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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Mostly Cloudy and Windy
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The Dials paint the town red

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When it comes to making retro sound modern, the Dials are the real deal. The Chicago-based four-piece distills some of the best elements of New Wave and No Wave and binds them together with punchy lyrics and harmonies.

It's a formula that PopMatters has described as having "a mathematical beauty that somehow sounds both controlled and frenetic" and that's led CMJ to crown them the lipstick ruffians of Midwestern pop-punk. However, the band's sheer liveliness is what made them standouts at last September's Forward Music Festival.

It's hard to imagine where all of this energy comes from given the band's busy schedule - including a recent trip to Japan - and an unfair share of tragedy. The Dials' original drummer, Doug Meis, and vocalist/bassist Rebecca Crawford's husband John Glick, who played guitar for the Returnables, were killed in a car wreck in 2005.

"It was such a huge loss for all of us, but it wasn't even an option to not continue playing," Crawford says.

The momentum of the band's debut full-length, Flex Time, which had been recorded a few months earlier, also helped the band barrel ahead. Its snotty-yet-sweet, Bikini Kill-meets-Ramones tattle-rock proved to be just the right medicine for both the band and critics.

Since then, the band's been harnessing the spirit of '80s MTV hits, Chopin mazurkas and even polka. Drummer Chad Romansi used to play in his grandfather's polka band, keyboardist Emily Dennison is a classically trained pianist, and guitarist Patti Gran's a bit of a metalhead.

But the glue that holds it all together is punk-laced pop, says Crawford: "The new songs we're working on are longer and a bit more structured, with a bit of a darker edge to them."

Don't get the wrong idea: The new sound is still more reminiscent of lollipops than Leather and Lace, Crawford says. As a former Madison resident, she's familiar with the notorious Inferno event. She's even played at the club.

"I went to school in Madison, and it's the place where I really got started as a musician. I used to play in a band called Rhoda back in the late '90s," Crawford says. "I'm not sure anyone remembers that, but we've never forgotten Madison. It's like a second home to us."

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