sayth’s bad habitat ep was one of our favorites from last year for good reason; you can click through that link to read us wax poetic about eric wells’ work ethic and artistic persona, but the bottom line is that sayth continues to be an extremely singular project that stands in stark contrast to some of the other music coming out of the midwest. the music video for the bad habitat stand-out cut “rare candy” keeps this trend going. an 8-bit pokémon sample fades in as a backdrop to an altar of 1990s-era regalia with wells as its centerpiece, who promptly swaps his gameboy color in favor of an sp-404 once the track’s beat kicks in.
the “rare candy” cast is a veritable who’s who of the eau claire diy scene that helped foster sayth’s career, with members of adelyn rose, hemma, and glassworks improv functioning as wells’ entourage throughout the video. the nostalgic vhs treatment – courtesy of directors peter elliott eaton and spencer w. wells – pairs well with the video’s euphoric subject matter, and while both at times belie the song’s more metaphysical lyrical turns, the resulting contrast only seems to permanently underscore sayth’s ethos: rigorous self-examination does not have to come at the sacrifice of flat-out fun. watch “rare candy” below.
sometimes incredibly thought-provoking music is simply dropped in your lap. such was the case with a fault, the dark and disorienting new album from experimental artist adoptahighway that showed up in our inbox early last month. we recently caught up with adoptahighway’s mild-mannered alter ego, classical musician barry paul clark, via email to talk about a fault, influential composers, and the experimental music sub-culture that has firmly entrenched itself into milwaukee’s expansive music scene. check out the transcript below.
there seems to be a lot of disjointed and competing rhythms throughout a fault, especially on tracks like “qualmness” and “defiance,” and those rhythms mirror the disjointed and aggressive undertones of the record really well. can you talk about your inspirations while writing this record?
the inspiration behind this record had a lot to do with defining and obtaining inspiration – where it is, what it is, how it comes to be, whether or not it can be harbored or contained, and the spectrum of conflicting emotion and self realization that presents itself within that journey. i know a lot of artists deal with these issues in different ways, so everything i expressed on the subject within the record is very personal. i’m still unsure if i’ve answered any of my own questions on the matter, but at the very least i made what i consider my most honest material.
i did some internet digging and found out that you spend a considerable amount of time playing classical upright bass in various ensembles. how does that experience translate to your electronic music, or are do you tend to compartmentalize the two?
yes, i studied and graduated with a degree in classical music performance onupright bass, so outside of adoptahighway, i spend my musical efforts in a handful of regional symphonies, smaller chamber ensembles, jazz and improvised music outfits, and a string quartet i co-founded called the tontine ensemble, which is dedicated to new music performance, mostly by wisconsin composers, as well as our own compositions and improvisations.
i don’t think I necessarily compartmentalize adoptahighway and these other efforts, although i do get a bit of a surprised reaction when i say i’m a classical musician who makes experimental electronic music, or vice versa. some musicians are totally dedicated to a single craft, which is absolutely amazing, but i use each musical outfit i’m in to express a different part of myself. it keeps me happy and excited to be able to do that. i do feel a constant, direct correlation between my classical training and electronic music would be the composition techniques and theory/orchestration studies that I’ve taken part in translate into my work as adoptahighway.
are there any particular composers that have heavily influenced adoptahighway, either throughout the project’s existence or on this album in particular?
i’ve always been inspired by the extreme emotional output of the romantic era to early twentieth century composers. some of my most fond performance memories, and composers i listen to regularly, are tchaikovsky, mahler, sibelius, and ravel. i’m also very keen on minimalist composers like glass, reich, cage, john adams and lamonte young; the ability to say very much with sonically very little is very impressive. i also have a close group of friends through the wednesday sound collective with whom i’ve developed heavily as an electronic musician: my pals lorn, dolor, and 18andcounting.
another project you’re involved in is unrehearsed mke. can you talk a bit about the experimental music scene in milwaukee?
unrehearsed mke is a project that was started by my longtime friend and frequent collaborator, percussionist devin drobka. it’s a monthly event here in milwaukee where we, along with the help of composer and saxophonist steve gallam, put together groups of musicians from all fields and disciplines – many of whom have never met or played together before – and ask them to create music on the spot, improvising in a performance setting. we’ve been doing this for just over two years and it has really brought together and developed a brilliant community of improvisers and artists. i always equate improvising with speaking. you’re using the language of your instrument or craft to communicate an idea, just like how you would in any day-to-day conversation. it’s about speaking clearly, without judgement, and without ego. there have been some unforgettable and brilliant performances that have taken place this way and part of the magic is that it will never happen again, in light of it being improvised with no prior meeting of the musicians beforehand.
this is only a small facet of experimental music in milwaukee at the moment. another great contributor to the scene for the past several years has been a series called melt, that showcases electronic musicians in a performance setting, curated by my friend the demix. he’s done a brilliant job advocating and getting support for the actual performance of original electronic music, and not just djs stuck in a booth in the corner of a club somewhere – which is unfortunately what often gets equated with “electronic music” for some people. melt has been amazing in giving an outlet for many experimental musicians who would otherwise be confined to their studio spaces.
i could talk for hours about more goings on, but i guess the bottom line is that there’s a strong and healthy community of new music happening in milwaukee; you just have to be willing to seek it out.
wisconsin is the rightful beer and cheese capital of the country, and milwaukee especially embodies that stereotype. what beer and cheese combination do you think would pair best with a fault?
ha! i haven’t really thought about an edible/drinkable comparison to the record, so i guess i’d go with personal preference of dark beers. i’ve heard reviews of my music as being dark and heavy, so a porter, stout or black ale seems to make sense. my girlfriend really enjoys edam cheese, and she enjoys my musical output as well, so there’s that – dark beer and wisconsin edam.
do you have any immediate plans for adoptahighway, in terms of touring, new music, or both?
i don’t have anything necessarily planned outside of a show coming up in milwaukee at the end of march as adoptahighway. maybe once the snow melts and there’s sun again i will try to string together some shows and hit the road. i’m looking forward to getting into new music now that a fault has finally been released. i invested so much time and emotional energy into this record, i felt that i couldn’t move on until it was released and out into the world. i get very much involved in the concept and expression i’m trying to reach each time i write, so a fault really latched its teeth into me. it was like exorcising a demon, really, and now that that’s off of me, it’s time to let the next one in.
the show clark refers to is a stacked bill at cactus club in milwaukee on march 27th, part of the relaunch of melt; if you’re in the area, strongly consider attending. in the meantime, you can stream and download a fault through the bandcamp link provided below.
eau claire is an absolute hotbed for live music; if you need any convincing, just consult an events calendar. aside from touring bands and established local acts that frequent bars and basements, the scene regularly plays host to exciting one-off collaborations that rarely venture into a recording studio. one such exception is ’58 belvedere, an experimental jazz trio featuring three familiar faces: pat kuehn, who lends his upright bass skills to rivers, dave power, the mustachioed drummer for adelyn rose who moonlights under the electronic moniker of white dune, and dean granros, an enigmatic mainstay of eau claire’s live jazz circuit. the outfit is gearing up to release their debut, rustic libertines, in early january, and we’re excited to share its lead single. “i don’t know” is a seven-minute propulsion of the endless ideas that spew forth from granros’ guitar fretboard, which are accompanied by an insistent bass ostinato and crisp drumming. the trio’s interplay on the song’s back half is particularly engaging and serves as a warm introduction for what the rest of rustic libertines will inevitably bring. dig in below.
dan forke carves out a singular breed of abstract hip-hop under the moniker of wealthy relative, and he’s prepping a new album entitled if you let it. his full-length won’t drop until november 24th, but forke has offered up an audio/visual sample of the album’s second single, “becoming,” in the meantime. the music video superimposes contrasting videos over still images of flora – and vice-versa – in a manner which complements the rapper’s angular delivery of non-sequiturs. watch and listen below.
multi-tasking is fairly common within the eau claire music scene. veterans often lend their talents to a myriad of projects spanning a multitude of genres, from indie rock to hardcore punk to jazz and back again. one who embodies the exact description listed is dave power, who has most notably drummed for local indie stalwarts meridene and adelyn rose, but he’s also spent time loudly punishing his kit in puncher and deftly renegotiating tempos and time signatures in various jazz combos.
over the past year, power has been quietly adding to his repertoire by posting standalone tracks to bandcamp under the moniker of white dune. the singles would appear and disappear with virtually no proclivity, but they offered a glimpse into power’s burgeoning interest in electronic music and his capacity to handle virtually every aspect of the music’s production. after a dry spell and a few delays, power released expanse, his first full-length as white dune, this past tuesday.
what’s striking, especially in comparison to power’s most recognizable work, is how subdued and pensive the music throughout expanse feels. much of the album’s premise is predicated on the marriage of arpeggiated synths and drums – both live and electronic – and while the latter often provides momentum, the songs still retain a somber, introspective quality. power’s adelyn rose companions have guest spots throughout expanse, including a truly haunting vocal feature by jaime hanson on “corbin dallas,” and fellow eau claire producer sloslylove puts his own spin on “good night, mr. bateman” to close out the album.
although just a side-project currently confined to power’s home studio, white dune has proven to be another successful campaign among his many musical endeavors. stream and download expanse at a pay-what-you-want rate below via bandcamp.
it’s hard to believe that milo is only now getting around to releasing his debut full-length album. the wisconsin rapper, who is currently carving out a niche for himself in los angeles, was heavilyfeatured on dimestore saints throughout 2013, but this year has been relatively quiet in comparison. that’s ok. milo has been crafting a toothpaste suburb, a sixteen-track volume of work due out september 23rd via hellfyre club. to read the young rapsmith talk about his new album on social media, it seems like it will fall in line with milo’s first mixtape, i wish my brother rob was here (at least, according to his dad); perhaps milo is not continuing down the path beaten by cavalcade but rather is returning to his roots to explore new tangential possibilities. regardless of trajectory, a toothpaste suburb has the potential to be a decisive piece in milo’s musical puzzle.
the album’s lead single, “you are go(o)d to me,” premiered yesterday; it’s an understated slow jam, full of sparse ethereal synths and thin traces of percussion, and the song’s hook appropriately finds milo singing about witty melancholy men. but “you are go(o)d to me” is ultimately a love song of sorts. occasional non-sequiturs take the back seat to milo’s desires to be objectified and unorthodox romantic gestures like “i would make you breakfast with raspberries / and pick out all the seeds using nothing but my little fingers.”
you can head over to hellfyre club’s store to pre-order a toothpaste suburb, but first take a listen to “you are go(o)d to me,” embedded below.
when the daredevil christopher wright released their excellent full-length the nature of things in 2012, it certainly didn’t feel like a hiatus was imminent. when said hiatus occurred, however, founding member jonathan sunde was suddenly presented with an opportunity to flesh out songs he had accumulated over the years, songs that couldn’t quite find a place within daredevil’s repertoire. after careful arranging and meticulous attention to detail, that collection of music has taken the form of shapes that kiss the lips of god, an admirable foray into the singer-songrwiter realm.
the singular, warbling timbre of sunde’s voice, so common and often definitive of his work in the daredevil christopher wright, is still present on shapes, its familiarity guiding listeners through his personal musical explorations. on lead single “easy kid,” sunde traverses through layers of acoustic guitar and piano, each instrument’s melodic line partially informing his vocal contour. as the drums kick in and a flute line prefaces the guitar solo that dominates the middle section of “easy kid,” it becomes clear that formula has been thrown out the door in favor of experimentation.
although his current geographical location is listed as minneapolis, sunde’s record still has a distinct wisconsin taste. aside from sounding right at home in eau claire’s rich indie-folk tradition, shapes that kiss the lips of god was recorded at honeytone studios, across highway ten on the other side of the state in neenah, and features shane leonard (see: kalispell, field report) on drums and related percussion. the lyrics on “dog days of summer” even drip of dairyland nostalgia, with the line “that sweet wisconsin night” repeated and strengthened with harmony until it becomes an early focal point of the song that leaves a lasting impression.
sunde is consistent in his lyrical quality throughout shapes, each song coming off as even stronger than its predecessor. the album’s title is plucked from a lyric in “hickory point in the fall,” and although it’s described as an allegory for migrating birds, the line isn’t the sole biblical reference found on the record. “a blinding flash of light” bluntly begins with a lamentation for jesus, and its chorus borrows the salient lines of “silent night.” yet the song is decidedly introspective and sunde is lyrically on par with the likes of pedro the lion and little kid, examining personal shortcomings with religion as a reference point, rather than the cornerstone of the content.
ten tracks allows sunde ample time to flesh out his various ideas without becoming stagnant. while operating on a rather small slice of the horizontal musical spectrum, sunde does wonders with the vertical headroom allotted on the theoretical axis, pulling from various palates and timbres to create an amalgamation of sound that is always inviting, never abrasive. between the wandering bass lines of “dream baby,” the subtle but critical vocal harmonies and the warm, slow vibrato peppering organ and guitar tones throughout, shapes that kiss the lips of god is a wonderful soundtrack for hazy midwestern summer evenings.
as one third of the daredevil christopher wright, jonathan sunde helped craft memorable contributions to eau claire’s rich tradition of folk music. now he’s striking out on his own under the stage name j.e. sunde, and is set to drop his debut album, shapes that kiss the lips of god, on july 15th via cartouche records. although the album’s release is still a few weeks away, you can stream its lead single “easy kid” below, courtesy of cartouche’s soundcloud page. this is another wisconsin record not to miss out on.
phox has been a staple of the indie music diet in wisconsin for the past two years, but it’s taken the rest of the world a bit longer to catch on. armed with two eps and a full-length of varying production qualities, phox won over audiences with the combination of monica martin’s powerful voice and the fastidious arrangements that supported it. by the time last year’s confetti ep dropped, it was clear that phox was a force that deserved to be reckoned with on a larger scale; sure enough, the baraboo sextet started receiving attention from npr for their well-crafted indie folk jaunts and eventually got picked up by partisan records, who have backed the band’s self-titled major-label debut. if the twelve songs on phox sound familiar to steadfast listeners, that’s because many of them are re-recorded centerpieces of previous releases.
of course, there are two sides to this apparent problem. the not-so-good side is that only five new tunes turn up on phox and that they pad the beginning and end of the album, perhaps suggesting that they were written out of necessity and not creativity. the songs that have long defined phox are bookended by “slow motion” and “shrinking violets” – two of the best tracks in the band’s arsenal – while “noble heart” functions as an outlier. the other side of the coin is that all songs, both new and old, benefit immensely from pristine studio treatment; while the overall structures of the established songs don’t change, they are enhanced greatly by subtle adjustments and changes to the arrangements, like the more insistent percussion on “slow motion” and the guitar lines that cut more clearly on “laura.”
in the long run, it’s better to focus on the latter of those two sides. phox is an unquestionably talented young band finally getting the stage they deserve, so it only makes sense that they would choose to showcase a distillation of the best work they’ve already created. besides, it turns out that the new tunes on phox are more than just padding; “raspberry seed” is the most sprawling cut on the album and effortlessly details nearly every timbral trope associated with the band, and “in due time” is a succinct closing number that finds martin singing completely unabashed and with earnest. for first-time listeners, phox will prove to be a whirlwind experience of sounds and emotions, one that only occasionally drags or becomes too self-involved. for long-time patrons, this is the collection of high fidelity phox recordings that you’ve probably been waiting for.
a musical trope that has become nearly synonymous with eau claire over the past ten years is the rustic, acoustic-driven tones of acts like the daredevil christopher wright, kalispell, and of course, bon iver. at this point, a continuation down that already-beaten path may run the risk of seeming redundant, as if the artists might be trying to cash in on an established aesthetic rather than creating something genuine. on the opposite end of the spectrum lies rivers, a three-piece currently splitting time between the midwest and the east coast; folk music is merely the vessel through which the band conveys their ideas, as opposed to their endgame. on their debut effort, of dusk, rivers offers up a collection of songs that offer up a fresh new perspective on an established tradition.
dexter wolfe’s songwriting has always had a slightly enigmatic quality; even in the hard-hitting, comparatively aggressive setting of his previous band sky lion, it was evident that wolfe took various cues from introspective stalwarts like elliott smith and elvis costello. the former’s influence resonates clearly throughout of dusk and particularly on “even if,” an early track that remains a standout through the album’s duration. wolfe proves himself to be rather skilled in the department of imagery as well, bookending the album with lyrics like “beneath yellow leaves / with rolled up sleeves / eyes lost in the branches / of your family tree” (see “weeping willow”) and “it was the start of something beautiful / i heard her heart and tripped, well… i fell right down” (see “where though lies, death ripples”). his capability to weave personal accounts with metaphor and personification plays off as effortless, and more importantly helps to establish rivers as a lyrically mature and formative ensemble.
the music that accompanies the poetry on of dusk is perhaps even more impressive. alongside wolfe – who handles guitar and piano chores in addition to vocals – are pat kuehn and colin carey, who tackle upright bass and percussion duties, respectively. kuehn’s bass playing is the timbral element that immediately stands out and seeks to separate rivers from the other bands who share a similar aesthetic; the long, mournful bowed tones augment the melancholy in the beginning of “even if,” but kuehn’s role also serves the purpose of driving the music forward in spots where carey’s percussion is rather sparse. by itself, the resonance of the upright bass gives rivers a distinct, orchestral quality, one which is further explored multiple times through the string and horn arrangements found on “saudade” and “the locket.” even carey’s drumming can feel symphonic at times, as he adds sparse percussive supplements to the more delicate moments on the album and aids the band in achieving their select few moments of absolute crescendo.
sharp songwriting and intuitive arrangements adorn of dusk, and its slightly haunting characteristics make the record a suitable companion for the chilly air that predominates these waning spring nights. largely self-produced and entirely self-released, rivers and of dusk have proven to be adequate advocates for the continued support of independent, local music; sometimes all it takes is years of determination and perseverance. you can stream the album here and find all of the dates for rivers’ upcoming tour, as well.