The Elite Eight: 8 Madison Acts You Should Know
With the City Series, TIDAL investigates the local music scenes of U.S. cities. Enlisting the expertise of a locally-based music writer, we explore the past, present and future of music in each town.
Madison, Wisconsin is a college town at heart.
But surrounding our dormitories, classrooms and many libraries is a community of musicians bent on supporting one another and fostering a sense of togetherness to create a scene.
While we may not be as big as other renowned music meccas, Madison can boast that its community is tighter—and therefore stronger—than most.
Here are eight of our acts you should probably get to know.
Though the four guys who make up Circus Fires hail from parts of Utah, New York and Wisconsin, Madison functions as their collective home base. Together, the band writes and records songs smothered in guitars and emotions.
Their impressive debut, All Living Things, is a lyrically heavy record that recalls “emo” greats like Brand New, Jimmy Eat World and Pedro the Lion.
The band is currently hard at work on their second album. Of their first effort, Absolute Punk wrote, “It’s not easy to pinpoint standouts on records this consistent, which is why it’s tough to mention exactly where you’ll be hooked … not only one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever heard, but what should be seen as one of the best albums to appear out of the blue this year.”
Count This Penny
Count This Penny’s songs exist as balancing acts between the band’s two founding members, Allen and Amanda Rigell.
Since arriving in Madison by way of Tennessee a few years back, the group has become the city’s finest folk act. Last year, they put out the slow-burning Wolves Are Sheep EP, which features the absolutely soul-crushing ballad “Get Your Gun.”
Count This Penny’s favorite part of the Madison scene: “The best part of Madison’s music scene is its ever-expanding community of musicians and music supporters. They put on amazing shows in the city’s great venues like High Noon and Majestic, and also in tiny historic synagogues and repurposed body shops and barns and libraries. It’s becoming a music town at heart.”
Fire Retarded’s scrappy brand of rock brings to mind exclamation points and an uncontrollable urge to just break stuff. Seriously, if there’s one band in Madison that resembles a hot mess, this four piece is it. They released their debut, the forever-urgent and forever-enjoyable Scroggz Manor, last year.
Fire Retarded’s favorite part of the Madison scene: “My favorite part about Madison’s music scene is definitely just everyone who makes it up. There are so many people that put in a lot of thankless work and effort into making sure there are cool things to do around here. Madison isn’t a big city so it can be kind of desolate and void of things to do if people don’t create those things, which I think a lot of people take for granted sometimes.”
The Hussy is a blazing garage rock band whose songs get in, rock out and leave as efficiently as possible. The duo has been releasing scorchers and trashing stages in the Madison area since 2008, and is getting set to put out their fourth album, Galore, this spring.
Bobby of the Hussy’s favorite part of the Madison scene: “My favorite part is the sense of community and not competition. People are really helpful to each other. They wanna see each other succeed and they offer what they can to help realize that goal. That’s a special thing, which a lot of bigger cities miss the point of.”
Julian Lynch’s knack for collaboration is the Madison music scene’s spirit, personified. Though he’s recently recorded woodwinds for All Tiny Creatures’ Dark Clock, Toro y Moi’s forthcoming What For?, his own expansive, otherworldly albums have garnered acclaim in their own right, nabbing the attention of writers at NPR, Pitchfork and countless other publications.
Julian Lynch’s favorite part of the Madison scene: “If I had to think about a favorite thing about the music community in Madison, it would be that very willingness to help others that I’ve encountered since I moved here in 2008.”
As the name implies, Masked Intruder is four intruders wearing ski masks. While keeping their identities secret behind their , the band makes bubblegum punk with searing guitars and Beach Boys-styled harmonies. As they aptly describe themselves, “They’re more than a gimmick. They’ve got chops. They’re weird, kinda arty, fairly goofy, vaguely dumb, relentlessly smart and they appeal to pretty much everyone, from their fellow hardened criminals to little girls and everyone in between.”
They put out their second full length, M.I., this past May. In a glowing review, Alternative Press wrote, “The vocal harmonies are crisp, the crime-and-punishment-inspired lyrics are clever and memorable, the guitar solos are plentiful, and the songwriting is light years ahead of most modern punk bands…There’s no band playing sillier music more seriously.”
PHOX is technically based a few miles north of Madison in Baraboo, Wis., but we wouldn’t dare miss out on an opportunity to claim them as our own. Since signing to Partisan Records last year, the folk-pop outfit has put out a stunning self-titled record and toured nationally and throughout Europe.
What the Madison scene means to PHOX: “It means we get to know every musician we have the privilege to play with. It means we have the opportunity to see an awesome bill at the frequency for $10 and stand 3 feet away from the performers. It means sometimes there’s just a show at the Gates of Heaven, and you get to drink beers in the basement of a place of worship and wonder if there’s an alderman in your presence.”
The Zebras have been kicking around in Madison since 2007, but it wasn’t until 2012, when their fourth (and hopefully final) lineup solidified around Vincent Presley, Shane Hochstetler and Lacey Smith, that they really began thrashing.
Though the trio is best classified as doom metal, their sound is heavily influenced by punk, sludge and noise, with comparisons to Dead Kennedys, Lard, and various acts belonging to Amphetamine Reptile and Alternative Tentacles. They’re currently working on a follow up to their punishing self-titled full length.
Andrew Brandt is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin.
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