Milwaukee Experimental/Electronic Music Round-Up: Jeff Scott Townsend, Dead Pawn, Luxi, Running in Slow Motion

Also: Slamhaus, Close Up of the Serene, Apollo Vermouth and Max Holiday

Aug. 7, 2017
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jeff townsend
Some of the most exciting music coming out of Milwaukee is also some of the least likely to be heard. The city is home to countless producers, composers and DJs, many of them quite inventive, and most of them working in isolation and self-releasing their works. Without much of a network for promoting their music, though, that music too often falls beneath the radar, so from time to time we’ll try to spotlight some of the city's best recent experimental or electronic music (we’re using both terms very loosely) with this new feature.

Jeff Scott Townsend – One Day I Will Wash Upon Your Shore

I’m guessing Jeff Townsend doesn’t consider himself an electronic artist, but his elegantly concise neo-classical pieces do borrow some tricks and short cuts from electronic music. Townsend’s utterly breathtaking, long-in-the-making latest album (his first in five years), One Day I Will Wash Upon You incorporates its modern flourishes so subtly they’re often barely noticeable, save for the occasional glitchy loop. There’s no showboating here. He crafts naturalistic sonatas out of pianos, strings and static, but with this comparatively small palette he’s able to manipulate emotions the way a post-rock orchestra does. Without leaning on overblown crescendos, these gorgeous songs rise, swell and weep, always teasing just enough uplift to guide the listener through the sorrowful passages. It's an absolutely gorgeous work that I hope one day gets the vinyl release it deserves.

[A quick note for listeners: Many of the embedded albums below come from Bandcamp, where embeds often start mid-album. Artists apparently love this feature, because they use it all the time, but it'd highly recommend starting all of the albums below from their first track, and that's especially true for this one, which has some absolutely exceptional pieces you might miss if you start the record at track 5.] 

Dead Pawn – Foreign Rooms

It’s generally bad form for a critic to review a release they haven’t actually listened to all the way through, so I should be upfront: I haven’t finished Dead Pawn’s ambitious live album Foreign Rooms. That’s in no way a reflection of the music, though, but rather simply of how much of it there is. The album plays out for more than two hours, with more than half of its eight songs cracking the 20-minute mark. Normally that would be a red flag—one of the knocks against ambient music is that it doesn’t always respect the listeners’ time—but even the longer tracks here, including the half-hour centerpiece “Light,” are utterly captivating, with most built from an unsteady foundation of gradually expanding drones and many adorned with moody, Goblin-style synths. No need to take this one in all at once; you can savor it in bits and pieces.

Running in Slow Motion – Everything Ends

For a much brighter, more digestible take on ambient music, there’s Running in Slow Motion’s Everything Ends, a wash of mostly dreamy, redemptive tones and uplifting melodic highs. “Accessible ambient music” is probably a contradiction, but this stuff is about as accessible as the genre gets, a good place to start for those just dipping their toes into the music. Don’t confuse “accessible” for “safe,” though. Composer Bryan Kraft takes some exciting aesthetic gambles, especially on the closing title track, which he floods with some utterly surrealistic tones.


Luxi – Lush Reality EP

From her washed-our early releases, Luxi has gradually developed a sound with a lot more fire power. On the heels of her sensational 2017 full-length Geometric Universe, she’s released a new summer EP, Lush Reality, that shows off her more bombastic side—the bass wobble has become one of her go-to moves. “Breathe Nearby” rolls out one drop after another, while “Chance” gives way to a very showy house breakdown. I’m not getting anywhere near the same emotional charge from these songs as I did from Geometric Universe’s, but given the larger venues that she’s started playing this year, it makes sense that she’d want to add some louder songs to her repertoire.

Slamhaus – Tunesday: July, August 2017

You could quite literally set your watch to the Milwaukee producer Slamhaus’s output. That’s because every Tuesday at 2 p.m. he hosts a live stream where he composes a new song on the spot, “without any pre-thought melodies, progressions of beats,” he promises. It takes a special kind of person to actually follow through with a project like that, and while I’m not a fan of everything he creates (his more rock-minded or smoother funk numbers don’t do anything for me at all), he lands some real gems. The highlight from his latest Bandcamp compilation of those creations is his July 5 composition “Revelation Land,” a slinky little thing with an airy groove.

Close Up of the Serene w/ Apollo Vermouth and Black Thumb

The Milwaukee-based label/collective Close Up of the Serene specializes in kinetic, minimalist club music, tailor made for listeners with a deep appreciation of that music’s history, but the latest installment of its radio broadcast features mixes from a couple of outsiders: Apollo Vermouth (who released one of my favorite ambient albums of the year) and the goth-pop artist Black Thumb. The songs they dig up are as wide ranging as you’d expect. (I don’t actually know which artist is responsible for which mix, but I do know somebody threw in Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground.”)

Max Holiday - Acid Daddy's DIESELcast Mix

And finally, we’ve got a new mix from Close Up of the Serene label founder Max Holiday that he created for Acid Daddy’s DIESELcast, (for those unfamiliar, as I was, it’s a Chicago “podcast series from Chicago showcasing artists who play the freaky queer party, Acid Daddy's Haus of Diesel at Berlin Nightclub in Boystown, and those who inspire the music featured at these events.”) I won’t pretend to be fluent in all of the different styles of club music that Holiday juggles, but you don’t need to be in order to enjoy his set, a snaky, patiently executed mix that intensifies greatly in its final stretch.


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