Brennan Connors & Stray Passage, Baroness, The Minotaurs, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 26
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 27
Madison reggae outfit Natty Nation has made a tradition of playing a day-after-Thanksgiving show for the past eight years of the band’s 20-year run. And we are glad for it—the band has a solid songwriting foundation that makes room for polished, modern touches and a bit of dub-y grit. Plus, frontman Jah Boogie ties it all together with a strong voice (which he also used for many a solid vocal hook in Madison hip-hop band Dumate). Not a bad way to shake off the starch-and-retail malaise.
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 28
For 25 years, Zion, Illinois-based duo Local H’s gradually mutating and grunge-leaning pop-rock tunes have wandered from peak relevance with the sugary, MTV Buzz Clip-ready vibe of 1996 breakthrough As Good As Dead to falling into near-obscurity (albeit through a stream of solid releases like 1998’s Pack Up The Cats) to eventually returning to mass consciousness with their bonkers rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” from 2005 live effort Alive '05. This year’s Hey, Killer finds the band resting into a beefier, almost southern-rock zone, between the abstractly bluesy riffing that powers through “City Of Knives,” the dirty trudge of “Gig Bag Road,” and the grittier and Clutch-tinged tone that vocalist-guitarist (and sole founding member) Scott Lucas takes on in “The Misanthrope” and “John The Baptist Blues.” All in all, the shift isn’t anything too extreme, as the twosome stays in its lane and continues balancing its blend of angst and sugar throughout the record, particularly in radio-ready tunes like “Mansplainer” and “One Of Us.”
Madison free-jazz trio Brennan Connors And Stray Passage plays improvised sets that showcase a ton of musical and emotional flexibility from each member—Connors on saxophone, Geoff Brady on drums, and Brian Grimm on bass and cello. Connors sounds equally at home in warm tenor melodies and abrasive squalls, Grimm switches between cello and bass to shade the music with a whole continuum of textures, and Brady supplies a compelling sense of ebb and flow. And you’ll get plenty of the band’s range at this show, where they’ll be playing three sets. Grimm says the trio also plans to start making its first record in January or February.
Seattle-based songwriter Will Toledo and his project Car Seat Headrest play scratchy, omnivorous pop that at its best attains a charming tumble-down catchiness. Toledo began the project in 2010, producing and playing everything on a series of self-released albums that built up a fan base on the Internet and became a thing (we just checked and no, we haven’t slipped back down a wormhole to 2006). The new album Teens Of Fashion is his first for Matador and is a bit more of a full-band record, but Toledo keeps exploring his own eclectic and wiggy space as a producer and songwriter, from the punchy opening one-two of “Sunburned Search” and “The Drum” to the murky and subdued pop of “No Passion” and “Maud Gone.” There’s some unevenness that comes with that, but at least Toledo’s approach is raw and endearing.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 29
This show benefits Las Diosas (Spanish for “the goddesses”), a Nicaraguan women’s farmer cooperative that supplies Madison-based coffee roaster Just Coffee. Las Diosas needs some help recovering after a year that saw drought and a plant-destroying fungus called coffee rust ravaged their crop. Attendees can help by donating $7 or more as a cover and buying raffle tickets for a bunch of different prizes—and the music includes a set from Madison instrumental-rock champs El Valiente.
Savannah, Georgia’s metal-plated and genre-defying anomalies Baroness have had a rough go of it since releasing their dynamic and sprawling double-LP Yellow & Green back in 2012. Shortly after its release, as the foursome were amidst a European tour, their tour bus fell 30 feet when it crashed from a viaduct. Bones were broken, tours were canceled, and drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni eventually left the band. Thankfully, Baroness’ remaining members have recovered, filled their vacancies, and ultimately kept the trudge alive. And if the two tunes they’ve shared from upcoming full-length Purple are any indication, they not only haven’t abandoned the massive sonic range of its predecessors, but have further challenged it. Both “Chlorine & Wine” and “Shock Me” open with lush, contemplative, and synthesized textures, but from their paths deviate from there. “Chlorine & Wine” slowly evolves into a hunched-over and moody waltz, but eventually the double-kick and distortion cut in and the tune gets off its knees, stomping forward into hooky, melodic, and harmonious riffing, while vocalist John Baizley croons and howls urgently over the top. “Shock Me” emerges from the drifting pool of synth pads more quickly, launching into a more tightly structured and concise movement, with immersive and chunky guitar tones, pounding drums, and massive vocal lines that manage to be hooky and memorable without trying to be. Of course, The Frequency sold out because it’s clearly and perhaps even stupidly undersized for Baroness, but fear not! They’ll somehow be jamming their gear into the even more ridiculously undersized basement of Strictly Discs for an in-store performance at 2 p.m.
The Minotaurs’ 2015 debut album, Secret Deals, definitely places the trio on the darker and burlier end of Madison’s current wealth of garage-punk bands. These tracks create a grimy and cavernous space, sometimes plowing it full of chunky riffs, as on “Ear Canal,” or letting it breathe a bit with the ominous shuffle of “Ghost.” The best moments fall somewhere in between, especially on “Red Jeep” and “Hangman.” Here, The Minotaurs play with fellow Madison punks Gonzo Rongs and Nashville psych-pop experimenters Linear Downfall.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 1
In the second edition of our live-recorded podcast, we’ll be looking back on (the first 11/12ths of) 2015 in Madison arts and culture in a conversation with three people who help to make it interesting. Michael Penn II is a rapper and journalist, best known for his project hip-hop CRASHprez, and released an ambitious album, More Perfect, earlier this year. Emili Earhart is the music director at WSUM, hosts an experimental music show on that station, and was responsible for booking the adventurous, all-Madison lineup at this year’s Snake On The Lake Fest. Evan Woodward is a wide-ranging Madison DJ and also uses his musical curation skills as a manager at Strictly Discs. Woodward will be spinning before and after the podcast recording, and Penn is hinting at maybe sharing a new recording at this event, so it’ll be much more than just a panel discussion. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to get these live-recorded podcasts and the podcasts we make every week in partnership with WORT-FM.
Veteran public-radio journalist and producer Alex Blumberg took a surprise turn in 2014 with the launch of Gimlet Media, a for-profit podcast network. It currently produces just three podcasts—the best of which, Reply All, delves into esoteric stories about humanity's strange relationship with the Internet—and it's not clear yet how Gimlet's business model will pan out. But Goldman's combination of deep experience and risk-taking is exactly what we hope will make this an interesting talk about the unstable and sometimes exciting state of journalism today.
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 2
In their 2013 book Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age Of Industrial Musicals, Steve Young and Sport Murphy dig into the bizarre world of songs, performances, and films American corporations created to motivate/train/indoctrinate employees in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. They’ve partnered with the Wisconsin-raised, NYC-based curators of the Found Footage Festival to put together a show of music and video, with Young on hand to provide commentary as the audience delves into cheery and warped corporate productions about bathrooms, dog food, and silicone products.