Every month, Utne Reader presents free, downloadable music gleaned from current and upcoming releases on independent music labels. This sampler was curated by editor in chief Christian Williams.
Just a few seconds into the title track on Luke Winslow-King’s latest record and you’ll immediately hear the unmistakable mark of a musician who cut his teeth in the musical melting pot that is New Orleans. Everlasting Arms—Winslow-King’s fourth record—is an outstanding 14-track showcase of Americana, from blues to swing to soul. While the new record is further proof that Winslow-King has firmly established himself as one of the top ambassadors of New Orleans’ rich musical heritage, Everlasting Arms is also a showcase for his exceptional compositional range and an opportunity for him to make his own mark on the musical tradition he loves. Helping him do that is a versatile backing band, a beautiful voice to sing with in wife and vocalist Esther Rose, and his signature bottleneck slide guitar. Here’s the title track, which features all of the above. Everlasting Arms is out September 30 on Bloodshot Records.
Based in Chicago, Bitchin Bajas is a side project of experimental drone musician Cooper Crain, who is better known for his work with psychedelic instrumentalists Cave. In the Bajas, Crain, along with bandmates Dan Quinlivan and Rob Frye, make patient and layered electronic compositions. Connoisseurs of minimalist composers like Terry Riley will find a lot to appreciate here, but Crain and company have found a way to distill their influences into something that’s wholly their own on their self-titled fifth record. Though several of the tracks approach or extend past the 10-minute mark, time is barely a thought as it’s easy to lose yourself in the modulating waves of blips and synthesized sounds. Here’s “Bueu” from the Bajas’ latest, out now on Drag City.
Prem Joshua & Chintan
Technically speaking, the music of sitar master Prem Joshua is the product of more than 25 years of study and discipline. But the soul of his music is a reflection of the deep devotion he feels for India, and the connection to its culture that he immediately felt upon arriving there as an 18-year old transplant from Germany in 1977. Combining the sitar with a wide variety of indigenous folk music influences gleaned from his travels, Prem Joshua makes contemporary devotional music that opens the mind spiritually as well as musically. On his latest record with collaborator Chintan Relenberg, Prem Joshua uses traditional Indian mantras and ancient Indian poetry as the basis for his songs. “The images have less to do with a religious belief system than a representation of basic life energies; so it is with mantras,” says Prem Joshua of some of the references to Hindu deities in the songs. “It is not about blindly adopting religious concepts, but rather about experiencing these images and sounds as guide maps for the inner journey.” Here’s “Tumhaari Mara,” which features lyrics that honor 16th-century Rajasthani royal poet-saint Meera. Kashi is out now on White Swan Records.
Chicago-based bassist and composer Matt Ulery is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible when you combine elements of classical chamber music with jazz on his latest double-album, In the Ivory. Ambitious in scope and meticulously composed, In the Ivory showcases Ulery’s ability to seamlessly weave together one memorable melody after another, and features a 13-piece ensemble that includes Ulery’s trio, violinist Zach Brock, Polish vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, and three-time GRAMMY-winning new music group eighth blackbird. All of those components work in beautiful harmony throughout, and especially on the piece “There’s a Reason and a Thousand Ways.” In the Ivory is out September 16 on Greenleaf Music.
Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer
Though singer/songwriter Cahalen Morrison currently makes his home in Seattle, he’s still got plenty of country in his blood. His latest album is a throwback to the golden days of straight-up country music with a lyrical twist that makes it all his own thanks to a bevy of erudite philosophical and literary influences. Morrison grew up in rural New Mexico and his wife is from Muscle Shoals, Alabama (she’s the “flower” in the album’s title track”), so it felt only natural to him that after many years of dabbling in other music, he should eventually find his way back to his roots. “I love the focus on singing and the songs,” Morrison says of traditional country music. “I love the deep sincerity, the absurd humor … but obviously, overall, I really just love the music.” Here’s “Over and Over and Over Again” from The Flower of Muscle Shoals, out now on Free Dirt Records.
Already attracting a strong following in Europe with his Laurel Canyon-tinged brand of psychedelic Americana, Israel Nash’s latest record, Rain Plans, is hoping to keep the accolades coming upon its U.S. release. Nash recently relocated from New York City to the Texas Hill Country—a move that had a significant impact on both his state of mind and his songwriting. “I wanted to make an album that sounded like what I saw and somehow spread the peace that this place brings to me,” says Nash. “I really wanted to go new places and abandon any rules that had made me cautious before. It’s about creating an environment that is so much bigger than any individual.” Here’s the title track, which sounds like what might have happened if Neil Young and Pink Floyd had collaborated. Rain Plans is out now Loose/Thirty Tigers.
Philadelphia’s Mike Polizze is known for making loose, DIY garage pop that’s matches memorable hooks with a lot of noise. And while the music he’s been making with his trio, Purling Hiss, comes across as more produced and refined, it’s not at the expense of the freewheeling style that he’s built his reputation on. Weirdon is the band’s third proper full-length on Drag City, and sees Polizze and company pushing their sound past the psychedelic parameters of its earlier releases into a broader pop realm. Here’s “Learning Slowly” off Weirdon, which is out September 23 on Drag City.
Ensemble Economique is the moniker for the atmospheric music of Brian Pyle. The title of his latest release, Melt Into Nothing, is the perfect description of the moody soundscapes he’s become known for as barely-there vocals fade in and out of modulating synth patterns and ambient sounds. It’s music that perfectly matches the mood of the changing seasons, and while it paints a desolate picture, it never fully gives in to the darkness that it suggests. As the label’s description aptly sums up, “The record explores the internal dialogue of solitary walks [and] is for making sense of humanity in nature’s unforgiving face.” Here’s “Your Lips Against Mine” featuring experimental Toronto musician DenMother and Sophia Hamadi of dark-wave duo Opale. Melt Into Nothing is out now on Denovali.