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.
Monomyth is a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based four-piece that proudly wears its love for great indie pop rock on its sleeve. Armed with bright, jangly guitars, great hooks, and outstanding harmonies, Monomyth invokes bands like Television and The Monkees, but has also established a unique identity for itself on its debut LP, Saturnalia Regalia!. This is thanks, in part, to the band’s democratic songwriting process. “All of the songs were written independent of each other, so it doesn’t have a theme running through it, intentionally anyway,” says one of the band’s three songwriters, Seamus Dalton. “It’s all guitar, bass and drums, but having three songwriters adds some ups and downs. The many moods of Monomyth.” Here’s the lead single “Candleholder” off Saturnalia Regalia!, out now on Mint.
Santa Barbara-based indie rockers Buellton are a patient band. More than ten years after its debut record, Buellton has pulled together a strong follow-up that’s filled with catchy hooks and a creative marketing ploy for the record that’s likely to get their music in the hands and ears of a whole new batch of fans. After amicably disbanding in the early 2000s, the band regrouped in 2008 and began working on the songs that comprise the new album, Silent Partner. Six years later, fans finally get to hear the band's easy-going atmospheric rock reminiscent of Flaming Lips and Nada Surf. As for the creative marketing ploy, Buellton decided to forgo traditional CD distribution and teamed up with Telegraph Brewing Company of Santa Barbara to release the new record as a special beer with the download code under the cap. The beer/record is available at Whole Foods and select vendors across the country. Here’s “Painting the Cave” from Silent Partner, which you can find on their Bandcamp page.
Electronic musician and sound artist Michael Hammond—the man behind No Lands—knows how to make the most of a bad situation. Physically forced from his apartment and studio space in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn because of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, Hammond worked through the emotions involved in that uprooting on his impressive debut record Negative Space. As Hammond picked his life up in the wake of Sandy, he became fascinated with the destructive and restorative qualities of water, which highly influenced the varied compositions on the new record. The flood ended up becoming just as important to his creative process as any of the various instruments and collaborators he worked with on this outstanding collection of sophisticated soundscapes. Here’s “Outside of You” off Negative Space, out now on New Amsterdam.
As we’ve seen in Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries, the preservation of culture amidst violent political upheaval is hard to maintain. In the case of Afghanistan over the past 20 years, war and the Taliban’s oppressive reign have made it difficult for purveyors of classic Afghan music to freely express and share it with the world. Fortunately, the music is alive and well with Quraishi, who is a virtuoso on the lute-like rubab – the national instrument of classic Afghan music. Quraishi now lives in New York City since emigrating with his family from Kabul, and has recently released his second full-length album of traditional Afghan music. Comprised of traditional folk tunes, a classical raga, and an original composition, the new record is a showcase of both Quraishi’s magnificent playing and the beauty of a culture’s music that deserves to be heard and celebrated the world over. Here’s “Tears” off Mountain Melodies, out now on Evergreene Music.
Always interested in blurring the line between pop and experimental music, OOIOO adds traditional gamelan music into that mix on its sixth record, Gamel. The new record took four years to make and it’s easy to hear why. Led by the brilliantly creative Yoshimi P-We, OOIOO carefully crafted an album that seamlessly incorporates Javanese percussion music into the experimental pop they’ve become known for. The end result is a fascinating and complicated record that demonstrates why Yoshimi has become such an influential fixture in experimental pop music over the last 30 years. It should come as no surprise that she is the “Yoshimi” that Wayne Coyne is referring to on the now classic Flaming Lips record Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Here’s “Atatawa” off Gamel, out now on Thrill Jockey.
Alt-country songster Cory Branan has been hard for folks to peg down, but he probably likes it that way. His rough-around-the-edges style has always been too tough for the Nashville country music scene to embrace, while his penchant for writing great lyrics and his affinity for traditional Americana make it obvious he’s not interested in just writing basic rock songs either. Instead he’s set up camp on the fringes of both genres, pumping out one great song after another for open-minded folks to discover. His latest record, The No-Hit Wonder, is his second for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, and is an outstanding follow-up to Mutt, his first record for the legendary alt-country label. In classic Branan fashion, genre markers and boundaries are ignored on the new record with every song reflecting some aspect of Branan’s various influences, from punk to Warren Zevon. The new record also features a smorgasbord of guests, many of whom occupy the same brackish zone of country/rock music that he does. Here’s “You Make Me,” which kicks off the new record and features Jason Isbell. The No-Hit Wonder is out August 19 on Bloodshot Records.
George "Smoke" Dawson
The story behind George “Smoke” Dawson is one of those classic tales of being lost and found that makes the history of American folk music so fascinating. A fixture of the early ’60s folk scene in Saratoga Springs, NY, Dawson was a well-regarded player of the banjo, fiddle, and bagpipes, who sat in with most of the big names that played at the legendary Caffé Lena folk venue. He released an excellent album of solo playing in 1971, but then drifted across the country aimlessly and never recorded again. Dawson remained in relative obscurity until Tompkins Square head honcho Josh Rosenthal came across a photo of him while doing research for a Caffé Lena box set he was compiling. Rosenthal asked about the man in the picture, whom he described as looking “like a sixth member of The Band—a handsome fiddler with wax moustache, goatee, black Western hat. There was a traditional air to him, a seriousness, but there was also something wild there.” Rosenthal soon found out that Dawson had made some recordings and that he was still alive, so he contacted him and discovered a man who had lived a rich but difficult life. “I’ve been a computer programmer for IBM, a commercial fisherman, blacksmith, aerial photographer, goldmining engineer, wrestler, entertainer,” Dawson says. “I’ve played music for three to eight hours a day for thirty, forty years.” Today, Dawson is simply trying to make the most of the rest of the life. “I row a boat, smoke dope, my girlfriend of twenty years is in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease. I talk to fish, deer, birds,” says Dawson. “I was cuckoo, couldn’t get along in the world. The music always saved me. It got me friends, it got me shelter.” And now, thanks to Rosenthal and Tompkins Square, a larger audience has the opportunity to appreciate the music that saved Dawson through the reissue of his 1971 album, Fiddle. Here’s a medley that showcases Dawson’s exceptional playing of both the fiddle and bagpipes, and includes “Devil’s Dream” —the short tune that spurred Rosenthal to find out more about this lost-but-found fixture of the ’60s folk revival. Fiddle is out August 19 on Tompkins Square.
Inspired by a passage from the T.S. Eliot poem “Gerontion,” Australian ambient composer Lawrence English’s latest record, Wilderness of Mirrors, is a dense and beautiful demonstration of layered harmonies and composed feedback. Reminiscent of the ambient noise of Tim Hecker, English’s latest batch of compositions came about after he had the opportunity to fully appreciate the sonic capabilities of volume and composed feedback by watching some of his favorite bands. “I was fortunate enough to experience live performances by artists I deeply respect for their use of volume as an affecting quality, specifically Earth, Swans, and My Bloody Valentine,” says English. “I had the chance to experience each of these groups at various stages in the making this record and each of them reinforced my interest in emulating that inner ear and bodily sensation that extreme densities of vibration in air brings about.” The constantly modulating waves of sound that English has composed also serve as a reflection of the changing world he’s observing. “We face constant, unsettled change. It's not merely an issue of the changes taking place around us, but the speed at which these changes are occurring. We bare witness to the retraction of a great many social conditions and contracts that have previously assisted us in being more humane than the generations that precede us. This record is me yelling into what seems to be an ever-growing black abyss. I wonder if my voice will reflect off something?” Here’s “Graceless Hunter” off Wilderness of Mirrors, out now on Room 40.