Nama Rupa's conscious, laid-back vibe is the new sound of Madison reggae.
It's that time of year again, when Madison reinvents itself. Old stuff gets set out at curbsides. New gear arrives by the truckload. Matriculating students settle in and re-energize downtown.
Like Madison itself, our local music scene is in a constant state of regeneration. Spooner and Marques Bovre gave way to Charlemagne and the Junkers, who gave way to Pale Young Gentlemen and Lucha Libre.
Now, a new crop of bands and solo artists is ready to shape the future of Madison music.
Some of these musicians have recently moved here. Some are longtime residents who've begun different projects. Some have just released their debut albums. Others are still preparing their first release.
These 10 acts have one thing in common. They're on the verge of redefining the Madison sound.
Folk for the indie rock generation
This brand-new Madison indie-folk band has national ambitions and the talent to match. Jeremiah Nelson, 26, moved here last September. He spent his first months in town living and writing songs in a scrap-metal warehouse off Park Street. Those songs are now recorded on Take Me Down the Interstate, the Patchwork debut released last week.
Interstate crosses through a variety of musical terrain. Nelson's folk-rock slumbers from quietly delicate ("Favorite Chair") to jagged and bluesy ("Interstate Love Song II). The best song on the disc, "Losing Faith," proves Nelson knows how to give a tune a pop edge.
Nelson grew up in Rochester, Minn. He lived in Winona and Oshkosh before coming to Madison. His songs frequently embrace a restless, wayfaring spirit. He imagines places where "comfort meets chaos every night."
The band just began an out-of-state tour that lasts till late September, but you're sure to meet them when they return.
The new sound of Madison reggae
Tyson Klobes, Jason Himebauch and Paul Reinke worked together at Whole Foods in 2005. "We started talking about all kinds of music at work," recalls Himebauch.
Klobes was stationed in the bakery department. "He was always singing smooth little ditties about baked goods to the customers on the overhead paging system," says Himebauch. "It was funny because people at work would be like, 'You should get together with Paul and play.'It was liketheywere tryingto get us togetherand would not let it go."
One day, the trio headed over to Reinke's rehearsal space at 24/7 studios. Since then, Nama Rupa ("name and form") has been reshaping Madison reggae.
Natty Nation has been the namesake of local reggae for more than a decade. What Madisonians might not know is that Nama Rupa re-energized Natty Nation in 2007 when Klobes, Himebauch and Reinke became Demetrius Wainwright's new rhythm section.
Nama Rupa's conscious, laid-back vibe stands on its own. The group's full-length debut is due to hit the streets this fall.
The Fall Guys
A DJ, an MC and a radio show
DJ Pain 1 and MC Starr shared an interest in hip-hop back when they were classmates at Madison's West High School.
Now 24, Pain and Starr have re-formed their high school project, the Fall Guys. The two are preparing to release their full-length debut later this year.
In the meantime, you can hear Pain and Starr host their live mix show every Saturday at 10 p.m. on Madtown JAMZ, 106.7 FM.
By day, DJ Pain 1 is Pacal Bayley. Bayley earned a degree in secondary education at UW-Madison and is planning a career as a high school teacher. Bayley is the musical half of the Fall Guys equation, producing beats and samples that jump with a sense of urgency. MC Starr provides the equally urgent raps.
Madison hip-hop came of age in the past five years, feeding off the talent of acts like Rob Dz, dumate and El Guante. With their sophisticated production work, the Fall Guys look to be the local genre's next big thing.
Time Since Western
The sound of things that don't have a sound
Andy Brawner spent two years as the bass player for the Madison indie-rock band Pale Young Gentlemen. Now he's launched his own dream-rock project, Time Since Western.
The name is a non sequitur, says Brawner, 35. "The reason for that is my mind seems to jumble time and place and memory in a really illogical way. It ends up feeling to me like the songs are their own places and their own times."
The band's debut recording, A Sun Goes Down, was released in June. The album is a testament to Brawner's songwriting versatility. Tracks vary from sparse, aching ballads like "Inside Out" to Replacements-style jangle rock ("Bottom of the Sea").
Brawner's songwriting reminds me a lot of Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Folk Implosion). Brawner is capable of writing near-perfect pop songs like "All This Before Tonight." His songs are moody and always anchored in third-person, dreamlike emotion.
"It's the sound of things that don't have a sound," says Brawner, "like a landscape or a feeling."
A post-music-industry local band
Red Romero reminds me a lot of the Profits, the now-defunct Madison pop band that ruled the campus music scene two years ago. Like the Profits, Red Romero play a bright and accessible kind of pop-rock that seems tailor-made for a Langdon Street party.
Red Romero has something else in common with the Profits. The newcomers know how to hype themselves. Red Romero sold out an inaugural show at the Orpheum Stage Door last April. They wooed fans with makeshift
sidewalk shows; then they promised them free stuff if they came to the concert.
Singer Jimmie Linville, 21, is a Baraboo native who recently moved to Madison. He powers the charisma of Red Romero, and he plays a mean banjo, too.
Red Romero released a four-song debut EP last spring. The band has spent much of the summer recording new songs. For Linville, recorded tracks are a free commodity used to lure fans to live concerts. He's a 21st-century musician - ready to earn his way entertaining on stage, not posing for the cover of an album.
Adam the Tree
Electronic sophisticate from Rhinelander
Adam Jerzak, 25, was still a student at Rhinelander High School when he attended his first electronic music show. He quickly fell in love with the genre and adopted it as his private passion.
Jerzak moved to Madison in 2003 to plug in to the Midwest club scene. He played more than 100 shows over the next year. He also got a job at the Madison DJ-gear retail store, MC Audio. His duties included ordering the store's progressive house records. Talk about a dream job.
Adam the Tree is Jerzak's electronic persona. He's a hypnotic fellow who likes to wedge himself into the space between Tribal and Progressive House. His mixes have a jazz-like improvisational feel. His beats are a steady pulse, a power source that won't relent.
Since releasing his debut EP in 2006, Jerzak's star has risen. 2008 has been his most active year yet. He's released five compositions so far.
Pine Box Orchestra
Advanced degree of talent
The Junkers were the last all-grad student band to make an indelible mark on the Madison music scene. Their whip-smart country was an ode to northern twang.
Now the Pine Box Orchestra are ready to show that advanced degree candidates can do more than study.
Burr Settles is the Elliot Smith-like songwriter who composes most of the band's songs. By day he pursues a Ph.D. in computer science. Who knew that a guy who studies "statistical machine learning" could have such a sensitive soul?
His band mates are Sarah Wynia Smith, a physiology student who plays trumpet, flute and keyboard. Her husband, Brian Smith, studies biochemistry and plays cello, bass and guitar.
The Pine Box Orchestra make songs that are textured dreamscapes. They weave together strings, keys and percussion in a way that's always reflective and sometimes a little pensive.
Grad student musicians have a way of breaking the hearts of local fans when they move far away to become faculty. Here's hoping the Pine Box gang will stay and play.
Voice to be reckoned with
This 25-year-old Mount Horeb native can disarm even the most detached club audiences with her smoky, haunting vocal style.
She's been writing indie-folk songs that are ideally suited to her singing. They're moody, eerie and emotionally turbulent.
Colello is currently fronting a quartet made up of guitarist Josh Harty, bassist Tony Messinger and drummer Phil Feutz. The band released its debut EP earlier this year.
It's not just easy to see Colello emerging to be one of Madison's most talented musicians. It's easy to see her becoming a national entertainer. Her amazing voice and mature songwriting are among the best this critic has come across in my 10 years reviewing local bands.
See her in a small venue, while you still can.
Cut the crap, man
When you dedicate yourself to hammering out hard rock that's earnest and urgent, who's got time for small talk?
Madison's Kill Junior say as much on their MySpace page: "Kill Junior is five guys committed to rocking their asses off for you. We will give all we have to make you have a good time at a show. That's it. We play music, not write bios."
Kill Junior's music is well-written powernoise played with heaps of muscular bravado. Vocalist Cory Kastner can growl with the best of them, but the music of Kill Junior is substantially more polished and structured than your average hardcore.
This is high-production punk-metal, and it's sure to be a lead influence on Madison's hard-rock scene of the future.
Kill Junior is currently recording Confusiotomy at DNA Studios. They're planning to release the grueling, bullshit-free disc later this year.
BIG BANDS ON CAMPUS
Seasoned Madison bands at the head of their class
Whore du Jour
This experimental garage-pop band has been collaborating with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's. They've got the beat.
Most Madison hip-hop is conscious. Lucha Libre embrace a tougher vibe. Da Ricanstruckta's production backs blunt lyrics with hard beats.
The Compass Rose
Swelling chamber pop by ex-Profit Mike Droho.
Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons
The best pop-punk band in town thrives on theatrics and quirky compositions.
Eric Oehler's electronic project stands out for its emotion and strong vocals. Tribal beats and world-music influences abound.
Is there such a thing as indie-piano? The avant-garde songs by the Mother Fool's co-owner are the closest thing.
Pale Young Gentlemen
The 2007 debut album by these local indie phenoms gained a solid review in the esteemed music e-rag Pitchfork.
Madison's answer to John Mayer spends nearly all fall touring the country, so catch him at the Bar Next Door (232 E. Olin Ave.) on Aug. 28 at 8:30 p.m. before he departs.