The second installment of a three-part series chronicling our favorite tracks from local artists.
Kindness wasn’t always easy to come by in 2022, but when we needed comfort, Madison’s local musicians made sure we were covered. Across a three-part series, we will be featuring our favorite tracks from Madison artists, making sure to minimize overlap between our songs and albums selections. Madison’s music community is exponentially more varied than it often gets credit for, though its existing infrastructure needs major improvements to actually work towards meaningful equity.
Across around 36 selections, and split into three distinct parts, our picks reflect Madison’s depth. Emergent rap artists, veteran folk songwriters, experimental acts, punk projects, and more all find some amount of representation. Serenity, urgency, tragedy, and raucous fun are allowed to comfortably coexist here, while we reflect on what each track has to offer and how they impacted us as listeners. Some of these songs came from an album or EP, and some were released as standalone singles. All of them made an impact.
A few of this year’s selections were also included on the To Grow A Garden compilation. They were selected for both the compilation and these lists based on their strength and nothing else.
Music editor Steven Spoerl and Tone Madison publisher Scott Gordon handled the assembly of this year’s selections and writeups. From rap to folk, acoustic to electronic, and hardcore to slowcore, there is a range of material here that shows Madison’s musical strength isn’t due to one specific approach, but to a stylistic diversity that always keeps things interesting.
Part I can be accessed here.
Baby Tyler, “Burntout“
Before releasing TS Foss’ gorgeous, contemplative “Grown Used To It” single, Proud Parents’ Tyler Fassnacht kicked off 2022 with Baby Tyler’s shit-kicking, teeth-baring Vol. 3 EP. Pivoting Baby Tyler from a poppy, indie-punk project to one of sneering hardcore paid off in blunt-force impact, especially on the wild-eyed, minute-and-change “Burntout.” Vol. 3‘s shortest track is also its most immediate. Both the guitar and bass tracks throw a series of barely-under-control, distortion-heavy haymakers, while Fassnacht leans into the vocals to make sure every frenzied note counts. —Steven Spoerl
Combat Naps, “Flinching“
While Combat Naps’ 2022 album Coalmine Bud was a major stylistic change for the quirky indie-pop project, the single “Flinching” is the band’s current career highlight. Still unmistakably Combat Naps, the song nevertheless extends the band’s influences, capabilities, and ambitions to a surprising degree. Recalling a whole slate of interesting acts, the one “Flinching” most strongly evokes is The Unicorns, which is a deeply unexpected (and extremely welcome) turn of events. From the back-and-forth vocals to the bouncy keys, slightly unnerving vocal melodies, and constantly shifting arrangement, there are no wrong moves. —Steven Spoerl
Excuse Me, Who Are You?, “Chicken Cock“
At some point I’ll have to play Half-Life 2 to fully grasp the dialogue samples Excuse Me, Who Are You? uses from the classic FPS game across its debut EP, About That Beer I Owed Ya. But even the less-seasoned gamers among us can get on board with this band’s lovably ferocious emo. Kyle Kinney’s vocals on “Chicken Cock” reach an exasperated peak, with a scream of: “If I’m being honest, don’t think I can wait one more night.” Guitarist Stuart Benjamin’s bright, thorny chords and finger-tapped fills give the song a lovely ache, all of it plowing ahead on the strength of James Goodrich-Ryan’s drums and Hayden Johnson’s bass. —Scott Gordon
FiLLuP BankzZ, “Guidance (ft. Taye Sharkiee)” + “Just 4 Tha Hell Of It (ft. Chaos New Money)“
In a March 2022 interview with Madison Magazine’s Jeff Oloizia, the Madison-based DJ Pain 1 was questioned about the city’s emergent rappers and didn’t hesitate to sing Taye Sharkiee’s praises. Sharkiee shines in a feature spot on FiLLuP BankzZ’s “Guidance,” providing the track a grounded depth that usually eludes newcomers. BankzZ didn’t rest after that track and soon released “Just 4 Tha Hell Of It,” which features a rapid-fire feature spot from Chaos New Money, a month later. Both tracks demonstrate BankzZ’s gift for the sinister, while serving as an unlikely anchor that allows his guests the freedom to experiment without fear. —Steven Spoerl
Free Dirt, “Knock Me On The Head“
Following 2019’s impressive Pink Floyd On Ice, swampy grunge/Americana trio Free Dirt came roaring back in 2022 with a career-best effort in Spaghetti & Mothballs. No moment on that record exuded more pure fun or had more punch than single “Knock Me On The Head,” which also received a modest live edit music video that expertly showcased the band’s character. Beautiful vocal harmonies, muddy guitar tones, and power drumming propel “Knock Me On The Head” to impressive heights, with each snare blast and baritone guitar figure playing off a spiky lead guitar pattern to keep the track engaging throughout, knocking listeners on their heads in the process. —Steven Spoerl
Interlay’s transitory period has already produced the best track of a strong discography. “Androgynous,” the band’s latest single, is a searing post-punk scorcher boasting knife-like guitars, soaring vocals, an atmosphere invoking internal turmoil, and their most bruising rhythm section figures to date. From the feedback swell that opens “Androgynous” right on through to the feedback blip of its closing seconds, Interlay’s in full command of their craft. “Androgynous” is unassailable proof that the quartet is one of Madison’s most promising punk bands. —Steven Spoerl
Little Red Wolf, “Cleaning My House“
After an eight-year absence that followed Little Red Wolf’s 2014 album Junk Sparrow, the quartet unexpectedly returned in August with a new full-length in The Tops Of The Trees. Exuding a lush serenity, the record’s strongest moment arrives on “Cleaning My House,” a piano-and-drums driven meditation on a numb defeatism that manifests in unavoidable, everyday stagnation. Coaxing meaning from mundanity can be challenging, but Little Red Wolf nail it on “Cleaning My House” via an ongoing metaphor that the band resolves by acknowledging the inherent resilience central to the act of cleaning. Simple, effective, and deceptively powerful, “Cleaning My House” is a funhouse mirror of its title. —Steven Spoerl
Luke Leavitt, “Capitalism“
Luke Leavitt’s music, under his own name and as Cop Circles, thrives at the intersection of earnestness and smart-assery. The jazz pianist/producer/vocalist gives us the deadpan, dystopian basics of our economic and social order on “Capitalism.” Cheerful piano chords and gauzy synth patches build up to a blissful critique that resonates from base to superstructure: “All that time you sell / Is nickel-and-dimed as well / When you hear your bosses yell / Work harder, work faster, we must complete the order.” —Scott Gordon
Mr. Chair, “Fuschia ft. Eddie Barbash“
Mr. Chair throws a lot at listeners—multimedia collaborations, dizzying torrents of melody, cosmic-scale concepts. “Fuschia” pulls back and gives the light of distant stars some time to get here. Keyboardist Jason Kutz’s composition starts off with a lilting cascade of electric piano, over palm-muted plucks from guitarist José Guzmán (the band’s newest member) doubling Ben Ferris’ bass figures and rustling percussion from Mike Koszewski. Guest player Eddie Barbash’s alto sax comes in just above a murmur, unfurling into gorgeously understated flurries. Even when trombonist Mark Hetzler joins in for a big glitzy chorus, there’s a galaxy of breathing room left. —Scott Gordon
Null Device, “Flags“
Null Device plunges right into fraught, ominous territory on the first track of its latest album, The Emerald Age. “Flags” calls up dramatic hooks and a little industrial gristle to capture the terrifying seep of fascism: “Turn up all the noise / Til they only hear his voice / His twisted fantasy / Your newfound destiny,” Eric Oehler sings, with a restrained delivery that lets the chilling images settle in. The song sets us up for Null Device’s darkest and most difficult album yet, and one that lives up to the high standards this project has been setting for more than 20 years. —Scott Gordon
Sam Link, “Keep“
Sam Link had a busy 2022, releasing two exceptional EPs that draw heavy inspiration from various UK-led movements within electronic music. “Keep,” from the Hesitate EP, was the most confrontational track across the music Link released, ensuring the producer a genuine standout moment. Jittery, pulsating, and pointed, “Keep” maintains a grip on the listener as it flows seamlessly through various modes, leaning heavily on a frenetic backbeat and moments of explosive bass. Somewhere just after the 4:30 mark, an instance of punishing, distorted punk guitar speaks to both Link’s instincts and overall mastery of craft. —Steven Spoerl
Vincent Presley, “Cold Digital / FM Minimalist Waltz With The 1990 Ensoniq SD1, 2019 Hydrasynth, And 1987 Korg DS-8“
Vincent Presley’s Music To Defuse arrived with a personal note detailing the intent of the record—created, in part, to help the longtime Madison musician and Secret Records co-founder combat recent bouts of rage, anxiety, and mental breakdowns. Minimal trappings produce maximal impact on “Cold Digital / FM Minimalist Waltz With The 1990 Ensoniq SD1, 2019 Hydrasyhtn, And 1987 Korg DS-8,” the record’s penultimate track. Tranquil, oddly enticing, and near-otherworldly, “Cold Digital…” proves to be utterly transportive. Closing your eyes and drifting off into some liminal space or another is a natural byproduct of Presley’s pensive composition, affirming his intention and confirming the track’s meaningful utility. —Steven Spoerl