There's a lamentable disconnect between live music in Madison and Milwaukee, a state of affairs that's attributed to as many causes as there are people who talk about it. Whatever the reason, it makes finding a new band that you like in the opposite town particularly gratifying.
One good example is Testa Rosa, a polished electro-pop trio that consists of Betty Blexrud-Strigens (vocals, guitar and keyboard), her husband Damian Strigens (drums and guitar), Paul Hancock (bass and piano), and a cast of side players who collectively have produced a very catchy yet unaffected set of tunes in their self-titled debut album released last month.
The group has a venerable past in the Brew City. I haven't been to many concerts in Milwaukee, but one of the best was nearly three years ago when the Arcade Fire played at Mad Planet the night before Thanksgiving. It wasn't just the rapidly ascending group from Canada that impressed, as openers The Mustn'ts -- in their first live show ever -- made sure the music was memorable beyond a single band. This group shuttered within a couple of years, but three of its members immediately went on to form Testa Rosa.
By last summer, the band was recording at Smart Studios, where they created an 11-song album that has a foot in both upbeat and pensive pop, all of it romantically melodic.
Actually, make that 10 songs, as the first and last track (minus a hidden Christmas ditty of dusky happiness and cheer) are the same, albeit sung in different languages. "Ollie and Delilah," an infectious number selling bad luck love, opens the album in English and closes it auf Deutsch. Right from the get-go, it gathers swiftly in layers; propulsive drums, a driving bass line, and a synth harmony, all combining with the soaring vocals of Blexrud-Strigens to make a jangly anthem that calls to mind The Pretenders or any number of '60s girl groups.
If anything, the German version of the song is even catchier, the translated lyrics turning the listener's focus simply to the sound of the vocals. Naturally, this brings to mind Nena's "99 Luftballoons." An even better comparison, though, might be to The Beatles and their German versions of "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Ultimately, both versions pop.
MP3s of the tracks are available in the related downloads at right. Testa Rosa will be opening for Maritime at the Memorial Union Terrace on Friday, September 21.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.