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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.

August 2016

Dietrich Strause – “The Beast That Hunger Binds”

“The Beast That Hunger Binds” opens with a fragile, rising guitar drone before being joined by the steady finger picking of an acoustic guitar. Dietrich Strause sings confidently over this simple backing, “I came to worship, brothers / I came to enter in / To kneel before the station doors and the beast that rolls within.” Of the song’s inspiration, Dietrich says: “My father gave a sermon when I was really young, about a homeless man who came knocking on the church doors looking for money and food, that has always stuck with me. One day the man knocked on the door and my father, having grown frustrated by week after week after week of handing out money, basically told him to go away; that he didn’t have anything more to give to him. The homeless man had just come by to say ‘thank you and merry christmas.’ I remember how my father spoke about his own impatience, how he reacted to the man. I’ve always admired my father for telling that story. I have always wanted to write a song about that same feeling, but never knew quite how. I started with a long parable about a lion, dressed as a king, riding the subway downtown and saving the life of a homeless man on the tracks, and then the train takes off out of the tunnel, and as you can see I quickly got lost in my imagination and the whole thing was convoluted by my own indulgence. I gave the song a few days rest and came back to it with my father’s sermon in mind. I realized what I wanted to express was much more simple. I simply wanted to admit to ignoring a fellow rider on the subway when they had asked for help, and the shame I felt going past the turnstiles, and crawling out of the station, my pockets still full." How Cruel That Hunger Binds, on which this song appears, is out August 26th and is self-released.

Bareto – “La Pantalla”

Hugely popular in their native Peru, Bareto is looking to make a splash in the U.S. with the re-release of its fifth album, Impredecible. The band has always been known for putting its own twist on Peruvian cumbia, but on the new album it steps even further into experimental territory. The end result is an outstanding collection of songs that stay true to the fundamental sound of cumbia while still expanding the boundaries of the genre by incorporating healthy doses of electronica. Here’s the lead single, “La Pantalla,” which is full-throated criticism of television and the forces behind its zombifying effects. Impredecible is out now.

Chris Staples – “Relatively Permanent”

On “Relatively Permanent,” Chris Staples questions how long a relationship will last and ultimately decides to keep on loving despite the uncertainty of the future. It’s one of those thoughts that commonly accompanies a serious partnership. The worry of potential loss can linger, but if the future is unknowable, of what use is that concern? Backed by an acoustic guitar, lo-fi bass, and 3-part harmony “oohs,” Staples confidently sings facing into the mystery of what lies ahead. His new album, Golden Age, is out August 19th on Barsuk Records.

At/All – “Deeper”

Built on the foundation of an appregiated staccato synthesizer progression, “Deeper” unfolds over nearly four minutes into a danceable electro pop song with ambient synth pads, drum machine, and synth bass. The track is the work of the Melbourne group At/All and appears on their debut album Sun Dog. Singer Lucy Roleff’s glues the track together with her warm voice and wide range. Sun Dog is out August 26th and is self-released.

Moon Bros. – “These Stars”

“These Stars,” by Moon Bros., is a soundtrack for lazy, rainy, and contemplative Sunday mornings. The easy pace of Matt Schneider’s acoustic guitar is met warmly by the rich and forlorn tone of his voice as he sings, “I know, I know I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t hide here out on these stars.” A lonesome-sounding pedal steel moans alongside him, echoing the reflective sentiments of the lyrics. These Stars, the album on which the song of the same name appears, is out now on Western Vinyl.

Blind Pilot – “Umpqua Rushing”

It’s been five years since the last album by Portland, Oregon based indie folk band Blind Pilot. A lot has happened in that span of time for lead singer/songwriter Israel Nebeker, including the death of his father and the end of a 13-year relationship, so it’s not surprising that the songs on the band’s new album, And Then Like Lions, served as a way for Nebeker to process those life changes. What is surprising, though, is how uplifting and defiant the album is when it easily could have been an exercise in sad songwriting. Here’s the outstanding single “Umpqua Rushing,” which is one of those songs you just want to keep listening to over and over again. And Then Like Lions is out August 12 on ATO Records.

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