Eris Drew's psychedelic vortex, the meditative slow cinema of "Solaris," new material from Midas Bison, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, John McCracken, Grant Phipps, Katie Richards, and Joel Shanahan
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THURSDAY APRIL 12
Bloomington, Indiana retro-soul outfit Durand Jones & The Indications began as a collaboration between writer and drummer Aaron Frazer and guitarist Blake Rhein. In 2012, they crossed paths with vocalist and Louisiana native Jones at Indiana University, where Jones was studying music. Their self-titled album was originally released in 2016 on Ohio soul label Colemine Records. On this tour, the band is celebrating a re-released, deluxe version of that record.
The opening track, "Make A Change," is arguably the strongest on the album. Frazer's boomy kick drum sets the groove of the track and quickly, with the clash and ring of his cymbal, welcomes Kyle Houpt's funky bass line. Jones delivers powerful, hard-hitting vocals at the chorus with catchy, woodwind-enhanced flourishes answering his every punch. Disappointingly, the song's narrative calls out a single mother and sex-worker, and there's no grounding evidence that the song reflects the experience of a real person rather than a cringe-worthy trope: Jones declares that "she got to make a change" and "you gotta love yourself." The track "Groovy Baby" provides a similarly uncomfortable narrative that at best is racy at worst objectifying and hypermasculine. Lines like "Come on / I know you want me / Come on baby and shake it for me now / Come on and shake it / Shake it for papa" feel domineering, gross, and unproductive.
While band is marketed as an accompaniment to Jones' vocal talent, two tracks capture the compositional strength of the Indications alone. For instance, "Is It Any Wonder?" showcases Frazer's impressive falsetto, perhaps paying homage to Motown vocalist Smokey Robinson in a mellow love-making song. Aside from the obvious vocal difference between Frazer and Jones, this track offers a smoother, sweeter dimension not found elsewhere on the album. The closing track, "Tuck 'N' Roll," omits vocal melody and spotlights the instrumental acumen behind the frontman, especially in the form of keyboard player Justin Huber's playful, organ-style phrases. The band has a compositional depth that feels complete with or without Jones.
The Indications' re-released album is masterfully produced, easy on the ears, and deserves as much praise as any other record from a young R&B-revival outfit. However, lyrically the album falls short with misogynist narratives, overused rhymes, and motifs that lack the poetic depth and spirit of its predecessors Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. The written narratives about the band focus on Jones' journey to the group and emphasize his vital role as if he is the project's mastermind or the originator of the collective. In reality, it seems like Jones was just the missing piece to validate The Indications' place in contemporary soul music. —Katie Richards
Wendell Berry is a famed novelist, poet, and agricultural activist whose is rooted in observations surrounding environmentalism, economic impacts, and rural culture. Laura Dunn and Jef Sewel's 2016 documentary Look & See takes a look at Berry's home, Henry County in Kentucky, over the course of several seasons. Perspectives from both Wendell and the community focus on the obstacles a once-booming agricultural center faces. Berry often critiques the way large-scale farming and governmental regulations have broken the way of life many families still cling to. His work tackles the expansiveness of pollution, destruction of land, and the crushing weight of capitalism.
For all of this, this documentary speaks in a caustic tone. A line is drawn in the sand between rural and urban life and the blame is displaced. How is it the fault of people who have never known what it is to be agrarian? People who work in cities, use technology, and have no sense of nature are vastly different from the community that this documentary is framed around. Surely it must be their fault for this loss of traditional, rural values as opposed to a result of years of rapid industrialization and technological advancements in the states. This film is brought to the Madison Public Library through Indie Lens Pop-Up, which connects neighborhoods, residents, and community leaders for a viewing and thoughtful discussion to follow. Hopefully the discussion will touch on the fact that waxing nostalgic about a past way of life and placing blame on people who face similar problems will not answer the question of who or what is responsible for a declining rural America. (Psst, it's capitalism.) —John McCracken
Even in the esoteric landscape of cassette labels, the Stevens Point-based Avian Life has what is likely a unique MO: Using its releases and events to help out birds. Proceeds from this show and the label's latest compilation of comfortingly strange electronic music, simply titled Avian Life, will be donated to Neenah's RoseBerry Bird Rescue, which takes in pet birds that have been abused, neglected, or simply given up by their owners. All four acts performing at this show have a track on the comp. Jack Duro, who runs Avian Life, contributes a swell of pleasantly distorted ambient experimentation on his track "Hi Charlie!" Noxroy, the solo outlet of Madison-based guitarist and synth explorer Andy Fitzpatrick (All Tiny Creatures, Cap Alan, Bon Iver) reconciles his abstract, glitchy side with passages of serenity on "Bubión." Middleton's Thomas Wincek (All Tiny Creatures) combines effusive beats and rapid-fire, marimba-like synth phrases on "Roller Blades." Milwaukee bassist and electronic musician Barry Paul Clark also contributes a track under his Adoptahighway moniker, and that's available only as a bonus for people who buy the tape; I recommend his scratchy and darkly gorgeous release A Fault, from 2015. Both Wincek and Clark play here on a break from touring with Milwaukee outfit Field Report, and contributed to that project's latest album, Summertime Songs. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY APRIL 13
If you're still keen on meditative slow cinema immediately after the eight-day marathon of the Wisconsin Film Festival, UW Cinematheque programming has things covered with the first of three new 4K DCP restorations of Andrei Tarkovsky's masterworks. Even in its two-part, near-three-hour runtime, Solaris (1972) remains one of Tarkovsky's most well-known and rewarding visions. While the film based on Stanisław Lem's 1961 existentially philosophical, cosmic, and thematically revealing novel, Tarkovsky demonstrates a progressive adherence to near-silent poetic suggestion in the psychological introspection of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) aboard a space station that orbits the titular sea-covered planet. Kelvin is initially summoned there by cosmonaut Burton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) to investigate mysterious sightings and behaviors of the remaining crew. However, once he arrives, the film obfuscates plot and chronology with a surreal character study of a man haunted by his past, particularly the idealized, incomplete memories of his deceased wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk).
Cinematographer Vadim Yusov augments the subjectivity of Kelvin's experiences through a intermittent blue-tinted monochrome filter that indicates a melancholic nostalgia. And that's to say nothing of the all-embracing visual ingenuity in its seamless and elegant dissolves of life into art and back. Champions of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (which just marked its 50th anniversary this month) will find Tarkovsky's spiritual sci-fi to be the perfect companion. Solaris' overarching, international success and influence spawned a 2002 remake by Steven Soderbergh and even a space-rock song by Failure in 1996, which strongly characterizes the film's dreamy imagery. —Grant Phipps
Slyvia Johnson—Madison's own experimental-bubblegum-pop whiz—has announced a string of shows in Minnesota and Wisconsin for their solo project Midas Bison, in support of a new EP titled Anxious Avoidant. In a recent Facebook post announcing the dates on the Midas Bison page Johnson declared, "Don't call it a comeback," which implied this was the EP teased back in spring 2017 after the release of the single "Bleached." That track had the shimmering production and sour-but-sweet vocal delivery of electronic contemporaries like SOPHIE or Hannah Diamond. Johnson also displayed a vulnerability in the lyrics that hinted at deeper personal narrative, from the power of bleaching their hair, to apologizing for self-centeredness, all translated through the relatable lens of pop storytelling. Johnson says this tour will feature new tracks from Anxious Avoidant. "It's loosely about coming out," Johnson says, "and about anxiety and isolation in the internet era, and general psychedelic emo musings." —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY APRIL 14
Lung is an instrumentally unusual cello-and-drums duo out of Cincinnati. The combination ends up sounding like metal-opera, as the cello is ripped from its genteel associations and becomes an instrument of doom, plugged into an amp and supported by heavy, booming percussion. Kate Wakefield adds haunting vocals and harmonies to her orchestral riffage to complete the arrangement.
Lung will be supported here by a local punk lineup with a range of sub-genres represented. Twelves is a four-piece heavily inspired by The Jesus Lizard, adding in tangled math-rock guitar phrases for some extra melodic chaos. His & Her Vanities are a sweet but powerful post-punk outfit, and recently ended a years-long hiatus with the release of a new album. The Hussy are a trio these days, but they still turn out ultra catchy and fuzzy garage-punk songs that are focused around sticky hooks. Bobby Hussy and Heather Sawyer trade off vocal duties with a headbanging energy reminiscent of Jay Reatard, with second guitarist Tyler Fassnacht (Fire Heads, Proud Parents) adding dimension to the band's tuneful yet volatile arrangements. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis has collaborated widely across contemporary jazz and avant-garde music (with artists ranging from the legendary reedist Roscoe Mitchell to experimental guitarist Kevin Drumm), but one of his boldest ventures would surely have to be his improvisational collaboration with trumpeter Darren Johnston and saxophonist Larry Ochs. On the 2014 album Spectral and the two extended live tracks of 2016's Neutral Nation, this all-horns trio (with Rempis switching between alto and baritone, and Ochs switching between tenor and sopranino) certainly has a lot of room to stretch out, exploring a range of eerie timbers and a host of subtle ways to blend them together. But throughout these improvisations the three constantly build taut structures on the fly, often emerging from more textural passages with a burst of smartly interlocking melody.
The literal space part of it becomes even more important on the trio's forthcoming (but already available digitally) third release, Empty Castles, recorded in an old munitions bunker in northern California. The resulting natural reverb brings a rounded heft to sounds ranging from terse, plucky notes to gentle swells of muted trumpet. Standout moments like "Protest Portal" keep the unadorned sax and trumpet sounds at the fore, but often open up to let the listener feel the musicians' vast and slightly mysterious surroundings. Based on what Rempis, Johnston, and Ochs have accomplished so far together, this show promises to be one of the more challenging music events in Madison this spring, and one of the most deeply rewarding. —Scott Gordon
Fitzcarraldo, initially released in 1982, is Werner Herzog's most infamous film, thanks to the now-legendary story of its filming. To depict his protagonist's quixotic journey carrying a boat across a mountain in the Amazon jungle, Herzog decided to exactly that, battling disease, warfare, the elements and his volatile relationship with actor Klaus Kinski. Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an opera-obsessed rubber baron in South America who, in order to raise money for an opera house, must transport his steamship across the Amazon jungle. Herzog's technique of using reality as a cinematic tool is at its most powerful here, as Fitzcarraldo is filled with scenes that would lack emotional impact if they were merely staged with special effects.
In hindsight it's easy to call Herzog out on his colonialist filmmaking tactics—risking the lives of indigenous tribes and his cast and crew to complete a film—but the end result is one of the most startlingly surreal films ever made. From the first shot, where the music of Popul Vuh plays over the fog-covered jungle, you are transported into a unique world of Herzog's creation. Even without knowing the bizarre backstory, Fitzcarraldo is a beautiful and hypnotic fever dream and one of Herzog's finest achievements. It screens here in a new digital restoration. —Ian Adcock
We hate to break the fourth wall here, but for the love of Nancy, do not miss the April installment of recurring Madisonian dance party Jams. This time, gourmet Chicago-based selector, Smart Bar Resident, and veteran producer Eris Drew controls the decks. If Drew's recent mix for Resident Advisor is any indicator, she'll be spinning her audience through a psychedelic vortex of dance cuts ranging from spacious, vocal-laden house cuts to hallucinogenic techno. Madison-based deep house selector DJ Umi and fellow Madisonian Glynis will open the floor with a series of lush grooves. —Joel Shanahan
SUNDAY APRIL 15
UW Cinematheque is in the midst of a series of screenings at the Chazen that celebrate Alain Tanner, a prolific Swiss director who mostly worked throughout the 1970s. Tanner's movies were often Switzerland's entry to the Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards, though they never really found an audience in North America outside of film buffs. He was associated with the French New Wave cinema movement, and while his features could be esoteric, they were known to contain a kernel of humor and dedication to realism, even as his characters grappled with existential and political crises. We weren't able to watch The Middle Of The World because these Tanner films are incredibly hard to find in the States, which is exactly why Cinematheque is showing them in the first place. The one I was able to watch, Jonah Who Will be Alive In The Year 2000 (which screened in March), is a somber yet lighthearted look at a group of friends reacting to a recession, and the The Middle Of The World appears to be just as intellectually charming.
Initially released in 1974, The Middle Of The World follows a successful businessman, in the midst of a political campaign, as he falls in love with a beautiful Italian immigrant waitress. The two have differing opinions as to the nature of the romance, and the businessman sees his carefully orchestrated life crumble around him as a true understanding of his love remains elusive. The film was hailed by Roger Ebert as a good piece of feminist cinema, as the audience watches powerful masculinity crumble in the face of a relationships's emotional needs. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Taken together, the final two Sunday Micro-Wave Cinema screenings in April form a unique retrospective of the entire series since its inception in 2014. Before Micro-Wave calls it a day on April 29 with curator Brandon Colvin's own sophomore film, Sabbatical (2014), this micro-budget collection of five shorts is thematically structured around the recent work of an illustrious and versatile cast of alumni who've written, directed, starred in, otherwise contributed to the series (and, in some cases, all four).
This is certainly the case for the prolific Frank Mosley, who's been seemingly ever-present with his acting (in Some Beasts, A Feast Of Man) and directing (Her Wilderness). His latest short, Parthenon, concerns the profound relationship between an artist (Tallie Medel) and her nude subject/figure (Lily Baldwin). The world premiere of Nora Stone's Mommy Moments was one of the highlights last March at Madison Central Library's panel discussion on the "State of State Cinema." The 11-minute short sincerely renders a sisterly dynamic at a baby shower before transforming into a moving reflection on deeper familial discord. Stone will also be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
The most recent project by Christopher Jason Bell, writer-director of The Winds That Scatter, is Mohammad So-And-So. With its title serving as a mocking nod to an infamous quote by Ridley Scott about Gods Of Egypt (2016), this short is a spiritual companion to Bell's prior feature, detailing feelings of displacement and wanderlust of a man (Mohammad Dagman) who's suddenly kicked out of his house by an unknown guest. Greek Yogurt, co-directed by Tor Åanestad & Nich Boissoneault, is also a companion of sorts to Nandan Rao's previously shown Micro-Wave feature, Hawaiian Punch. Instead of pursuing congruity in terms of narrative or milieu, Åanestad and Boissoneault offer a tonal resemblance, a fictionalized account of director Rao while living in Greece. The program concludes with a cinematic tone poem, The Castle Keep, written-edited-directed by Gina Telaroli (of the meta-film Here's To The Future!). Her 14-minute short elegiacally captures the rapidly changing and gentrifying urban landscape. —Grant Phipps
TUESDAY APRIL 17
Speaker of the House and former Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan has increasingly come under fire of late for shying away from town halls in his southern Wisconsin Congressional district and taking what any reasonable person would consider a light touch in checking the Trump administration. (In the pre-Trump days, he merely came under fire for his Rand-ian devotion to austerity measures.) In fact, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) has taken it upon himself to hold town halls in Ryan's district, and Ryan's lack of presence at home has helped to create openings for the sensational campaign of Democratic challenger Randy Bryce and the dangerous antics of far-right anti-Semite Paul Nehlen. Now, LA-based stand-up Chris Fairbanks gets in on the dragging with a Midwestern tour of "town halls" featuring his own Ryan impersonation. (Note: A few days after this item was initially posted, Ryan announced that he will not be seeking re-election.)
Complete with a widow's peak (is it drawn on with a Sharpie? I seriously can't tell) and a healthy amount of that expression Ryan makes where he's either feigning sadness or trying to clasp his face together at the mouth like an unwieldy handbag, Fairbanks plays the Speaker as an infantilized boob. There's a bit of a dark, surreal touch to Fairbanks' parodies of that ridiculous workout photoshoot, but mostly his Paul Ryan just ties himself into knots by spouting confused gibberish. Ryan's predicament lends itself to plenty of dark humor—as Owen Ellickson demonstrates in his "Trump Leaks" Twitter series, portraying Ryan as aghast at Trump but amorally scrambling to save his own political hide—and there is plenty of nuance to mine in Ryan's extraordinary cunning and policy-wonk pretensions. Fairbanks' doofus-y portrayal feels like a missed opportunity, but there's no reason he can't bring more dimension to it as he road-tests the act near Ryan's home turf. Perhaps Fairbanks will come back soon for a set of his more straightforward and charming stand-up. —Scott Gordon