Family Album is as good a place as any.
It's often hard to tell if Madison's avant-garde musicians are trying to obscure themselves or make themselves bizarrely conspicuous. Their habits tend to accomplish both at once. There are sporadic live shows that often aren't at the usual clubs, the dribble of cassette and vinyl releases, and album titles that outdo Cormac McCarthy's book titles with their stately pomp and arcane vocabulary. But for all that cryptic presentation, they've created a great deal of rewarding music these past few years.
Of their most recent releases, these three have stuck with me the most.
Second Family Band is an ensemble that often seems to include about half of Madison's avant-garde music community, depending on who shows up and what they bring. (Some members will play under the name Second Sons on March 10, opening for Blues Control at Good Style Shop.) Any combination of a dozen-odd people might take part in one of the band's infrequent improvised sets. Formerly going by the name Davenport Family, its members include the prolific Clay Ruby, throat-singer DB Pedersen, Tony Endless of the drone duo Drunjus and Earjerk Records, and Brian Steele of the recently dissolved metal band Wife. This double-vinyl release from an Italian label called Sagittarius A-Star gives you an idea of the musical variety that results: The 22-minute "Goodbye Asphodel" goes a somber and acoustic route, allowing Pedersen to show off his warbling vocal tones, but also giving way to percussion-heavy passages. Second Family Band are actually putting out several releases on various labels in February, but Family Album is as good a place as any to start delving into local avant-garde music.
Pelt have been mixing thoughtful Americana and long-form drones since the early '90s. Only in recent years did some members move to Madison. Effigy, released in October 2012, was recorded in Madison's Gates of Heaven synagogue and in an old yoga studio in Mount Horeb. In 2009 Pelt suffered the death of perhaps its best-known member, the accomplished guitarist Jack Rose. So much of Effigy points toward loss and finality. "Of Jacks' Darbari" opens the album with fiercely scraped fiddles and a thrumming undertow of harmonium, and "Ashes Of A Photograph" may be the first-ever song to make a jaw harp sound menacing. There are also excellent live versions of several Effigy tracks, including the warm and wandering "Wings of Dirt," on a recent cassette from Madison label Brave Mysteries titled The Eighth Day, the Eleventh Month, the Two-Thousand and Twelfth Year.
Lens: Oneiricist Dubs
Dan Woodman is the other half of Drunjus and hosts WORT's Weekly World Noise show on Sunday nights. In his solo project Lens, he's freer than ever to sink into throbbing, oscillating soundscapes. Oneiricist Dubs makes good on the "dubs" part by plunging each track into an eerie well of bass. But it's not all oozing low end: On "Just One Day Dub" and "Sleep Forever Dub," there are enough sparkly, airy melodies to keep the higher registers interesting.