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 and associate editor Ben Sauder.
Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal
The latest album by Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal is titled Musique de Nuit. “Night is a special time in Mali,” says Segal. “It’s a little less hot, and everyone’s asleep apart from the night owls like us. The city’s not as noisy, music mixes with rumor, and there’s something redeeming about simply sitting outside and playing. That’s what we tried to capture here, that freedom the night can bring.” Part of that liberation includes processing the emotions each artist carries with him because of the political violence that each has seen and experienced in their respective homeland and for that reason, many of the songs on Musique de Nuit convey that tension. Here’s “Niandou” from Musique de Nuit, out now on Six Degrees Records.
With a voice reminiscent of Etta James, New Orleans-based Nikki Hill fronts a band soaked in driving, retro R&B influence. Hill and the band have been out on the road for 200 days a year, crafting their infectious sound that is equal parts raw energy and calculated homage. Their latest album, Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists, is out October 16. Here’s the grooving title track, “Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists.”
Chic Gamine is a five-piece band based in Montreal/Winnipeg. The heart and soul of the group’s sound is centered on vocal trio of Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks, and Annick Bremault, whose beautiful harmonies fuel the soul-pop sound of the group, and have earned the band comparisons to the vocal-driven girl groups of the 1960s. Chic Gamine’s latest record, Light a Match, is its first in five years and just the third since the band began in 2007, but the energy of the title track suggest this band has the drive to do what’s necessary to increase its popularity outside of Canada. Here’s “Light a Match” from the album of the same name, out October 23.
Composer/inventor Dan Trueman has built a reputation as a mad scientist for his experimental approach to making classical music. His latest is an eight-etude piece called Nostalgic Synchronic written for an instrument he invented that he calls the bitKlavier. In short, Trueman’s bitKlavier is a 21st century update to experimental composer John Cage’s prepared piano, which involved placing screws and other objects in between the piano strings to alter the keys’ normal sound. “We can’t stick a screw between the ‘strings’ of a digital piano, since it doesn’t actually have any strings! But we can do the digital equivalent by sticking a new algorithm (a kind of virtual screw) inside this algorithm (the virtual hammer and string) that drives the digital piano,” says Trueman. “So just as the screw mucks with the vibrations of the resonating string, these virtual screws muck with the behavior of the virtual hammer and string, causing it to respond in unusual ways, in ways that are impossible with the acoustic piano.” The eight etudes on the new album were written specifically for and performed by Adam Sliwinski of the avant-garde performance group Sō Percussion. Here’s “Prelude” from Nostalgic Synchronic, out now on New Amsterdam.
A man of many trades, Nathaniel Bellows is an accomplished novelist, poet, and visual artist. His latest project is an eight-song album of original songs that showcases his exceptional guitar playing and compelling voice. The bells and whistles of production were smartly limited over the course of the album, allowing Bellows insightful lyrics to take center stage throughout. A good example is the song “At Sea.” The Old Illusions is out now.
The Oh Hellos
Boasting an ensemble cast of up to 13 members during its live shows, The Oh Hellos have a big sound that’s earning them a big following. Fans of the pop-folk movement that bands like The Langoliers helped spark will find kindred spirits in The Oh Hellos. Subtle banjo picking expands into a full-blown pop chorale on songs like “Bitter Water,” from the band’s latest release, Dear Wormword, out October 16 on Elektra Records.