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.
As is the case with many cultures in the Americas, Honduras features a rich musical heritage that’s the result of a turbulent period of history where the indigenous culture was constantly mixed and assimilated with European and African cultures. The resulting music, called Garifuna, sonically incorporates French, English, Spanish, African, and Caribbean stylings with lyrics that emphasize the importance of community. The variety of sonic influences and deeply personal lyrics make Garifuna a complex and beautiful subset of Caribbean music that’s as catchy as it is poignant. Aurelio Martinez—who has become a cultural ambassador and activist for the preservation of Garifuna, and is its contemporary master—cites his mother as his biggest musical influence. “My mother is the sole inspiration for this album,” says Martinez in a press release for his latest release, Landini. “My mother sees herself reflected in me, to a large degree; the only one of the family to fulfill her dream of singing professionally. She’s the best example I have in my life of what a human being should be, my main consultant and confidante.” Here’s “Durugeubei Mani” off Landini, which is out now on Real World Records.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Going back to the collaborations between Merce Cunningham and John Cage in the 1950s, contemporary dance has built a reputation of compatibility with experimental and avant-garde music. That tradition continues with the second record by ambient chamber duo, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, which was written specifically for use by Wayne McGregor, founder of the internationally-renowned Random Dance Company and resident choreographer at London’s Royal Ballet. The duo, comprised of Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, was given complete artistic freedom in the process of making Atomos, which inspired them—with McGregor’s encouragement—to push their already expansive music into uncharted territory for the score of McGregor’s long-form dance piece. The end result is a magnificent combination of chamber music and ambient electronic that ebbs and flows as gracefully as the movements of the dancers for whom it was intended. Here’s “Atomos VI” from Atomos, which is out October 6 on Kranky.
The Mark Lomax Trio
In the vein of deeply spiritual jazz purveyed by the likes of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane comes the latest release from The Mark Lomax Trio, Isis & Osiris. A spiritual suite inspired by Egyptian mythology and African fables, Isis & Osiris finds the trio exploring mythical terrain that has been surprisingly neglected by Western artists. “I was talking with some composer friends about how great it would be to create music around Black African mythological and spiritual themes in the way that movies, music and literature have been created around the resonant themes of ancient Greece and Rome,” says drummer/composer Mark Lomax in a press release. “I turned to working on a setting for the ‘Isis’ and ‘Osiris’ themes immediately after that conversation.” Lomax’s exceptional polyrhythms anchor pieces like Isis, and provide an expansive canvas for Edwin Bayard (tenor sax) and Dean Hulett (bass) to work their improvisational magic. Isis & Osiris is out now on Inarhyme Records.
Terry Malts is a fuzz pop trio from San Francisco that has no trouble conveying what’s on its collective mind. Known for mixing a pessimistic world view with walls of noise and feedback, the band has a knack for shaping dissonance into catchy melodies. A case in point is “Don’t,” which is one of four tracks on the band’s new EP Insides, which is out now on Slumberland Records.
Anyone familiar with the music of French singer Laetitia Sadier and her band Stereolab knows that she wears her politics on her sleeve. Sadier’s latest solo album, Something Shines, is no exception. Inspired by the Marxist thought behind Situationist theorist Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle, Sadier packages her thoughts on the global class war within the unlikely parameters of breezy experimental pop. Here’s “Release from the Centre of Your Heart” off Something Shines, out now on Drag City.
Straddling the ever-diminishing line between classical chamber music and indie pop, the contemporary chamber ensemble yMusic blurs the line even further on its latest release, Balance Problems. The sextet uses a unique configuration of string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet, which has made it a favorite collaborator for more chamber music-minded and experimental pop artists such as Dirty Projectors and My Brightest Diamond. Balance Problems was produced by Son Lux and features seven compositions from a variety of contemporary composers including Sufjan Stevens and Nico Muhly, the latter of whom wrote the beautifully intricate title track. Balance Problems is out now on New Amsterdam Records.
Combining the sun-loving, California-centric styles of surf rock and Bakersfield country with the darker side of post-punk, The Growlers call their unique brand of music “beach goth” and the description fits. The band’s latest record, Chinese Fountain, came together in just a little more than a month, from writing to recording, and while most bands wouldn’t be able to pull off a feat like that without making a mess, The Growlers have been playing together tirelessly for more than eight years and their confidence shows over the course of the record’s excellent batch of 11 songs. Here’s “Going Gets Tuff” off Chinese Fountain, out now on Everloving Records.
Orlando Julius with The Heliocentrics
In the world of Afrobeat and Afro funk, the name Orlando Julius is legendary. A pioneer of the form, the native Nigerian has recently released an album of reworked early songs from the 60s and 70s that clearly demonstrate he’s still got it after all these years. Backing him up are the London-based jazz-funk orchestra The Heliocentrics, which perfectly complement Julius’ songs with psychedelic touches and analogue production that makes the music sound as rich and vibrant as it would have had it been recorded 40 years ago. Here’s “Buje Buje” off Jaiyede Afro, which is out now on Strut Records.
The sound of a pedal steel guitar has an inherent “longing” quality to it that’s always been just what the doctor ordered when trying to punctuate a good country song with the twang of loss. Under the spell of Denmark pedal steel guitarist/singer/composer Maggie Bjorklund, though, the eerie whine produced by the tone bar takes the instrument to a whole new level. Many of the tracks on Bjorklund’s latest release, Shaken, are instrumentals that utilize the instruments ability to paint vivid pictures of desolate landscapes and melancholy nostalgia; in short, they would be the perfect soundtrack for a dark Western or Southern Gothic tale. Here’s “Missing at Sea” off Shaken, out now on Bloodshot Records.