Every month, Utne Reader presents free, downloadable music gleaned from current and upcoming releases on independent music labels. This sampler was curated by editor Christian Williams with associate editors Suzanne Lindgren and Sam Ross-Brown.
War on Drugs
Since its debut record in 2008, War on Drugs has built a reputation for making music that begs to be listened to while on a long road trip. That reputation was earned not just because of the melodies that bring to mind Dylan, Petty, and Springsteen, but because of the expansive sound the band has mastered through its use of ethereal synths and other sonic devices that conjure images of the open road. On its third record, Lost In The Dream, the band provides more of the same, but this time the songs are more indicative of the process behind the album more than any specific intention to live up to reputation. As usual, most of the songs started out as solo efforts by frontman Adam Granduciel. But as his touring band grew closer together on the road, Granduciel recognized that he had a willing cast of collaborators as equally invested in the music as he was. “I wanted there to be a singular voice, but I wanted it to be a project of great friends,” Granduciel said in a recent press release. “Everyone in the band cares about it so much. That is the crux of it—growing up, dealing with life, having close friends, helping each other get by. That is what the record’s all about.” Here’s “Red Eyes” off Lost In the Dream, which is out March 18 on Secretly Canadian.
The Blushin' Roulettes
Homespun, soulful, and hauntingly bittersweet, the Blushin’ Roulettes’ Kickstarter-funded new album churns with a smoky country twang. But it’s the album’s flawed characters and heartfelt narratives that stand out the most. The Roulettes’ poignant, backwoods world is one of burning churches, coffee black nights, and searching intimacy. Together with stirring, subtle musicianship, songs like “Jillian” and “Calypso Lane” smolder with a quiet intensity. The Old Mill Sessions is available now.
In 1970, a young dental hygienist named Linda Perhacs released an album. Few in the music industry noticed, but as decades passed the record accrued a following among record-store junkies and thrift-store music hunters. The Age of Internet brought these disparate fans together, their excitement eventually led to Parallelograms re-release in 2003, and Perhacs’ acclaim continued to grow. Tracks from Parallelograms were used by Daft Punk and Prefuse 73. In 2007, Devendra Banhardt invited Perhacs to sing on an album. Eventually, she began writing new material. Her long-awaited (almost-never-was) sophomore album, The Soul of All Natural Things, attests to Perhacs’ lasting skill as a singer-songwriter. Ethereal, sweeping melodies accompany lyrics wishing for a slower pace. The album has the effect of slowing time, willing us to connecting with each other, nature, and our sacred selves. The Soul of All Natural Things is out March 4 on Asthmatic Kitty Records.
With each new release, Josh Rosenthal’s San Francisco-based Tompkins Square continues to solidify its reputation as the premiere record label for obscure, yet foundational American roots music. The latest, The Soul of Ragtime, is a fantastic survey of ragtime music that broadens the scope beyond its most popular figure—Scott Joplin— and introduces the listener to the lesser known styles, songs, and applications of the precursor to New Orleans-style jazz. The man behind the keys is Terry Waldo, widely considered the greatest living practitioner and educator of this unique blend of American piano music. Waldo was a late student of Eubie Blake, who was a contemporary of Joplin, teacher to Duke Ellington, and influential performer in his own right. While films like The Sting gave Joplin his due recognition during ragtime’s 1970s revival, Waldo has been integral in keeping Blake’s contributions to the craft remembered, and he has certainly made his own lasting mark on the genre through the innovative applications and original compositions featured on this new record. Speaking of the latter, here’s Waldo’s original song “Proctology” off The Soul of Ragtime, out March 25 on Tompkins Square.
Over the past few years, Texas-bred Emily Elbert has been travelling the world with little but her voice, guitar, and can-do spirit, arranging tours from Spain to Bali with many stops between. Though she did most of that tour solo, Elbert’s fourth release, Evolve, finds her jazzy, soul-tinged vocals backed by keys, bass, percussion, and slide guitar. The EP is short and sweet—four tracks, all as musically and lyrically uplifting as the title track heard here. “Thematically,” says Elbert, “[the album is] a quest for joy and truth, influenced by current events, Rumi, apocalypse scares, the sky, and romancing the muse.” Evolve is available through Bandcamp.
Though it sounds like there’s a small orchestra at work in the electroacoustic music of German composer Volker Bertelmann, the truth is there’s only one primary instrument: the piano. Recording his music under the name Hauschka, Bertelmann utilizes and expands upon the prepared piano technique used most notably by influential avant-garde composer John Cage. By placing different materials such as bolts and paper under and between the strings of a standard piano, Cage coaxed an array of interesting and percussive sounds out of the piano, effectively turning one instrument into several. Hauschka takes Cage’s idea a step further, recording the acoustic sound of his prepared piano with several microphones, some of which are filtered through a variety of effects that he can digitally manipulate any number of ways. The technique produces remarkably rich and complex compositions considering the single instrument source. On his latest release, Hauschka used the idea of abandoned cities to help illustrate the emotion behind his music. “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I'm composing music, a state of mind where I'm lonely and happy at the same time,” Hauschka said in a recent press release. “When I saw photos of abandoned cities, I felt it was perfect. People once lived there, but they left in a rush and now nature has taken over in a beautiful way. The music is dark, but in a quiet, uplifting way.” Here’s “Agdam” off Abandoned Cities, which is out March 7 on Temporary Residence.
As the “polar vortex” descends for a second unwelcome visit across much of the country, some good old fashioned surf rock is in order. Bright, cocky, and infectiously catchy, Habibi’s latest single is the perfect summery fit. Although some of their tracks edge toward founder Rahill Jamalifard’s native Iran, “I Got the Moves” is more straightforward rock—but no less infectious. Habibi is available now through Burger Records.