As close to cliché as Miley Cyrus is to a turtleneck.
Tim Radl watches the news, gets pissed off and then writes songs.
That's the modus operandi for the vocalist and guitarist of Sons of Atom, a punchy rock trio consisting of Madison musicians who've done time in countless local bands, including Digibot, the Madtown Vipers, the OuttaTunes and the Low Czars.
Sons of Atom's 2012 debut, Recipe for Disaster, features compact punk songs with titles like "One of Our Nukes Is Missing," "How I Learned to Love the Recession" and "Gimme Back My Enemy." "The Legend of Sid Hatfield" even swiped a popular chant from protesters at the state Capitol building during the 2011 winter of our discontent: "What's disgusting? Union busting!"
On the band's just-released second album, A View from the Recessional Moraine, Radl doesn't let up. The militant "Walkin' Tall" rallies for "cheap gas," and the bouncy "Fightin' Dan" references Dan Hoan, whose 24-year tenure as Milwaukee mayor, from 1916 to 1940, is considered the longest continuous socialist administration in U.S. history.
"This is naturally what interests me in songs," Radl says about topical issues. "But I'm always a little bit afraid to use some obvious touchpoints. If you write music about politics, you have to be careful you don't fall into clichés."
Sons of Atom — whose roster also includes Adam Tregre on bass and vocals and Larry Braun on drums and vocals — is about as close to cliché as Miley Cyrus is to a turtleneck. These guys don't record love songs. They don't want to go out on tour for more than two nights. And they have no illusions about success.
"I think it would be tough if you were a young band and thought people would just find you," says Radl, 47. "Madison is a small town with lots of musicians. Talented musicians. It's sometimes hard to find your place. Sons of Atom has actually done better than I thought."
Admittedly shy, Radl never sang lead or wrote vocal melodies before teaming up with Braun and Tregre, both in their mid-30s. They go by the stage names of "Ler" and "Johnny Kickass," respectively. (Radl is "T-Bot," a holdout from his days in Digibot, the left-leaning punk band that's played at least one gig together every year since 1998.)
Over a five-year span, Sons of Atom have established themselves as a serious band that don't take themselves too seriously. Their Minutemen tribute remains a local Halloween favorite.
"We don't sound like the Minutemen, but that spirit is there, with lots of different sounds and varying degrees of topics," Radl says, adding that the secret to the Sons' success is mutual respect.
"I never have to worry about my rhythm section," he notes. "A lot of people in bands make the mistake of not trusting each other. We all view each other as equals."
A View from the Recessional Moraine finds Sons of Atom further blurring the lines dividing punk, metal and surf music while slowing down the pace, incorporating acoustic guitar and opting for more instrumental passages. The album was written and recorded in a wood shop and studio converted from an old barn on the Stoughton farmette where Radl's wife grew up. In fact, the title pays tribute to the nearby Milton Moraine, a recessional moraine formed during one of the Wisconsin Glacier stalls.
The music crackles with authenticity thanks, in part, to the "boomy acoustics," Radl says. But the album sounds fuzzier and darker than its predecessor.
The band plows through all eight songs in about 19 minutes, which might leave some listeners wondering what happened to the rest of the album. Right now, though, there's nothing else to release.
Instead, Radl promises that the band will continue to gig in Madison and Milwaukee, and accept any offer to open for national touring bands that come through town.
"We're at the point in our lives where we like playing out," he says. "When you're up there rockin', and other people are watching, that's livin' the dream."