeter and composer Paul Dietrich made an ambitious entry this year with Forward, written as a tender love letter to his home state and recorded in a big-band setting with 18 collaborators, including fellow Wisconsin trumpeters like Russ Johnson and David Cooper, and Chicago musicians like guitarist Matt Gold and reedist Greg Ward. The five-part “Forward” suite, which makes up the second half of the album, shares the inward-looking patience of Dietrich’s previous original work, and uses the added layers of horns, guitar, and piano with tenderness and restraint. That’s especially true on “Forward II: Snow,” which Dietrich composed with the quiet of a snowy day in mind. It’s jazz that balances grandeur with a commanding softness. —Scott Gordon

Betsy Ezell, Voices (self-released)

Released in December 2018 (but just a hair too late for me to hear in time for last year’s best-of coverage, unfortunately), Betsy Ezell’s debut album places jazz vocals into a deeply moving ensemble context. On paper, Ezell’s idea of a “feminine” collaborative process is about musicians getting attuned to each other and approaching their work in a spirit of mutual support. In practice, it’s about the way Ezell’s voice flows into a series of warm exchanges with Becca May Grant’s piano, Laurie Lang’s bass, Richard HIldner’s guitar, and Jim Huwe’s drums. Grant and Ezell work themselves into a beautiful tangle of trilling chords and wordless vocals on the album’s title track, while “Palavras” plays Ezell’s delivery off of Hildner’s gentle chords to create a low-key but harmonically complex bossa nova. Eight of the album’s nine tracks are original compositions, with lyrics that reflect openly on self-actualization, parenthood, and claiming more power for women. Ezell and her collaborators’ intuitive interplay only deepens the sense of gratitude and optimism baked into the material. —Scott Gordon

John Hitchcock, Bury The Hatchet (Sunday Night Records)

Artist John Hitchcock’s Bury The Hatchet project (currently on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Wisconsin Triennial, complete with a vinyl listening station), combines printmaking, oral history, and music to explore the clash of Indigenous people and white conquest in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. (Hitchcock himself is of Comanche, Kiowa, and European descent, and has family ties to that area.) Playing electric, lap steel, and pedal steel guitars, Hitchcock both evokes and challenges our romantic notions about the Great Plains with expansive, arid compositions. Layered throughout are additional strings, wind instruments, percussion, and keyboard from a large cast of Madison musicians, and audio recordings of Comanche and Kiowa songs, prayers, and interviews. One high point, “Jimmy Creek (A Comanche Story),” weaves together Hannah Edlén’s clarinet with multiple tracks of guitar to accompany a reel-to-reel recording of Hitchcock’s grandfather, Saukwaukee John Dussome Reid. This album is one component of a larger project, but it’s immersive all on its own, placing the listener in a space that’s at once dreamlike and solidly connected to real places and events. —Scott Gordon

Red The Bully, This Shit Slap EP and This Shit Slap Too EP (self-released)

Red The Bully seems to have released two EPs this fall with no fanfare or promotion. It’s worth joining the modest number of people who’ve played them on SoundCloud, because these combined eight songs build on the energy and versatility the young Madison-based MC has delivered so far in his live sets and across a smattering of one-off tracks. Red’s pleasantly rugged voice sometimes takes on a melodic lilt in between bursts of nimble, staccato wordplay. The rhymes are brash and just plain fun: “I made a pro feel uncomfortable / I turned a beat to a Lunchable,” he declares on “I Got It,” from the second of the two releases, This Shit Slap Too. Deliberately or not, the first EP, This Shit Slap, favors more woozy, atmospheric beats and lets Red’s vocal style stretch out a bit more, especially on the largely sung “Sleepin’ (Ayo).” He’s in fine form here, so I hope this means there’s more to come in 2020. —Scott Gordon

Solid Freex, Plastic Mystery (self-released)

The father-and-sons punk trio Solid Freex grows more gleefully weird on its second album. The first, 2018’s Peeled Guest, already factored in plenty of noisy chaos, but Plastic Mystery incorporates more dissonance, more jaggedy rhythmic twists, and vocal harmony arrangements that range from pleasant (“End Of The Summer”) to unnerving (“Grave Mistakes”). Drummer Steve Coombs, guitarist Josh Coombs-Broekema, and bassist Evan Coombs-Broekema rip through ideas at a furious pace, but with enough intensity and enthusiasm that a bruised sing-song track like “You’re Here” can somehow work alongside the scrambled art-punk of “Missing Man.” —Scott Gordon

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Anders Svanoe, Solo Flight (Irabbagast Records)

Anders Svanoe’s instrument of choice is the baritone saxophone, and in 2016 he kicked off a series of albums devoted to showcasing its possibilities across a variety of styles and band configurations. For Svanoe, the bari is as much of a lead instrument as its higher-register counterparts, and its guttural lows only add to its flexibility, whether in a trio setting, leading a raucous “double trio,” or paired with classical piano. The fourth installment of his “State Of The Baritone” series, Solo Flight, is all bari sax and only bari sax, sometimes solo but mostly multi-tracked in a variety of compositional approaches. On “Brilliant Maneuvers,” for instance, two saxes twist around each other, coming together in playfully dissonant intervals that pay tribute to Thelonious Monk. The album has plenty of abstract and reflective moments too, especially “Long Runways” and the beginning of “Aerial View,” that allow Svanoe to explore multiple facets of the instrument all at once. —Scott Gordon

More honorable mentions:

According To What, Punk Songs To Hold Hands To (self-released)

Tony Barba And Michael Brenneis, Outside The Sphere (self-released)

Chris Bucheit, Guitar Music (self-released)

The Central, Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal (self-released)

Cop Circles, Vacation For Hurt (self-released)

Landon DeVon, Chakra 4 (self-released)

Disaster Passport, Score (Dagoretti Records)

Distortr, Kill Me I’m Dreaming (self-released)

DLO, Merlot And Diesel II (self-released)

Five Points Jazz Collective, Don’t Worry About It (Grimmusik Records)

House Of Lud, Blud (self-released)

The Hussy, Looming (Dirtnap Records)

Immigré, Ali Shuffle EP (self-released)

Lil Guillotine, Free To Starvin’ The St. (self-released)

Juliana Mesa, Osvaldo Lacerda’s Music for Bassoon (self-released)

Mr. Jackson, Original Love Saver (ExpressiveYouCollective)

Nester, Scale The Walls EP (self-released)

Null Device, Line Of Sight (Distortion Productions)

Seafoam In My Swimsuit, I’m Dreaming EP (self-released)

Ari Smith, Organ Trios (self-released)

Spiral Joy Band, Summoning (MIE)

Syneva, Ritual II (self-released)

Tables And Waves, Fragment Maybe Left Out (self-released)

Gregory Taylor, Retinue (Palace Of Lights)

Tippy, To You At All (self-released)

Tragic Death, Born Of Dying Embers (self-released)

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