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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 freelance writer Mike Krings.

September 2015

Banda de Los Muertos
The music of the Brooklyn-based Banda de Los Muertos is the product of a deep affinity for the brass bands of Mexico by the group’s founders, respected jazz musicians Oscar Noriega and Jacob Garchik. Comprised of a talented group of conservatory-trained jazz performers, Banda de Los Muertos honors the tradition of a musical style that’s most commonly heard in the poorest parts of Mexico and that rarely receives serious respect from musicians or critics. Combining traditional Mexican songs with original compositions, Noriega and Garchik pay appropriate tribute to the music while invigorating it with a fresh perspective. Here’s the original Noriega/Garchik arrangement “Cumbia de Jacobo” from Banda de Los Muertos’ self-titled debut, out September 18 on Barbès Records.

John Mark Nelson
Longtime followers of the Utne Music Sampler may remember the name John Mark Nelson as we featured the song “Boy” in the June 2014 sampler. We were mesmerized by Nelson’s knack for singer-songwriter song craft, especially considering he was only 19 years old at the time and was already releasing his third full-length record. One year later, Nelson has another full-length release and he’s clearly not resting on his laurels; the new record pushes the boundaries of his music well past the lyrical focus of his previous albums. “When I sat down and started recording new sounds and ideas, something clicked inside me,” says Nelson in a press release. “While my previous material had been driven by emotive concepts and lyrical motifs, the new material seemed to be guided by rhythm, energy, and attention grabbing sounds.” Here’s “I’ll Give You More,” which is a good example of the livelier, almost pop-sounding approach Nelson takes on I’m Not Afraid, which is out September 11 on GNDWIRE.

Lael Neale
Singer-songwriter Lael Neale currently calls Los Angeles home, but her country/folk upbringing shines through on her debut album I’ll Be Your Man. Born and raised in Virginia, Neale writes deep and soul-baring folk music that has earned her appropriate comparisons to Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten with a hazy vocal quality that brings to mind Hope Sandoval. The song arrangements on her debut are mostly sparse, allowing her lyrics and voice to take center stage, but there are moments on the album where Neale delves into lo-fi psychedelia, like on the youthful introspection of “Born in the Summer.” I’ll Be Your Man is out now.

Aqueduct is the indie-pop solo recording project of David Terry. It's been eight years since he released his last album, but he's back with Wild Knights, a record of synthesizer-driven pop and introspective writing that is full of dark, anxiety-heavy tunes in the front and uplifting numbers in the back. Over the course of the album, Aqueduct addresses an unnamed someone who keeps “insisting everyone’s always after me,” but when he looks over his shoulder he or she is gone. Maybe he or she was never there. The whole time a theremin—the go-to instrument for establishing a sense of paranoia in film—darts in and out in the background. While the theremin, synthesizer and bass dart around each other propulsively on “The Ballad of Barbarella,” Aqueduct advises us to drop it—problems, bad times, you name it—in the holes we’ve dug. “For the good times lay in wait,” he reminds us. Wild Knights is out now.

Bridget Kearney & Benjamin Lazar Davis
Like-minded musicians Bridget Kearney and Benjamin Lazar Davis have been collaborating for more than a decade in a variety of musical projects. Their latest celebrates the rich tradition of West African music, specifically the Bawa music native to the Northwest region of Ghana. “There are so many different badass styles of music from Ghana, and going in we didn’t know exactly which we wanted to focus on,” says Davis in a press release. The pair ended up spending considerable time in Accra, Ghana, where they worked with multi-instrumentalist Aaron Bebe and learned how to incorporate the xylophone-esque gyil into their brand of indie-folk. The result of a whirlwind two-week recording session is the EP Bawa, which features a mix of traditional Dagaaba music and original compositions inspired by the music of Ghana’s Northwest region. Here’s one of those original compositions, “Trojan Horse,” off Bawa, out September 18 on Signature Sounds.

James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg
American fingerstyle guitar duo James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg are highly regarded practitioners of the form when they play solo, but they take it to another level when they play together. Their second album, Ambsace, is another showcase of how beautifully complex fingerstyle guitar can sound when the compositions are weaved together with such precise intricacy. From the perspective of dexterity, the songs are certainly a workout, but one that both players obviously enjoy. Here’s the single “Up of Stairs” from Ambsace, out September 18 on Paradise of Bachelors.


Langhorne Slim & The Law
You never know what moves someone to make changes. And when they do, it’s often tough to tell if they’ll stick or eventually the supposedly changed will revert back to old habits. In the case of Langhorne Slim it’s a little bit of both. The surface of The Spirit Moves, his new album with backing band The Law, is a lot like previous efforts: full of Slim’s sometimes raspy yowl and foot stomping tunes blending folk, rock, soul, and Americana. But underneath, it’s an album of firsts. The first he’s written and recorded completely sober. The first since he’s set down permanent roots in Nashville. The first since he’s been single. The opener and title track “The Spirit Moves” finds Slim and band in the form that has gained them notoriety for their live shows. Joyously shouting together and putting down a stomping, rootsy groove, it’s clear immediately that this won’t be an album of dwelling on heartbreak or darkness. On songs like "Life's a Bell," Slim takes a turn into introspection, insisting life must be lived, and that there’s no time to dwell on who’s wronged us or what’s missing or soon there will be no time left to enjoy what’s right. The Spirit Moves is out now on Dualtone.

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