Every month, Utne Reader presents free, downloadable music gleaned from current and upcoming releases on independent music labels. This sampler was curated by editor Christian Williams with associate editors Suzanne Lindgren and Sam Ross-Brown.
Lily & Madeleine
The beauty of the technological age we live in is that two teenage sisters from Indianapolis, IN, can write some lovely tunes, post them to YouTube, and immediately (and deservedly) connect with an audience that adores them. Such is the story so far for Lily (age 16) and Madeleine (age 19), who caught the public’s eye late last year with the video for their song “In the Middle,” and recently released their debut album. While the sisters’ simple yet evocative harmonies stand out, their melodies and lyrics are equally as impressive and evoke a maturity level much higher than their ages suggest. A case in point is the beautiful single “Devil We Know” from their self-titled debut, out now on Asthmatic Kitty.
The Casket Girls
“I call my dreams dirty tricks,” sing Phaedra and Elsa Greene on the Casket Girls’ haunting new album. “It’s unrequited reality.” With fuzzy, droning synths and ghostly vocals, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale meanders carelessly between waking and dreaming states. And the band’s formation was no less dreamlike: mesmerized by the sound of the two sisters playing autoharp in a Savannah, Georgia, park, guitarist Ryan Graveface (of Black Moth Super Rainbow) asked if they’d like to start a band. It wasn’t long before Phaedra and Elsa, along with Graveface, founded the Casket Girls and began crafting their spooky experimental debut, Sleepwalking. Now the trio returns with an expansive, layered second album that’s somehow more composed and less lucid than its predecessor. True Love Kills the Fairy Tale will be available February 11 through Graveface Records.
Emerging last year with the dazzling “Shelter Song,” English psych outfit Temples pull off a refreshing balance between endless creativity and faithful nostalgia for psychedelia’s ‘60s golden age. It’s a balance built on a solid foundation of jangly 12-strings, effortless harmonies, strong backbeat, and a nonstop drive to experiment. On “Mesmerise,” taken from their debut full-length due in February, the result is an ornate, pulsing rocker, complete with glittering strings and a rich bass drone. Sun Structures will be available February 11 through Fat Possum.
French husband-and-wife duo Rio and Marie Limiñana have crafted a laid-back, tuneful album, perfect for daydreaming about the picnic and cloud-watching daytrip you probably won’t be taking in the dead of winter. The Limiñanas record their whispery vocals and psychedelic instrumental riffs at their home in the south of France (must be rough, right?), concocting sultry tracks that have an air of effortless sophistication. “My Black Sabbath” is a perfect example of the dreamy, lo-fi vibe they’re working with. Their third release, Costa Blanca, is out now on Trouble in Mind.
De Temps Antan
Burly choral vocals, fiddle, harmonica, and accordion help this Québécois folk trio bring French-Canadian history to life. All three members have been part of La Bottine Souriante, a Québécois folk band (more of an institution, really) that plays the region’s traditional music with occasional modern flourishes. In keeping, De Temps Antan often riffs on tradition. “L’America,” for instance, features guest vocals from Louis Michot of the Louisiana’s Lost Bayou Ramblers, exploring the varied influence of French settlers from French Canada to the American South. The band’s new release, Ce Monde Ici-Bas is available now on its BandCamp site.
Pig Pen Theatre Co.
The first thing to know about Pig Pen Theatre Co. is that their name is accurate—the seven-member group really is a travelling theatre company that has been producing and performing its critically-acclaimed plays off-Broadway and at regional theaters across the country since 2008. They’re also a damn fine band that incorporates original music into their plays, and it released a full-length debut last year to more critical acclaim. Mining the same fertile soil of indie-folk that has sprouted household names like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, Pig Pen takes the music of this burgeoning genre to another level by making it one component of an ambitiously creative project. And while the music is often used as a complement to something else—be it a play or a short film—it also stands well on its own, as demonstrated by this outstanding track, “Song from the Stone;” it’s off the group’s new EP, The Way I’m Running, which is out now.
Grey Mcmurray and Caleb Burhans have been crafting their own brand of ambient free-jazz since their days at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. And, with Mcmurray on guitar and Bruhans on violin, they’ve been itsnotyouitsme since moving to Harlem in 2003. The duo’s fourth album, This I, is simultaneously reflective, dramatic, and understated. Most of it treads the borderline between the beautiful and the strange, though “wrinkling into a beautiful and broken world” errs toward the latter. The six tracks that comprise the record were gathered from a single continuous performance by Mcmurray, Burnhans, bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and vocalist Theo Bleckmann. This I is out now on New Amsterdam Records.