Post-pop dreaming with Porches, brash hip-hop from Dai Burger, a "mean-spirited film," a new Madison Mixtape, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Chris Lay, Mike Noto, Grant Phipps, Katie Richards, Daniel Seeger, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 22
You may have seen Adam Cayton-Holland a couple of years back when he stopped at the Comedy Club on State with The Grawlix, the three-man comedy troupe which was the creative force behind truTVs popular Those Who Can't. As a solo act, though, Cayton-Holland is the sort of comic who easily wins over an audience. It's not that there's an absence of edge to his jokes, it's just that he's able to make even a story about having a beer chucked at his head while he's taking a piss feel wholesome, charming even. Personally, I'm all for the less confrontational comedic stylings of talented comics like Cayton-Holland, performers and writers who ride the line between craft and outright warmth. This is the guy, after all, who ends sets by telling the audience "Thanks for listening to my jokes!" before he walks off stage. If that degree of comic kindness sounds good, then settle in for a comfy ride. Dave Losso features and Madison's own Anthony Siraguse hosts. —Chris Lay
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 23
A post-punk/dream-pop group from Pleasantville, New York, Porches released their third LP, The House, in January of 2018. Compared to 2016's Pool, this latest album is more of an acquired taste. The House still has Porches' distinct combination of upbeat, electronic rhythms and soothing, echoey melodies, but Pool had a sense of progressive movement that is largely absent in this new release. The House, instead, conveys a sense of containment and lingering; it feels personal and experimental yet refined. It strays from Porches' typical formula with two shorter tracks, "Understanding" and "Swimmer" (each about a minute long), which break up the momentum of the surrounding tracks.
The album also includes collaborations with Alex Giannascoli (aka (Sandy) Alex G), who sings the album opener "Leave The House"; Kaya Wilkins (Okay Kaya) singing "Åkeren," a song translated into Norwegian; and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) on "Country." Porches still use auto-tuned vocals here to complement their synth sounds, especially on "W Longing." However, singer and producer Aaron Maine also reaches for greater vocal purity on this record, an effort that yields triumphant results on "Now The Water." The House blends the rawness found in Porches' earlier work with Maine's honed production style, leaving the listener to dwell in the hollow spaces between surges of sonic and emotional weight. —Katie Richards
Since forming in New York in 2012, Palm has honed in on a sound that feels simultaneously zany and dazed. The four-piece execute their off-kilter rhythms, erratic structural changes, and sporadically stereophonic shifts in color with a peculiar precision. Yet the tropical, MIDI-triggered percussion, washed out guitar treble, and hazy vocals also give Palm's music a sense of relaxed detachment.
The track "Forced Hand," from their recently released album Rock Island, exemplifies this dichotomy. Guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt play off each other in fitful dissonance, while drummer Hugo Stanley encases their rhythmic complexities in accentuated borders. Meanwhile, Alpert's cloudy vocals seem to beckon a dubby bassline from Gerasimos Livitsanos, who ultimately gives in to the ensemble's angularity.
Whether or not it's intentional, Palm definitely play into the art-rock vibe that suggests something not quite academic, and at the same time not really punk and not really prog. Palm takes a dreamy, indie trendiness that is, perhaps, otherwise overdone and tired, and twists it around into a post-genre shape, as angular as it is amorphous. —Emili Earhart
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 24
A 2K DCP restoration of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's influential documentary Chronicle Of A Summer (1961) will commence Saturday's "Chazelle Selects" portion of Oscar-winning writer-director Damien Chazelle's visit to Madison. In partnering with UW Cinematheque's vast well of resources and international studio connections, Chazelle has curated a day-long series of repertory favorites, from early sound shorts of the late 1920s to John Ford's most enduring, graceful Western,My Darling Clementine (1946), on 35mm, to Su Friedrich's deeply moving memoir Sink Or Swim(1990) on 16mm.
Chronicle Of A Summer precisely marks the origin point of "cinéma vérité," a method that harnesses conversational improvisation to unveil truth typically masked in the process of acting or cinematic documentation. Before career anthropologist Rouch and his collaborator, sociologist/critic Mourin, take their contentions out onto the public Parisian streets during the summer of 1960, the two privately debate whether or not it's feasible to convey such a reality or capture sincere human behavior in on-camera interviews. Rouch, Mourin, and crew then uniquely attempt to gain insight into the current state of the working class with inquiries that blossom from the simple catalyst, "Are you happy?"
Cinephiles who may be familiar with the radical narrative innovations of the French New Wave and the essayist works of Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard will likely find Chronicle Of A Summer to be an inspiring experiment ripe for philosophical discussion. Appropriately, Chazelle himself will be on-hand to participate in a post-screening talk led by UW-Madison film professor Kelley Conway. (Please note that Chazelle will only be present after this screening, and not for the remainder of the day's programming.) —Grant Phipps
Madison musician Spencer Bible is probably best known locally for his radical stylistic reinterpretations of his project Tippy, which splits between being a stark, echoey, electronically based solo act and a charmingly hangdog four-piece rock band. But my favorite project of his has always been Christian Dior, a uniquely aggressive duo that juggles downtuned, surprisingly earthbound shoegaze, covertly melodic and aggrieved noise-punk, whirlwind drumming from his Tippy cohort Mike Pellino, and oddly contemplative periods of calm in between the thrashing. On their 2015 double-EP release Patriot Glass/Dioria, Bible showcased his effects-addled guitar playing and put together a lot of forceful, roughly recorded and hard-edged material that vacillated between anger and apathy without giving either emotion short shrift. Making a bunch of emotionally ambiguous material like this signify without it becoming enigmatically unrewarding is much harder to pull off than it may appear, and the double-EP remains an accomplishment.
Christian Dior hasn't performed very often over the last two years due to the band members' focus on Tippy (and separately in other projects, including Miyha, We Should Have Been DJs, and Sleep Now Forever), so this is a good opportunity to catch them jumping around, abusing their instruments and engaging in obscurely contemptuous banter (you'd admittedly still get that last thing with Tippy's preplanned stage routines). Hear more about them on a recent episode of the Tone Madison podcast. They share this bill with two other Madison acts: Carbon Bangle, who have managed to put together a credible answer to the question of what it would sound like if In On The Kill Taker-era Fugazi got spliced together in a petri dish with the Mars Volta, and Hex House, a new, unrecorded trio in town that explores moody, atmospheric, loop-based math rock. —Mike Noto
On Talib Kweli's most recent album, 2017's Radio Silence, the featured artist list is stocked full of potential torchbearers, but it also suggested that the loquacious and conscious artist was not yet ready to pass his torch. He picked collaborators like Anderson .Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid who seem directly inspired by, and others like Rick Ross and Flocka who run counter to, the style that artists like Kweli and Common developed in the late 90's—hip-hop that did not sacrifice functional purpose for sonic quality or vice versa.
This new album is not Kweli at his best, but it does find him inspired and unfatigued. He's perfectly comfortable in replicating all that made his discography to date so great—hard-hitting, rapid lyricism over beats full of groovy samples. Still, the youthfulness almost seems feigned at certain moments, and perhaps a wearier, more reflective Kweli (a la Jay-Z on 4:44) could present new insights rather than reflections of the past. Still, the vitality he insists upon bringing to this record bodes well for a good performance in a live setting. —Henry Solo
Dai Burger's 2017 debut album, Soft Serve, finds the Queens-based rapper spitting playful and defiant verses and hooks over beats that glow with skittery hi-hats and highlighter-hued synth patches. On tracks like "Tatted Up," "Shake 'N Bake," and "Rosé," Dai Burger starts with the simple pleasures in life but turns them into joyful affirmations of identity and self-love: "I'm too busy getting to the chicken / I'm the template, the blueprint is written." The cheeky riffs on food and drink come at you a mile a minute, but behind them is a deft balance of grit and euphoria. Dai Burger shares the bill here with Newark, New Jersey MC/producer Uniiqu3, whose work should round out this Queer Pressure-presented show with a wallop of brash, club-oriented beats. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 25
Due to some unforeseen last-minute conflicts, Abbas Kiarostami's final interdisciplinary essay film, 24 Frames, will unfortunately not have its Madison premiere as part of the Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival at Union South's Marquee on February 25 (1 p.m.). In its place, the festival has booked the debut narrative feature, Kupal, from Kazem Mollaie, who also wrote the psychological character study of the titular rotund taxidermist (Levon Haftvan).
In short, Kupal could be described as a surreal survival thriller or an absurdist tragedy that borrows and amalgamates elements from Roman Polanski's most theatrically rooted and trenchant works, Kafka's Metamorphosis, and even a bit of James Wan's Saw (2004). Mollaie immediately relays its thematic intentions through Kupal's self-imposed living situation, as he holes up in a sizable compound that's extensively branded with fragmented, futuristic-looking logos of a canine (perhaps his obedient German Shepherd, Haiku) and scrutinized with seemingly innumerable surveillance (GoPro) cameras.
What contact Kupal has with the outside world lingers on sporadic visits from his estranged wife Firoozeh (Nazanin Farahani), who attempts to break Kupal's pattern of paranoid and destructive behaviors with an emotionally charged ultimatum that threatens his own livelihood. In his occupational fortress, Kupal should be exerting utter control through technology, and yet a polar opposite and ironic scenario begins to take shape as one of his heavily fortified security doors malfunctions and prevents him from leaving the grounds.
Adept use of slow-motion effects play into the film's progressively voyeuristic and comically doomed qualities, while Mollaie's escalating narrative twists challenge the nature of reality, forcing Kupal to cope in most unusual ways. At its core, Kupal is an anxious portrait of our inherent interspecific bonds and a criticism of the psychologically dismantling effects of an artificially constructed environment. —Grant Phipps
Morally speaking, Henry Levin's 1947 drama The Guilt Of Janet Ames is not a good movie. It calls out for a lower-screen crawl reading: "This is what people actually believed in the 1940s.". In that historic sense, though, this is worth a watch, not only for a laugh, but to get an inkling of how seriously married women of the day were expected to cater to their presumably shell-shocked and abusive husbands. The titular Janet Ames (Rosalind Russell) becomes a widow when her husband hurls himself on a grenade in World War II to save his fellow soldiers, and at its moral core, the film suggests that he didn't have to give up his life, but became more likely to because his wife wasn't supportive enough.
Two years after her husband's death, the pretend-sick Mrs. Ames makes a list of the men her husband saved so she can go yell at them. A drunken ex-journalist (Melvyn Douglas) who can hypnotize people with his stories then leads Mrs. Ames through a Christmas Carol-style adventure in which she meets these fine, obstinately naive men and their much cooler wives. Mrs. Ames is at first somewhat startled by the man's mind-control superpowers, but eventually falls for him, as she learns to look past his horrible character flaws. One of the surviving men (Sid Caesar) gives a comedy routine that can only be characterized as startling, in which he impersonates a (hilariously foreign) Freudian psychologist and mocks the very idea of therapy. The film's dramatic performances and genuinely courageous storytelling techniques redeem it as a work of cinema, but in hindsight it's an unintentionally damning look at a ludicrous post-war American ideology. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Caroline Golum's 2017 feature debut A Feast Of Man is ostensibly a campy comedy about horrible, rich people. It takes place within a reality that only works for characters with infinite access to money (suggesting a bit too much Wes Anderson influence). Unfortunately, in this story, the freedoms of bourgeois leisure are exploited only for class-consciousness-baiting and accidental. Golum has admitted that "It's a mean-spirited film."
The plot of A Feast Of Man is set in motion when a vaguely wealthy aristocrat named Gallagher (Laurence Bond), who loves pranks, mysteriously dies and leaves a video will asking his friends to eat his corpse if they want to receive his fortune. Instead of debating the ethics of ritualistic cannibalism, Gallagher's friends, each one an insufferable upper-cruster, just hang-out and have dimly lit flashbacks of times Gallagher flirted with them. The movie then dog-whistles the presumed exoticness of its premise with the knowledge of a Wikipedia page, before going on to admit that the whole idea is, as Gallagher says, "admittedly stupid." Apparently, Gallagher is/was devilishly charming, but it's hard to anything relatable in the film's cast of one-dimensional, stereotypical characters, is scant. Racist jokes are peppered throughout, and the borderline-offensive portrayal of a French woman—"Sacre Coeur!"—rides solely on her accent.
The performances here are stilted and overblown, but the cast seems to have been directed that way, to portray characters who all hate poor people, each other, and themselves. The pointless relationships and obvious plot holes are intentionally ambiguous, just begging to be analyzed, but themes of consequence are largely ignored for dad-joke level one-liners. For example: "I'm sure Gallagher didn't leave anything behind too… meaty." (Also for example: The title.) —Reid Kurkerewicz
Ani DiFranco, Gracie And Rachel. Capitol Theater. 7:30 P.M.
Ani DiFranco has come a long way from her tireless barnstorming of coffee houses and sweaty clubs. She can still bring the righteousness, but it's less likely to be accompanied by skittering, ferocious assaults on her acoustic guitar strings than an easy, focused groove that suggests 15 years of living in New Orleans have left an impression on her artistic soul. She's been touring with a crack band that includes Ivan Neville on keyboards, heightening the sense that the folk-punk icon is delivering music that's all grown up.
After a few albums of increasing introspection, DiFranco made a return to political clamor on her latest studio album, Binary, released in June of last year. She's one of the few artists who can rail against the patriarchy in song and have it sound like a naturally expressed worldview rather than a musician trying out a chipper new "woke" persona. Decades of credibility building as a raucous rabble-rouser will do that. Much as DiFranco has changed over time, there's a road-tested dependability to her talents, as demonstrated by a recent Tiny Desk concert that offered a nice reminder that she has charisma to burn. The New York duo Gracie And Rachel will open the show with baroque, pining pop designed to set hearts and consciousnesses asway. —Daniel Seeger
MONDAY FEBRUARY 26
The High Noon's recently launched Madison Mixtape series is heartening evidence that the beloved local venue is working to maintain a balance of touring and local performers, amid a year that's seen it purchased by a larger concert promoter, absorbed in a merger, and absorbed again in a deal with Live Nation. The free series features mostly newer and lesser-known Madison bands, booked by High Noon staffers with a genuine stake in the local music community (Maggie Denman, who plays in bands including Miyha and According To What, and Justin Kibbel, who co-founded a booking/management firm called This Means War!). Sometimes there's a panel discussion about music-industry issues from a local perspective as well.
This installment (which likely won't feature a panel) is all about heavy and gloomy sounds. The instrumental band Drug Spider plays with a engrossing balance of delicate textures and hefty riffs, usually sounding a lot more lean and flexible than you'd expect from a post-rock outfit. Metal trio Corridoré crafts complex, unconventionally structured epics that embrace elements of doom at atmospheric black metal—and, a bit like Drug Spider, they manage to make ambitious music feel graceful and gut-level. Both bands put out demo recordings on Bandcamp last year and have me hoping for proper releases sometime soon. Dystopian Echo, a hard-rock band from Watertown, round out the bill here. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 28
As Pittsburgh-born comedian Anthony Jeselnik's career has gone on, the lazy comparisons to George Carlin as our nation's new resident angry comic pointing out our own selfish, tone-deaf behavior have subsided. Jeselnik's made it clear that he's less interested in satirizing systemic problems than exploring what makes us uncomfortable, a distinction that doesn't necessarily diminish what he has to say.
Although his website insists he's most known for the Comedy Central roasts of Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen (could you choose two career highlights more destined to age poorly), Jeselnik's proudly black heart gained him a large following via bits like the one his 2015 special is named for: Thoughts And Prayers. In this routine, he keenly observes that people have a tendency to seize on national tragedies as opportunities to spread meaningless sentiments as roundabout ways to get attention for themselves.
The caustic bad-boy schtick can wear thin but, fortunately, Jeselnik is surgical in trampling taboos. This nuance is likely lost on anyone flipping through to Comedy Central in 2013, when his short-lived show The Jeselnik Offensive debuted with him telling jokes about cancer to a support group of cancer patients. If you're looking to get your blood up, Jeselnik's not for you. If you're open to provocative examinations on stereotyping, slaughtering of sacred cows, amoral social commentary, and it all being open to interpretation—why not let him help you be pissed about something other than the political ascent of someone he once roasted? —David Wolinsky