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.
Hello Ocho – “Tear Wagon”
Beginning in 2010 as a trio of Chris Yonker, John Gregg, and Clinton Callahan, the Atlanta-based Hello Ocho initially relied heavily upon the use of computers to concoct their otherworldly songs. With the addition of two new members, Chris Childs (vibraphone/percussion) and Christian Shepherd (synth, vocals), the band has embraced a more analog approach to their music. With their second album, In Portuguese, Hello Ocho experiment and touch on the genres of tropicalia, krautrock, and jazz, among others, but avoid staying too long in one sonic spot. The song “Tear Wagon” gravitates around a spinning bass riff that continues on and on as the rest of the band shifts between spacey sections. In Portuguese is out now.
Cha Wa – “Injuns, Here They Come”
“Cha wa,” a slang phrase used by Mardi Gras Indian tribes, means “We’re comin’ for ya,” and that’s what the Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa does on their debut album, Funk ‘n’ Feathers. Fronted by singer/percussionist Honey Banister (a featured performer on the HBO series Treme) and drummer Joe Gelini, the band takes inspiration from the Mardi Gras funk of the 70’s, like the Wild Magnolias, the Neville Brothers, and Dr. John. Discussing their live sound, Gelini says, “I think we’ve reached that point where we can feel the direction of the music intuitively and we just go with it.” The band infuses a modern touch on Funk ‘n’ Feathers with the help of producer Ben Ellman and the San Franciso engineer Count. Here’s the funky, call-and-response leading track on the album, “Injuns, Here They Come.” Funk ‘n’ Feathers is out now.
Charles Bradley - “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know)”
Like any soul-singer worth listening to, Charles Bradley makes you believe he’s lived every song he sings. And the truth is he probably has. Prior to recording his debut full-length for Daptone Records in 2011, Bradley had spent most of his rough life estranged from his birth mother and scraping by through odd jobs. Always musical, Bradley found an outlet as a part-time James Brown impersonator by the name of “Black Velvet,” which is how Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth caught wind of the man that is now dubbed “The Screaming Eagle of Soul.” That meeting marked a new and much brighter chapter in Bradley’s life, and he’s now releasing his third full-length record, Changes, at the tender age of 67. Backed by an all-star ensemble of musicians from the critically-acclaimed Daptone family, Bradley’s latest is an outstanding collection of straight-up soul and funk that will move your feet and your heart. The title track is an emotional cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” which Bradley dedicated to his mother (they reconciled during her final years), and also features more conventional soul tunes like “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know).” Changes is out now on Dunham/Daptone.
Brass Bed – “Be Anything”
Jonny Campos, Peter Dehart, and Christiaan Mader of the band Brass Bed know what it’s like to watch a dream pass them by. In college they set their sights on some kind of stardom, but, now in their early 30’s with their dreams deferred, the band is adjusting their definition of success. If creating catchy, interesting, and seemingly-genuine music is that new definition, I’d say Brass Bed have succeeded. “Be Anything,” the second song on their upcoming album In The Yellow Leaf, is a quick three minutes of crunchy, swelling guitars and a pounding drumbeat. The anthemic vocals “I can’t say you’ll be anything” hypnotize on loop and could go for 10 minutes longer without complaint. In The Yellow Leaf will be out April 16th on Modern Outsider.
Elephant Revival – “Hello You Who”
When a pair of zoo elephants was separated after 16 years together, they died on the very same day. This story gave the members of Elephant Revival their name and reflects the empathy the musicians have for nature and living beings. The five-piece band from Nederland, Colorado plays a combination of what some describe as “gypsy, Celtic, American, and folk.” Their upcoming album, Petals, comes as the band expects another year of touring prized spots like Newport Folk Fest, Bumbershoot, and, for the first time, a headlining date at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. On the album opener “Hello You Who,” a pedal steel accompanies a rhythmic fleet of strings and a beautifully smoky vocal. Petals is out now on United Interests.
Mikael Seifu - “How to Save a Life (Vector of Eternity)”
Born and raised in Ethiopia, electronic composer Mikael Seifu is making his mark on the future of Ethiopia’s rich musical heritage with his latest release, Zelalem. A stunning example of the avant-garde musical scene in the capital city of Addis-Ababa, Zelalem is remarkable in that it seamlessly synthesizes Ethiopia’s folk music tradition with the parameter-expanding qualities of electronic music. Though Seifu has received some formal Western musical education and mentoring, he’s quick to note that his approach to making music is much more like the fusion process utilized in Ethio-jazz rather than a rudimentary application of Western electronic techniques to Ethiopian folk music. It’s music Seifu has dubbed “Ethiopiyawi Electronic” – an attempt to make new Ethiopian music that is as timeless and forward-thinking as the traditional music that inspires him. Here’s “How to Save a Life (Vector of Eternity)” off Zelalem, which is out now the Brooklyn-based experimental music label RVNG Intl.