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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 and associate editor Ben Sauder.

February 2016

Michael Nau - "So, So Long"
After four years of touring and recording with his wife Whitney McGraw, Michael Nau is venturing out from their shared project, Cotton Jones, to promote his debut solo album Mowing. Recorded over the course of a few years and in a number of places, from Nashville to Burlington, Vermont, the album came together in an organic and unorthodox way. “I was just recording songs. I wasn’t really sure about a record,” says Nau. On “So, So Long,” Nau backs lazy day-guitar picking and relaxed vocals with mellotron tones, electric piano and samples of what sounds like an old creaking door. Mowing is out February 8th on Suicide Squeeze Records.

The Ovaries-eez – “Hymn of Our Minds”
Backed by the strum of a lone electric guitar, the three-part vocals of The Ovaries-eez bring harmony and lyrical poetry to the forefront of their music. The Lawrence, Kansas-based group began in 2012 as a collaboration between Amber Hansen and Johni Lacore before Monica George joined the following year.  Thematically, their lyrics often evoke a deep connection among people, animals and the land. On “Hymn of Our Minds,” written by their friend and local poet Nicholas Ward, they sing hauntingly, “’Cause I buried your mum and I’ll bury your pops/But I buried you first like the source of all crops/Rang a fast, rendered poem.” Their debut full-length album I Saw You in My Dream is out February 6th via Whatever Forever.

Cross Record - "Steady Waves"
In 2013, Emily Cross fled the noise and commotion of city life in Chicago for the tranquility of an 18-acre ranch tucked away in sleepy Dripping Springs, Texas. She and her husband, Dan Duszynski, combine to make Cross Record – a music project that draws heavy influences from their new bucolic home. “I’m very influenced by my surroundings and the natural world, the landscape here has definitely inspired me,” says Cross regarding the themes on their new album, Wabi-Sabi. The lead single, “Steady Waves,” begins with gentle acoustic guitar plucks and the reflective singing of Cross before layers of piano and fuzzed guitar hinge onto a driving drumbeat. Wabi-Sabi is out now on Ba Da Bing Records.

Adan & Xavi – “Fuera El Dolor”
Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s a lot easier if you have a friend going through the same experience. Such was the case for longtime friends and music collaborators Adan Jodorowsky and Xavi Polycarpe. Using their sadness as inspiration for new songs, the two set out to write a collection of songs to overcome their grief. Along with Los Imanes (bassist Edouard Polycarpe and drummer Julien Boyé), the Paris natives then holed up in a French countryside castle to record their music on an analog eight-track machine. The group had a change of plans after initially not anticipating doing much with the recorded material. “We knew the songs were beautiful and we knew we had to release them as an album,” says Jodorowsky. Listen to the George Harrison-esque guitar work on the track “Fuera El Dolor.” Adan & Xavi Y Los Imanes will be out March 4th on Everloving.

Sidestepper – “Fuego Que Te Llama”
Since its inception in 1996, the musical collective known as Sidestepper has set global dance floors on fire with their blend of Afro-Caribbean and electronic music dubbed electro-cumbia. And though it’s built a robust following thanks to the 21st century sound it innovated, Sidestepper’s latest album, Supernatural Love, is a slide toward the other end of the sonic spectrum. “Global club culture has become totally mainstream,” says Richard Blair, a British DJ/producer and group cofounder. “I’ve grown bored of hearing the same kick, snare and hi-hat. I wanted to try something new, to see if it was possible to make a record with just hand drums and traditional instrumentation like shakers, sticks, and flutes.” Blair’s plan worked brilliantly as the combination of live instruments and subtle electronic touches blend seamlessly. It’s a best-of-both-world’s showcase for a collective that continues to operate on the cutting edge of world music. Here’s the lead track “Fuego Que Te Llama” from Supernatural Love, out February 5 on Real World Records.

Violet City Lantern – “Watching in the Dark”
While there may not be a lot of new territory left to mine in the field of music loosely defined as “psychedelic,” that observation would be missing the point as to why bands keep making it and people keep listening to it. Simply put, it’s fun music to lose yourself in. That’s the approach it seems Louisville-based psychedelic trio Violet City Lantern took while crafting their second album, Murals. Much like the record’s name, the music on Murals is expansive and bold, disinterested in minding boundaries. It’s the perfect sound soundtrack for a meandering walk through the imagination. Here’s “Watching in the Dark,” which may conjure memories of The Shins and My Morning Jacket . Murals is out Feb. 19 on Fire Talk Records.

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