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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.

May 2015

It’s not easy to unapologetically wear your influences on your sleeve and still sound unique, but Nashville-based Banditos have figured out how to do it. With its six members bringing a diverse musical diversity to the proceedings, a Banditos song really does feature a little bit of everything, from fuzzy garage rock to bluegrass to boogie-woogie. Here’s the toe-tapping “Still Sober (After All These Beers)” off Banditos self-titled debut, out May 12 on Bloodshot Records.

Julie Mintz
Sometimes the best thing to do when you can’t sleep is to write about it. Insomnia was just one of things running through singer-songwriter Julie Mintz as she wrote the songs for her debut EP, The Thin Veil. The songs allowed Mintz to explore the darker aspects of life and what happens after it. “Songwriting lets me tell the darker stories about myself through melody and through lyrics that people can interpret in the way that means the most to them,” she says. “It's a vehicle to express and work through my neuroses, so that it all goes down easier.” Despite the darker lyrical content, Mintz’s beautiful voice carries with it a twinkle of optimism, and the EP was also produced by Moby, who complements the Americana aspects of the songs nicely with his characteristic swelling strings; the single “Til She Disappears” is a good example of both. The Thin Veil is out May 5

The geographically-separated members of Monoswezi don’t have the luxury of making music in person whenever they want, but have utilized technology to stay productive. The group is comprised of musicians from Norway, Sweden, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, and masterfully melds traditional African folk songs with Scandinavian jazz. The process behind the group’s latest album saw the Scandinavian members sending mixes to Zimbabwean vocalist and mbira player Hope Masike, who would then add her contributions to the tracks. The long-distance collaboration helped the group use their limited studio recording time efficiently, which kept the music loose and organic. Here’s “Wadadisa,” which is a Zimbabwean song to celebrate marriage. Monoswezi Yanga is out May 26 on Riverboat Records.

Patrick Watson
Both an individual’s name and a band, Patrick Watson hails from Canada and is the collective vehicle for songs written by singer-songwriter Patrick Watson. The band makes experimental chamber pop that’s refreshingly surprising and complex, and brings to mind Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens. After 10 years of playing together, the band already has a robust following in Canada, and added a lot of fans elsewhere after the 2012 release of its previous album Adventures in Your Own Backyard. Watson as a songwriter has never shied from personal exploration through his music and it’s more apparent than ever on the band’s latest release, Love Songs for Robots. “I started thinking about how emotional reactions were more mechanical than we think and the only thing left between us and artificial intelligence is the act of inspiration,” says Watson. “Just food for thought.” Here’s the title track off Love Songs for Robots, which is out May 12 on Domino Records.    

Ross Hammond
Sacramento-based guitarist Ross Hammond is one of the most prominent figures of the West Coast’s improvised music scene. Making improvised songs for guitar inspired by jazz, folk, and world music, his latest record, Flight, features just him and four of his favorite acoustic guitars—a departure from the larger ensembles he normally works with. The result is a sublime collection of songs that he recorded with absolutely no frills or production tricks. Along with his precise and melodic picking, children’s voices, passing cars and other ambient sounds find their way into the recordings, which were captured on a portable Zoom recorder. “I would just press record and go,” he said. “When you’re playing this music, it’s one person making sound. If that comes from the right place, it’s a very spiritual thing.” Here’s “When Cows Face the Same Direction” from Flight, out now on Prescott Recordings

Nicolas Horvath
Considered one of the most sought after classical pianists of his generation, Steinway Artist Nicolas Horvath is always looking for bigger challenges. Already considered one of the foremost interpreters of Franz Liszt, Horvath has made a name for himself by taking on and mastering some of contemporary classical music’s most difficult pieces. In addition to organizing and performing marathon concerts featuring the complete piano works of Philip Glass and Eric Satie’s seemingly endless piece Vexations. His latest release, Glassworlds Vol. 1, sees him taking on more of Glass’ complex minimalism with aplomb. In addition to world premiere recordings of several Glass piano pieces, Glassworlds Vol. 1 features Horvath playing Paul Barnes’ fantastic transcription of Glass’ Orphée Suite. Here’s the first movement from that suite, titled The Café, which is a mesmerizing meld of ragtime melodies and Glass’ trademark minimalism. Glassworlds Vol. 1 is out now on Grand Piano.

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