PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Reptile Palace Orchestra: Songs and Dances of Madisonia

A ball of fun and technical perfection...but an edge or two wouldn't hurt.

The Reptile Palace Orchestra

Songs and Dances of Madisonia

Label: Omnium
US Release Date: 2012-01-28
UK Release Date: 2012-01-28

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, everyone knows about the Reptile Palace Orchestra. Well, maybe not everyone -- you have to be paying attention to local music, and/or international music, and/or dance music, and/or any of our dozens of street fairs, and arts celebrations. Everywhere people get together, the RPO is there, making people dance with their hybrid of Eastern European folk music and...well, every other music they've ever heard.

Their latest salvo, Songs and Dances of Madisonia, takes on music both exotic and vaguely familiar-sounding. They lead off with "Sev Kardesim", a piece often called the "Turkish Hora". Sure, it sounds a lot like you've just stumbled into an excellent bat mitzvah, but Maggie Weiser's impassioned vocals push all the right buttons. Later, the group takes on the Roaring Lion calypso tune "Wash Your Hands", overlaying it with tons of strange electronic filigree and mournful violin noises. Just like something you might have heard before but just a little different, and slightly twisted (kind of like Madison itself, actually).

The group takes on Algerian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian traditional tunes, paying proper respect but making them their own. They welcome guest vocalist Myriam Darsouni for a romp through "Marakebna Al Mina", with Bill Feeny's stinging guitar lines turning it into something resembling new wave. "Byala Roza" mutates from a classic folk tune into post-rock tango, kind of, maybe -- but with trumpeter Anna Purnell's lovely voice leaning into the lyrics, labels don't really matter, do they?

There are also some great originals here. Cellist and conceptualist Seth Blair gets to take a tour on vocalist on the spooky "Skeleton Dance", which is actually closer to neo-lounge klezmer than it is to anything else. Blair's composition "Lactic Acid" is straight-up funk music, if we can define "straight-up" as "completely off the rails and lacking any pretense of decorum, plus steel drum solos."

Multi-instrumentalist Biff Blumfumgagnge -- one of the tests of true Madisonia is whether or not you can spell that name from memory -- gets to pen a couple hot workouts, including "Rude Oud", an attempt to completely reclaim that instrument for off-kilter multi-time-signature dance music, but it's Greg Smith's free-range tenor sax solo that sets this one off.

Not enough can be said for the flexibility of this ensemble. Ed Feeny and Robert Schoville are a nimble and inventive rhythm section. Kia Karlen's accordion holds things together when they threaten to veer too wildly to one side or another. And the Blair/Blumfumgagnge core at the center makes sure everything is charmingly anarchic. After all, without a little anarchy, what good is anything?

So if you need a soundtrack for your cookout (microbrews, veggie brats from the Willy Street Co-op, sketchy potato salad brought by your ex-cousin-in-law who's still a pretty nice guy after all), or for your next attempt to recall your lying governor, you had better have this disc on heavy repeat. Over and out from Madisonia.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.