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.
The Okee Dokee Brothers
Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing are two childhood friends who grew up exploring the outdoors. Eventually, they picked up instruments and realized that every kid should be encouraged like they were to appreciate the natural world, so they started writing songs with that mission in mind. Performing as The Okee Dokee Brothers, the pair has become one of the premiere purveyors of family-friendly folk music in the country, with a GRAMMY award topping a growing list of honors and accolades. What makes The Okee Dokee Brothers special is the fact that they don’t dumb down their songs. Framing their witty and thought-provoking lyrics with intricate melodies and sophisticated arrangements, the Brothers have a knack for writing songs that are accessible to children while still being interesting for their parents. It’s a tough balance to strike, but like the great Woody Guthrie, they’ve tapped into that magic quality of folk music to bridge the age gap and connect listeners young and old with their universal message. Here’s the catchy title track from their latest album, Through the Woods, which features songs about the Appalachians; it’s available now.
Yesway is a San Francisco-based experimental folk duo comprised of Emily Ritz and Kacey Johansing. The pair has just released its first full-length and it’s a very pleasant mix of acoustic guitar picking and tight harmonies punctuated by electronic touches. The juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic sounds helps the songs alternate between intimate and galactic, and the duos syncopated vocals adds a quality of unpredictability that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish. Here’s “Whocean,” off their self-titled debut full-length, available now through their Bandcamp page.
No Magic is the solo project of Lawrence-based musician Ben Sauder, another member of the same vibrant musical community that produced last month’s sampler inclusion, Your Friend. His debut album is an exceptional collection of sparse indie folk that showcases his creative vocals and understated finger picking. The songs bring to mind hot summer days spent daydreaming in the shade, and fans of Fleet Foxes and Vashti Bunyan will find plenty here to lose themselves in. Here’s “Porch” off No Magic, available now through Bandcamp.
The 1970s were a fascinating period for world music. As electric musical instruments gradually made their way into ancient cultures and into the hands of musicians that still played traditional songs, the music they made was a fascinating amalgamation of past and present. One such example is the Molam and Luk Thung Isan music of northeast Thailand. The incorporation of electric instruments to a style of music that was already hypnotic thanks to its pulsing rhythms and meandering melodies became even more mesmerizing and unique. If it weren’t for labels like Soundway Records, which is dedicated to finding and sharing world music that’s on the verge of disappearing, this latest collection of early ’70s Thai music likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Here’s “Teoy Salap Pamaa” by Angjanang Kunchai, one of 14 talented artists featured on the compilation Sounds of Siam, Vol. 2, out now on Soundway.
Raised in a strict Southern Baptist home, Alabama-based singer-songwriter Noel has a lot on his mind when it comes to religion and spirituality. As he pulled together the songs for his solo debut, he realized that sonically and lyrically, he had made a record with a very specific focus. “I can see now there was a clear desire to make an album for people like myself who feel their own spirituality has out-grown their religion,” says Noel of the debut record, I Won’t Answer. “It is about the pursuit of one’s own purpose and significance.” Though the roots of each song were firmly planted in the hymns and gospel blues of his youth, the atmospheric qualities added to the songs by producer Armand Margjeka mirrored the nature of Noel’s broader and exploratory spirituality. Here’s “Lost in Love” off I Won’t Answer, out July 22 on PIPEANDGUN and Communicating Vessels.
Since 1961, the Guča brass band festival has been the world’s premiere event for fans of Balkan brass music. The festival and the small Serbian village that hosts the event was recently profiled in the critically-acclaimed film Brasslands, which documented the 50th anniversary of the event. As the film demonstrates, the popularity of Balkan brass music has spread across the globe making the world’s largest trumpet competition at Guča a truly international event. The soundtrack to the film offers a taste of what it’s like to hear the world’s best brass bands in action and includes several of the Brooklyn-based musicians that took their skills to Serbia. Here’s one such group, Slavic Soul Party!, performing the title track to the soundtrack, which is out now on Evergreene Music.
Andy Biskin's Ibid
Clarinetist and composer Andy Biskin has literally spent his life immersed in music, experimenting with everything from classical to folk to funk. His latest project is a jazz quartet he’s dubbed Ibid – an academic term used in footnotes to denote information that comes from a previously noted source. It was a fitting name considering Biskin’s intent on compiling a group of players that were already very familiar with one another and able to build off a pre-existing chemistry. Musically, the compositions on the quartet’s new album Act Necessary feature Biskin exploring and combining aspects of some of the many genres he’s dabbled in, most notably New Orleans jazz and Tin Pan Alley. Here’s “Just Like Me” off Act Necessary, out now on Strudelmedia.
The brain child of San Francisco-based Alexi Glickman, Sandy’s is the product of a lot of soul searching after the breakup of his previous band, the Botticellis. In the aftermath, Glickman rode the universe, so to speak, simply letting nature take its course with his music. Eventually, seemingly disparate influences like TOTO and Kenny Loggins congealed, Glickman found some open-minded collaborators to work with, and the songs that comprise Fourth Dementia started to take shape. As he describes them, “Each song is its own little microcosm. I don’t think I could ever make a record like it again.” Fantastic hooks abound on the record, and its psych-pop qualities will appeal to fans of fellow San Franciscans The Fresh & Onlys. Here’s “Yuba Mountain” off Fourth Dementia, out now on Um Yeah Records.