Theoretically, a town's reputation for music-making takes off only after its local bands tap into a distinctive "sound." The commonly held belief is that without one, a small Midwestern city like, say, Madison will never make an impression on the most important music pros and media types on the coasts who determine the soundtrack for the nation's youth. Now maybe this is true, and maybe it isn't. In any case, generations of Madison-area musicians (particularly rock musicians) have lamented that a defined local sound is what separates our town from Minneapolis, Chicago and other landlocked burgs that have managed to rock their way into the national consciousness.
Well, as it turns out, there is a Madison sound, and you can hear it in all its naive, DIY glory right here on the Wisconsin Pop Explosion's CD compilation. Ironically, a number of the loose music collective's bands have either disbanded or moved out of town. For that reason, arch masterworks like the Super Eights' snotty-yet-effervescent "Wisconsinners" and Aunt Goodness' sardonic look at the etiology of indie cred, "James Brown With Two Heads," could be taken as mementos from a sonic moment that has passed. But if it has, that would be a real shame. Because simply by going their own way and letting a little bit of jangle and a whole lotta skepticism define their vision of what pop could and should be, the Super Eights, Aunt Goodness and other standouts like Sleeping in the Aviary and Gal and Lad have given Madison music fans something vital, real and, most important, deliciously fun.
If nobody in the media power centers ever takes notice, so be it. That doesn't make the WPE's achievements any less valuable.