Madison calendar, November 15 through 21
Kiernan Laveaux DJs at Robinia, Miyha kicks off a tour, “Koyaanisqatsi” gets a new score, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Katie Hutchinson, John McCracken, Mike Noto, Grant Phipps, and Henry Solo
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 15
Godfrey Reggio's 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi used kinetic, overpowering visuals and an ominous Philip Glass score to depict humanity's spiral into unsustainable conflict with the natural world. As the world barrels toward climate-change oblivion, with no clear consensus or leadership in sight here in the world's richest country, it's worth revisiting the film. To that end comes Madison band Disaster Passport, which plays here to accompany a full screening of Koyaanisqatsi. The band won't be playing an interpretation of Glass' score or bursting out into a haunting baritone chorus of "KOY-AA-NI-SQAT-SIIIII," but instead playing an all-original new score that band members have spent months preparing.
The band name aside, Disaster Passport does seem like an unlikely choice to score such a bleak (if profoundly moving) film in an ever more dire context. Members Karl Christenson (Cribshitter, Icarus Himself), Luke Bassuener (Asumaya, Faux Fawn, Calabash Boom), Andy Moore (Winn Dixie), and Colin Crowley use banjos, percussion, and baritone guitar to create instrumentals that draw on elements of bluegrass, West African folk musics, and rock—a recipe for cheerful, or at least highly propulsive, music. (Full disclosure: Moore is a good friend of mine.) So it'll be interesting to see how the band stretches out and pushes itself here, and how it plays off of the myriad layers of mood and visual rhythm in Koyaanisqatsi's 85 minutes. It's a bold experiment, and I wouldn't mind seeing more Madison musicians and film programmers take on things like it. —Scott Gordon
Ever since its formation in late 2016, the emo-influenced indie rock band Miyha has been a fascinating and resonant entity within local music. The group is essentially a vehicle for singer/guitarist Alejandra Perez (ex-Automatically Yours, Tarpaulin), but nimble lead guitarist Mike Pellino (also of Tippy, We Should've Been DJ's and Christian Dior) makes crucial, atmospheric contributions as well. Miyha's playing on the 2017 EP Happy Birthday, Nick (a reference to now-departed bassist Nick Hoffman) is energetic and continually pushes forward, and Erik Fredine's sprinting drumming imparts a lot of motion to music that could easily have been sluggish otherwise. But their ensemble performance continually, and intriguingly, contrasts with Perez's singing. Her casually tuneful voice sounds practically smothered with malaise at times, and the regret that she frequently touches on feels lived-in.
The tension between the buoyancy of the band and the moroseness of Perez's delivery and diaristic lyrics adds a lot of powerful ambiguity to already well-crafted songs, and it's hard to get a handle on what songs like "Raspberry Kombucha" or "92/69/39 (Ryan Adams)" actually want to do about their subjects. That messy indecision between an almost tangible need to move on from past relationships gone wrong and hyper-specific emotional headshots is the psychological space where the material lives, and it's an uncertain, interesting, and promising perspective to capture.
Recently, the band has been working on a full-length with new bassist Kyle Kohl, and are using this show as a kickoff for a Minnesota mini-tour. Appropriately, they're joined here by two acts from Minneapolis: the moody, smart, postpunk-flavored Double Grave and the animated, pop punk-inflected indie-pop band Sass. The event is happening at Good Style Shop, a well-loved vintage clothing store that (very) occasionally puts on shows. —Mike Noto
Following the recent Beacon Press release of his social ecology book, The End Of Animal Farming (2018), author Jacy Reese will stop in Madison to speak on the titular topic and global business, which he sees as unsustainable. Reese psychologically examines the moral crisis of our current food system, which confines 99% of farmed animals in a factory setting and annually receives $38 billion in government subsidies (in the US alone), but the book actually focuses on optimism and innovation. Building upon his March 2018 TEDx Talk at the University of Mississippi, Reese forgoes the personal face-to-face finger-wagging and instead offers solutions that scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists can pursue on an institutional scales.
Complementing what many news articles, academic essays, and documentaries like Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014) have shown us this decade, The End Of Animal Farming examines the intensive industry strain on natural resources. For every 10 plant calories fed to a land animal, only one calorie of meat is produced in return (or, comparably, in terms of protein, 10 to 2 grams). From this, Reese explicates significant developments in food science as associated with vegan companies like Beyond Meat, Hungry Planet, and Impossible Foods, who have successfully recreated the precise taste and texture of a beef patty with pea, soy, and/or wheat proteins. Additionally, Reese turns his eye to the more controversial "clean meat," derived from actual animal cells in a cultivator, as a palatable alternative for those who wish to continue enjoying the same comfort foods without the ethical quandaries involved with traditionally raising animals for slaughter.
As Research Director at the NYC-based Sentience Institute, Reese's professional background has aided his effective altruism in presenting various sociological perspectives. And he reinforces his arguments with inclusive, evidence-based language that directly addresses the biggest problems we're facing as a species in order to more peacefully coexist with others. —Grant Phipps
Milwaukee-based musician Jon Mueller has built up a formidable body of experimental work, most of it centered around solo-percussion performances, but always with an ambitious conceptual scope. Mueller has played in the instrumental bands Pele and Collections Of Colonies Of Bees and the Justin Vernon collaboration Volcano Choir, but over time has focused more and more on solo and collaborative works under the umbrella of Rhythmplex, a multi-faceted outlet that has come to encompass everything from live music to book publishing to a physical "curiosity shop" in Door County. (Full disclosure: Mueller played a Tone Madison-presented event in 2017.) His deliberately finite Death Blues project created a varied universe in and of itself, yielding recorded projects as disparate as 2014's lush and melodic Ensemble and that same year's more abstract and abrasive Non-Fiction. As his art becomes more and more ambitious, Mueller has consistently returned to solo performances that use ever-changing configurations of percussion and voice, and usually consist of extended, tense pieces that prove physically and emotionally demanding for Mueller and his audiences alike, and all the more rewarding for that. Mueller plays a solo set here that will include five gongs and voice, offering a preview of his forthcoming album Canto. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 16
By indie standards, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers are all living the dream—critically lauded, enjoying relative commercial success, signed to significant indie labels (Matador, Dead Oceans), appearances on morning talk shows and late night television, popular Instagram accounts. And none of them have hit 25.
Bridgers sounds like a cross between Gillian Welch and Elliott Smith, and writes music just as personal and even tragic, while maintaining a dark sense of humor. Baker, whose debut album was recorded by a friend from her Tennessee university and self-released on Bandcamp, identifies as both queer and Christian, and her often searingly intimate lyrics wrestle with questions about faith, love, and ontology. Dacus is more conventionally rock-rooted than the other two, though the most reserved in vocal delivery, her singing often eclipsed by her excellent guitar work and strong backing band.
It comes as a bit of a surprise to see these three artists, each in incredibly productive phases of their own careers, form what can only be called a supergroup, something typically reserved for musicians in between albums and tours, perhaps even in a bit of a lull. The band's name, Boygenius, is both a contrast to their, forgive the term, girl power, and a jab at the cultural permission given to young boys to feel entitled, as if they're the smartest, most invincible person in the room. While it doesn't feel quite right to call boygenius a Girl Group (should we call any of the countless, all-male indie bands Boy Groups?), their identity as young women in a music industry still often dominated by men certainly led them to make several creative decisions in the EP's production. It's self-produced, and all other contributors—studio musicians, engineering, mastering by Heba Kedry (Slowdive, Bjork, Beach House)—were women as well.
Boygenius' self titled EP, released this past October, isn't much different from anything any of its members might do on her own, but nonetheless it feels immediate and fresh, showcasing each of their distinct sounds. Then again, it's hard to imagine these three coming together and not making something powerful. "Bite The Hand" starts things off strong with muscular, fuzzy guitar, and unflinching candor and frank self-reflection: "I can't touch you, I wouldn't if I could / I can't love you how you want me to." It's one of the louder tracks on the EP, swelling again when we arrive at "Stay Down" and "Salt In The Wound."
The instrumentation—drums and bass, predictably, but also mandolin, banjo, and piano on some of the tracks—is clean and powerful but serves mostly to showcase the guitar work shared amongst Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus, which ranges from straightforward chord progressions to roaring reverb to unrelenting shredding. They all take turns singing on each track as well, each taking a verse and then often joining forces for the chorus in ascendant, spiraling harmonies. The last track, "Ketchum, ID," started with Bridgers, who had lyrics and an acoustic guitar, and it didn't change much. It is a beautiful, incredibly spare track, about the difficulty of travel and feeling connected to home, with some of the most gorgeous harmonizing on the record, almost reminiscent of the Carter Sisters: "I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go / When I'm home I'm never there / Long enough to know."
This EP makes something alarmingly clear: Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker are not only commanding musicians in their own right, but consummate collaborators. Hopefully this isn't the last we see of this trio. For this tour, each musician will play their own sets, with Dacus opening for the other two, but definitely expect a showcase of Boygenius tracks, many of which haven't been played live yet. —Katie Hutchinson
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 17
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Duluth-based Low, the project of couple Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, and their 10th anniversary with bassist Steve Garrington. Over time the band has evolved away from its slowcore beginnings (Low's debut, 1994's I Could Live In Hope, is a landmark of that delicate, melodic subgenre). And while this year's Double Negative is sonically like nothing Low has ever made before—it's caustic, inky, heavily noisy, and experimental—it is very much a return to the minimalist sensibilities that have popped up throughout the band's career. Each track sounds and feels full but relatively uncomplicated, simple in its instrumentation and effects.
The album was recorded at Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver, Big Red Machine, Volcano Choir) April Base studio in Eau Claire, and produced by BJ Burton, who has worked with Vernon, as well as other genre-bending acts such as Sylvan Esso, St. Vincent, Megafaun, and Hippo Campus. Low has joined forces with Burton before, on the 2015 album Ones & Sixes. While that record certainly bears his imprint in fuzz, beats, beeps, synthesized heavy bass and percussion, those sounds never really compete with Low’s signature melodic arrangements and the vocal interplay between Sparhawk and Parker. But on Double Negative, the band members share and sometimes give over entirely the reigns to Burton. Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals, if they’re not veiled in vocoder or another filter, fight to distinguish themselves amid Burton's electronic gale. Only a few tracks sound like the work of a three-piece band, and even on those, Burton’s synthesized components are in the wings, waiting to take over again.
“Quorum,” the first of a triptych of tracks released before the full album drops September 14, is lurching and brutal, so textured it feels as if you could run your hands over its rough peaks. The lyrics add to its foreboding: “It started up with nothing / To let them win the war / So fast and quick we ran / I couldn’t help but notice.” With those words and a song title that seems to reference a political assembly, it’s no coincidence the band has been at work on the record since the fall of 2016. Parker’s vocals are distorted, like a robot underwater, on “Dancing And Blood,” a pulsing swell that ends with more than two minutes of layered Gregorian chant-esque harmonies. “Fly,” the most accessible of the three, could almost fit in with the expansive pop beauty of 2011's C’mon or the relatively straightforward rock of 2005's The Great Destroyer. Parker’s higher-register vocals soar, and it’s the first time we can catch a glimpse Garrington’s impactful bassline over the melee, but Burton’s shimmering pulse ultimately drowns them out.
While the new record may not appeal to old guard loyalists—it has more to do with Radiohead’s Amnesiac and Portishead’s Third in scope and ethos than anything in Low’s previous catalog, going beyond even 2007's feedback-heavy Drums And Guns—it proves that Low remains one of the most fearless, uncompromising bands in rock. Burton’s heavy hand at times makes the band nearly unrecognizable, but Double Negative still makes clear evolutionary sense. Rarely does one see a longtime, consistently lauded act refuse to be typecast, even at their own hand. Low sheds all sense of familiarity on this record in order to rise from the ashes, emerging more themselves than ever before. —Katie Hutchinson
Cannibal Corpse's name has become synonymous with all that is brutal and gruesome in death metal since the Buffalo, New York band's 1991 album, Butchered At Birth, amassed a large following across the world. The band has influenced countless death metal bands and the over-the-top animated series Metalocalypse. Now in its 30th year, the band is touring behind its 14th studio album, 2017's Red Before Black. The album is, well, about as refreshing as every other band's 14th album. The blastbeats, sweeping guitar solos, and inhuman growls have aged like a rancid wine. Tracks like "Scavenger Consuming Death" and "Code Of Slashers" bring some new, raw elements to Cannibal Corpse's songwriting, but most of the other songs here could have been left on the butcher's block. It is impressive and commendable that Cannibal Corpse has kept the act going this long, but the last few albums have felt like unnecessary sequels to B-side slasher flicks.
Despite Cannibal Corpse's hallowed name in the halls of metal, the bleating, mutilated, and unavoidable elephant in the room is its lyrical style, criticized and protested all over the world for its violent and disturbing content. Violence and misogyny have infected the genre since its inception, but Cannibal Corpse doesn't seem too interested in assessing its own relationship with these ills. Frontman George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher has made it clear that he doesn't think the band's lyrics have an impact in reality and once stated in an interview: "It's art, just look at it as art. Yeah, it's disgusting, but that's never gonna happen." But—major content warning—songs like "Meat Hook Sodomy," "Entrails Ripped From A Virgin's Cunt," and "Fucked With A Knife" embody an attitude toward women and violence that can't simply be explained away as fantasy.
It's easy to continue to claim that this kind of gruesome backwardness is endemic to death metal. It's easy to say that this band deserves accolades for its role in defining a genre. But until fans decide to talk about the problem with lyrics and depictions that actively engage in violence, fictional or not, the giants of the genre will continue to reap the riches and the attitudes embodied in these words will continue to have a profound impact on our world.
Taking second billing at this show is the ethereal death metal band Hate Eternal, who put out a killer new album, Upon Desolate Sands, in late October of this year. Harm's Way, a thrashing hardcore act from Chicago, opens the night, hopefully with a few tracks from their stunning 2011 release Isolation. If you're not sold on the openers, then there's always the chance you can be onscreen for the third installment of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. —John McCracken
Cleveland-based DJs Kiernan Laveaux and Father Of Two, real name Brian Bohan, collaborate closely as organizers of Cleveland queer DIY electronic collective In Training, but their sounds fall on opposite ends of electronic music's vast continuum. Bohan's mixes often incorporate complex but immediately danceable house music. Shuffling percussion patterns and syncopated synths lie at the center of the beginning of mixes like his most recent Soundcloud upload, with Pittsburgh's ChadKid. He's also no stranger to the distorted and more opaque, opting for a punishing sound at times over pleasurable.
But where Father Of Two dips his toes into abrasive territory, Laveaux sometimes bases entire mixes around it. From the start of her most recently released mix, Laveaux barely uses songs with any consistent rhythm at all. Instead she seems to curate sounds, ranging from natural and industrial, more so than songs. Laveaux's mixes do not so much balance highs and lows but rather steadily build far-reaching and constantly shifting atmospheres, and in the confines of a smaller live setting like Robinia, this bold and abstract world-building should prove even more effective. —Henry Solo
In one of its biggest pulls since reopening in its new location on Willy Street, Café Coda hosts renowned jazz pianist Lynne Arriale in a homecoming of sorts—she earned her undergraduate degree at UW-Madison—in a trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Greg Artry, both of Chicago. This makes a fitting setting for Arriale to perform material from her May release Give Us These Days, whose tracks frequently cycle through themes of nostalgia, longing, and their messy intersections with the present.
Throughout the record, Arriale, currently a professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, alternates between playing songs that recall the past, including songs from Joni Mitchell and The Beatles, and others that embody the present. The former comes on those covers, but also originals like the aptly-named "Finding Home." This is where Arriale and her trio members bring influences to mind like Bill Evans' Trio—the melodies come and go like the wind, never overstaying their welcome, and the interplay between Arriale, bassist Jasper Somsen, and drummer Jasper Van Hulten defines the songs. On "Finding Home," the trio creates overtones of comfort, and on Mitchell's "Woodstock," they dig into shades of regret.
But on tracks like "Appassionata," Arriale captures the tumult of the present and demonstrates more explicitly why she has received the accolades she has across 14 albums and countless performances around the world. The center of these songs are Arriale's keys—in some segments slowly building tension and atmosphere and in others capitalizing on it with powerful chords and flurries of notes. It's a record that seems well-suited to the dynamic and ever-bombarding diseases and anxieties of the present. —Henry Solo
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18
What more is there to say about John Cleese? Across four decades in comedy, he has worked on or been involved with at least four cornerstones of 20th-century comedy, each one innovative in its way: Fawlty Towers, Monty Python's Flying Circus, A Fish Called Wanda, and Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Through those many years Cleese has cut his teeth using his tall, lanky frame and razor-sharp with to concoct a potent and evergreen blend of body humor, observational comedy, and wordplay.
But what we can expect up from the stand-up comedy of the 79-year-old legend in this day and age? For starters, the dry and imperious Cleese has aged a bit better than some of his contemporaries, in that he largely spares us unwanted and unneeded problematic takes on issues like trans rights, but his railing against "political correctness" and his pro-Brexit comments don't much help his reputation as an erudite elder statesman of the absurd. On the other hand, to his credit, Cleese also has had insights you wouldn't expect from a boorish old fellow, such as noticing that the term "snowflake" is way for "sociopaths...to discredit the notion of empathy."
This mixed tendency makes the notion of his current stand-up tour, the first in five years since his apparently-not-farewell tour, intriguing. He is currently touring a show titled "Why There Is No Hope," a lecture-meets-stand up comedy performance about why the world is dismal and its leaders more so. Though Cleese is still, at times, an apt critical thinker, there is something potentially disconcerting about a rich, wealthy white man talking down to everyone about why the world sucks. Also, does anyone really need more arguments as to why there is no hope in the first place? But still, if there are people who can distill old, depressing information into new and hilarious channels, Cleese is likely one of them. —Henry Solo