More of the best Madison music of 2017

Honorable mentions, collaborations with out-of-towners, and other odds and ends.

Honorable mentions, collaborations with out-of-towners, and other odds and ends. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, and Grant Phipps


In our year-end music coverage so far, we haven’t quite covered all the Madison-made music that left an impression in 2017. Narrowing down our top 20 list is a tough group effort, and some things we’re just never quite sure where to fit, especially releases that don’t quite feel like albums or EPs, and recordings that capture Madison-based musicians working with collaborators outside of the area. So, here are a few more releases we had to mention one more time before the year is over.

Corridoré, Vanquish The Light Of Day (self-released)

I’m still not sure whether to treat this two-song release as a demo or an EP or even an album, as it’s nearly a half-hour long. But all that really matters is that it introduced a formidable new presence in heavy music in Madison. Corridoré play aching and stretched-out metal songs, which guitarist Matt Allen and drummer Drew Carlson steer through a range of tempos and compositional approaches. But it’s somehow cohesive and keeps up a consistent emotional urgency, thanks in part to bassist Eric Andraska’s tormented vocals. “The Earth Was The Floor Of The Sky” and “Vanquish The Light Of Day” aim for both expansive post-rock atmosphere and gut-level impact, and pull it off admirably. —Scott Gordon

Wilder Deitz Group, Summer Mixtape (self-released)

Jazz pianist/multi-instrumentalist Wilder Deitz and band deliberately made their Summer Mixtape ephemeral, with no digital release and just a limited run of CDs given out at shows. That’s kind of a shame, because it comprises a set of memorable experiments in mix-and-matching ideas from across jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. The core ensemble, including vocalists Deja Mason and Nikeya Bramlett, collaborates here with several MCs connected to Madison’s hip-hop community. The most charming would have to be “Father Bean,” featuring a bouncy verse from young Madison rapper Protege The Pro, but there’s a whole range of moods and sounds to be heard here, from the searingly tense “Song For A Slave Mother” to the Richard Davis tribute “Learning To Deal.” —Scott Gordon

Dharma Dogs, Music For The Terminally Besotted (Muzai Records)

Initially recorded in 2011, but never assembled into a final package until this year, Music For The Terminally Besotted is the first and only album we’ll get from the heroically scrappy Dharma Dogs. For a time, the trio reigned as one of Madison’s best live bands, playing earnest punk songs slathered in grimy distortion and the hoarse-voiced proclamations of drummer Nate Karls and guitarist Chris Joutras. Some of the near-chaos of the band’s live set, grounded in Adam John’s charged bass lines, comes through on tracks like “Apnea” and “Ponyboy,” but there’s a vulnerability and sweetness here that comes through just as powerfully as the noise. —Scott Gordon

Evaridae, Stress Bless EP (self-released)

Hip-hop producer Evaridae, real name Zach Salvat, did put out a full-length album this year, but also proved that a short statement can be just as resonant. Salvat made the Stress Bless EP in four days, start to finish, and it fills less than 10 minutes with four tracks of spacey instrumentals. Despite the self-imposed deadline pressure, Evaridae’s sonic palette here is pretty broad, from an off-kilter but bittersweet guitar on “Among The Flowers” to the glittery, nocturnal synths of “Gather Steps.” He strikes a compelling balance of atmosphere and muscle on “Trill Dimples,” with its sneakily panned melodic elements and ominous kick-drum undercurrent. —Scott Gordon

Heather The Jerk, Rick Shitty Sessions (self-released)

Heather Sawyer of The Hussy and Proud Parents is a powerful rock drummer, but she also writes and sings wonderfully catchy songs for those bands, so it’s good to see her come to the fore in her one-person-band Heather The Jerk. This stripped-down set of four songs is a good introduction, especially on the buoyant, soulful “Dooms” and a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Carnival.” —Scott Gordon

Lesser Lakes Trio, The Good Land (Shifting Paradigm Records)

On Lesser Lakes Trio’s second album, Madison bassist John Christensen teams up with Milwaukee drummer Devin Drobka and Racine trumpeter Jamie Breiwick create jazz music of remarkable fluidity and tenderness. All three players here focus on the more restrained sides of their instruments—tracks like “Four Corners” and “The Good Land” find everyone nudging at the melodies, creating enough force to keep things moving ahead but never enough to crowd out their open and unvarnished acoustic textures. —Scott Gordon

Lovely Socialite, DoubleShark EP (Other Obscura)

Even when they bore the full name of The Lovely Socialite Mrs. Thomas W. Phipps earlier this decade, members of the Madison-born jazz-rock sextet have always sounded like they’ve been scoring intricate, lively themes for film and television. On their 2015 sophomore record, Toxic Consonance, they collectively indulged their affinity for Twin Peaks most overtly, integrating witty references and audio samples from the original run of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s show. Their latest extended play, DoubleShark, peaks with cellist/pipa player Brian Grimm’s experimental, explosively dynamic arrangement of Angelo Badalamenti’s tension-soaked “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” perhaps intended as a prelude (and now coda) to the series’ long-awaited return to Showtime this past spring-summer. The other four tunes, written by trombonist/keyboardist Corey Murphy, expand upon the eclectic players’ disciplines in the jazz idiom to something more avant-rock-centric, complete with instrumental reconfiguration. Pat Reinholz, typically confined to cello/electronics, picks up a tenor guitar, while Ben Willis trades his contrabass for an electric bass. The band’s signature zaniness and unorthodox sensibilities remain, if the bass groove, Abe Sorber’s dancing vibraphone, and (guest) Sam Ludwig’s spirited saxophone of the tortuous Zappa-esque “Melania Sketches” are any indication; in some small way, its title and oscillating tonality exist as a kind of coincidental allusion to the recurring SNL video sketch. The heavy emphasis on keys and glossy, reverberating pedal effects on part one of “They Came Adverse” draw further comparison to Chicago post-rock legends Tortoise. But the most boldly stunning is opener “Glass,” which feels led by the agile adaptability of Mike Koszewski on drums. The track’s iterative instrumentation is simply ecstatic and compellingly exemplifies the evocative polarity inherent in their surreal film-inspired writing and performance. —Grant Phipps

High Plains, Cinderland (Kranky)

Madison-based cellist Mark Bridges and Canadian producer Scott Morgan (better known as Loscil) made a handsomely brooding contribution to the darker reaches of ambient music with their first collaboration under the name High Plains. Mostly recorded at an artists’ retreat in Wyoming, Cinderland pulls together Bridges’ rich cello melodies and Morgan’s instinct for eerie, rustling texture. Although the album is unapologetically sparse, Morgan and Bridges find a lot of subtly different approaches to arranging the acoustic and electronic elements at hand, from the delicate multi-tracking of “Blood That Ran The Rapids” to the hair-raising dynamic jump that comes during “A White Truck.” —Scott Gordon

Left Field Quartet, Please Take Us Seriously (self-released)

This exciting and youthful quartet’s debut record is brimming with unfettered creativity and desire to explore new territories. If the self-deprecating title wasn’t enough of a subversive indication, the name of the opening composition, “Straight Ahead F Blues” is another witty deception, as the players regard a polarity of sounds, contorting standard jazz instrumentation into something far more discordant and intriguing. At the onset of “Flowers Everywhere,” Joshua Agterberg’s simple keyboard line possesses a bit of ’80s-era John Carpenter spookiness before smoothly yielding to the almost-midi-like tones of Alex Charland’s wind synthesizer (EWI) and sly double bass groove of Cooper Schlegel. The quick staccato rhythm of piano and Jacob Bicknase’s percussion mixed with the whirling legato tenor sax of “Hedonism” are a distant departure, though, and bring to mind a piece called “Jobbing” by former Madison-based guitarist Luke Polipnick. The 20-minute, titular two-part piece “Left Field 1 & 2,” perhaps stands as the group’s defining statement, dynamically cycling through hushed, spacious sections of introspective beauty and upbeat swing alike. –Grant Phipps

Claire Nelson-Lifson, Why Am I Like This (self-released)

Another songwriting force in Proud Parents (see Heather The Jerk, above), Claire Nelson-Lifson steps out of that band’s infectious power-pop and puts their work in a more subdued context with this two-song set. Both tracks use bright, jangling electric guitars to frame lyrics that explore loss and frustration. On “Quarter Century Blues,” they sing about “the stacks of unfinished projects / that will surely bury me,” and “Rushmore” begins with the line “I spend most of my time alone.” On both, Nelson-Lifson lays down some of their best vocals yet, bringing across these fierce self-examinations with frankness and propulsive melody. —Scott Gordon

Nestle, Hoffman Estates (Shinkoyo)

Midwest electroacoustic improvisatory trio Nestle present their studio take on sonic outpouring via composition-in-performance on Hoffman Estates. Madison bassist Rob Lundberg performs here with Superior-based guitarist (and in this case, 9-string future lutist) Cyrus Pireh, and Chicago percussionist Ryan Packard. All three musicians are seasoned in a slew of improvisation-focussed projects, and hone in on a sense of “being through doing” as a trio. Nestle communicates something equally personal and universal on Hoffman Estates. The album is at one moment spacious and easily distinguishable, and at another moment perpetually dense. Through creative amplification, incessant listening, and a steady transmission of focussed energy through relentless performance, Nestle create something visceral and unadorned, disguised as an output seemingly convoluted when adrift in sonic translation. —Emili Earhart

Johannes Wallmann, Love Wins (Fresh Sound Records)

Pianist and composer Johannes Wallmann has done a good job of reaching outside of the academic music world since he arrived in town to lead UW-Madison’s jazz program. His latest project draws on the experience of being a plaintiff, along with his husband, in Wolf V. Walker, the federal court case that brought marriage equality to Wisconsin. The compositions on Love Wins incorporate a host of Wisconsin-based collaborators, including trumpeter Russ Johnson and MC/spoken-word artist Rob Dz, into what feels like a restless and itchy big band—fitting for material that wrestles with both the elation of victory and an ongoing story of struggle for LGBTQ rights. Dz’s rhymes narration, and the court-argument samples on “The Seventh Circuit,” not to mention track titles like “Stonewall Was A Riot,” help to bring cohesion to all this thematic and musical complexity, and Wallmann ultimately ends up giving us a statement of resolve and joy in the face of adversity. —Scott Gordon

Michael Zerang and Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Illinois Glossolalia (Feeding Tube)

Spires That In The Sunset Rise, made up of Madison’s Taralie Peterson and now Brooklyn-based Kathleen Baird, join Chicago-based percussionist Michael Zerang in their second release as a trio. Fans of STITSR know the cosmic witchiness that the duo transmits, and that element is definitely at work on Illinois Glossolalia. The duo’s inventive compositional structures and free passages of saxophone, flute, auxiliary percussion, and beautifully grotesque vocals fit well with Zerang’s exploratory percussion elements. Illinois Glossolalia is as ghostly as it is warm, and yields a spiritual listening experience through swirling voices, colorful resonance, and biting percussion. —Emili Earhart

A few more worth checking out:

Nick Brown, Contender EP (self-released)

Clean Room, MadCity Meltdown EP (Rare Plant)

Tyler Ditter, Knocked Out (self-released)

Rob Dz, Yacht Hop (self-released)

Fire Heads, self-titled (Big Neck Records)

Charles Grant, Twenty-Five (self-released)

Greenhaus, Soft And Warm (self-released)

Hope Simulator Pro, Charades (self-released)

Kainalu, Bloom Lagoon (self-released)

King Retro, Retrospective (self-released)

Klack, Do You Klack? (klackprodukt)

M. Martin, A Harvest Of Ice (Rare Plant)

Evan Murdock And The Imperfect Strangers, Animals (self-released)

Once A Month/We Should Have Been DJs, split EP (self-released)

Paper Wasp, Elder (self-released)

Psychic Drag, self-titled (self-released)

Slow Pulp, EP2 (self-released)

The Smells, Manure Spreader (Rare Plant)

Syneva, Limbo Victorian (Sidemyth Records)

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