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 Nels Cline Singers
Simply stated, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a guitar player as versatile as Nels Cline. A virtuoso who has yet to meet a genre he doesn’t like, Cline has numerous jazz, noise rock, and experimental pop recording credits under his belt; his versatility is just one of the reasons why Rolling Stone listed Cline as one of its 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All-Time in 2011. When he’s not wailing with Wilco, Cline has been busy with his own project, The Nels Cline Singers, which showcases Cline’s diverse taste in music. The trio’s latest album, Macroscope, is its fifth, and features Cline at his most uninhibited. As the title suggests, Cline’s latest record is a survey of the wide variety of music that influences and informs his distinctive sound. “The title Macroscope speaks to the idea of the mutt within; the fact that I’m not in any one genre, and never have been,” says Cline in a recent press release. “I was a rock and roll kid, but after hearing Coltrane and Miles and Weather Report, then Indian music and Nigerian pop, there was no turning back. From that point on, the idea of purism just was not possible.” While Cline’s playing is certainly noteworthy throughout the record, the more impressive aspect of his trio’s latest release is the way it seamlessly twists and turns from one genre to another. The lead track, “Companion Piece,” is a perfect example of this as a seemingly standard jazz tune morphs into an Indian/rock hybrid. Macroscope is available April 29 on Mack Avenue.
One of the keys to a young band’s success is being in the right place at the right time. That was certainly true for Ought, a four-piece, post-punk band from Montreal that saw its agit-prop message amplified and embraced by the student uprisings of 2012, not long after the band first started playing. While guitarist/vocalist Tim Beeler’s background in poetry and folk music helped Ought lyrically capture the spirit of the movement and build a strong local following, the band’s unique sound suggests it has a good chance to reach a wider audience outside of the DIY Montreal arts scene it calls home. Beeler’s unique speak-sing vocals pair well with the band’s combination of angular song structure and catchy hooks, and sonically, Ought has earned justifiable comparisons to Gang of Four and early Talking Heads. Here’s “The Weather Song” off their debut full-length, More Than Any Other Day, out April 29 on Constellation Records.
It’s been five years since the world last heard a new song from Milwaukee-based singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey, but sometimes it takes that much living to realize you still have something to say. After pulling himself out of some personal trials and tribulations, Mulvey discovered that he still has plenty to say and took up a fresh approach to songwriting. His new record, Silver Ladder, came together at its own relaxed piece and will likely lead his fans to say that it was well worth the wait. On the track “You Don’t Have to Tell Me,” Mulvey’s sets his earnest lyrics to a toe-tapping tune that represents this new batch of songs very well. Silver Ladder is out now on Signature Sounds.
Singer/multi-instrumentalist Maryam Qudus is proof that some people are simply destined to make music for a living. A first-generation American born to Afghan parents, Qudus, who performs under the name Doe Eye, learned how to play guitar and make songs in her teens, but never allowed herself to consider music a viable career. That all changed, though, after she spent a year in a pre-med program and couldn’t get music off her mind. She dropped out of the program, applied for a spot at the Berklee College of Music, and got extensive radio play and music journo attention for her song “I Hate You,” which introduced the world to the brutally honest lyrics she’s now known for. Two years and many heart-wrenching lyrics later, Qudus is releasing a stellar full-length debut that showcases her unique arrangements and mesmerizing voice. The heartfelt lyrics are still there, too, but Qudus explains that this record, titled Television, is her attempt at writing about the static state she escapes to when life (and her lyrics) become too emotionally overbearing. Here’s “Stay in the Past” off Television, which is out soon.
Dex Romweber Duo
When it comes to contemporary garage rock, there probably aren’t many more influential figures than Dex Romweber. Praised by the likes of garage rock veterans like Jack White and young guns like Ty Segall, Romweber has been making his mark on underground rock and roll for the past 25 years, through both the Flat Duo Jets and his solo work. On his latest record, Images 13, Dex keeps things simple by putting the focus on his guitar, his voice, and his sister Sara’s drums. From start to finish, it’s a fantastic journey through every nook and cranny of the seedy underbelly of American rock and roll that Romweber calls home. Dark blues, punk, rockabilly, and surf are all well-represented in the album’s 12 songs, ensuring that yet another generation of young rockers will be influenced by Dex. Speaking of surf, here’s the instrumental tune “Blackout!” Images 13 is out now on Bloodshot Records.
For the past decade, She’Koyokh has been building its reputation as one of the world’s premiere performers of klezmer and Eastern European folk music. Its latest release is a magnificent survey of the musical regions most familiar to the band, and offers the musicians an opportunity to show off their virtuosity. A case in point is the high-energy Romanian tune “Țigăneasca De La Pogoanele,” which brings to mind Django Reinhardt with its “hot-jazz” guitar solo. The new record, Wild Goats & Unmarried Women, is out now on Riverboat Records.
There’s a lot of power in simplicity. This is especially true when it comes to the music of Danish artist Majke Voss Romme, who records under the name Broken Twin. Though her debut full-length, May, is the product of an extensive three-year period of songwriting and sketching, Romme resisted the temptation to overwork and complicate her simple songs. The end result is a ten-song set that’s as impressive for its barebones approach to songwriting as it is for Romme’s melancholy, yet beautiful voice, which are both perfect for the intended mood of this record. “I’ve always been attracted by simplicity and music that has a melancholic vibe,” says Romme in a press release. “Hearing other peoples’ sad songs, relating to them, feeling a connection to that, it makes you feel less alone in the world.” Here’s the debut single “Sun Has Gone” off May, which is out April 29 on Anti-.
For someone with a catalog as vast and diverse as 20th Century American composer Vincent Persichetti’s, it’s surprising that very few people have heard of him. While his name pops up most often as a respected teacher to great American composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, his compositions are rarely played and have never been considered standard repertoire. Esteemed classical music label Naxos aims to change that, though, with its exceptional collection of works for violin and piano that span Persichetti’s long, but under-the-radar career. The centerpiece is the world-premiere recording of his Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 15 (1941), which was literally lost to history in the archives of the New York Public Library until violinist Hasse Borup did some digging and discovered that it had been incorrectly cataloged for more than 70 years. The collection also includes six of his Persichetti’s piano sonatina’s, which range in difficulty from educational pieces for novice players to highly technical pieces geared toward the virtuoso. Regarding the latter, pianist Heather Conner tackles the technical pieces with aplomb. A good representation of Persichetti’s penchant for blending lovely melodies, atonality, and technical proficiency is “Piano Sonatina No. 2, Op. 45,” which you can listen to here. Works for Violin and Piano is available now through Naxos.