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.
Allah-Las – “Famous Phone Figure”
While they’ve been churning out Southern California-influenced garage pop since their 2012 debut, Allah-Las have matured to the point where all of the varied influences they bring to the table as former music store employees (three of the members met while working at Amoeba Music) have coalesced into a sound that comes across as both fresh and nostalgic. Many bands wear their collective influences on their sleeves, but the four members of Allah-Las take a master distiller’s approach to crafting their music, carefully combining familiar musical ingredients until the end result is something entirely new. “We were all music fans before we were musicians,” says Matthew Correia (vocals/drums). “We’ve spent a lot of time listening to music, and understanding what works for us and what doesn’t.” There’s a point about half-way through the Allah-Las third album, Calico Review, where it literally feels like you’ve been sucked into a time that never actually existed; where the songs sound incredibly familiar but you know you’ve never heard them before. A case in point is the single “Famous Phone Figure,” which is just one of many highlights on an outstanding album from start to finish; it’s certainly one of our favorites of 2016. Calico Review is out September 9 on Mexican Summer.
Zomba Prison Project – “I Will Not Stop Grieving for You, My Wife”
In 2015, author and Grammy-winner, Ian Brennan, released the debut album of the Zomba Prison Project. The album featured songs written and performed by prisoners and officers from a maximum security prison in Malawi (many of whom had not been musicians before arriving at the complex). The success of the album, which included a Grammy nomination, brought Brennan back to the prison in 2016 to make more recordings of the people there. The result of the second wave of recordings is the album I Will Not Stop Singing. Recorded in a single take, the track “I Will Not Stop Grieving for You, My Wife,” concerns the writer’s loss of his wife, mother, and four young children. A remarkable sense of longing conveyed through the singer’s voice cuts right through any barrier language might construct. I Will Not Stop Singing is out September 9th on Six Degrees Records.
Tom Brosseau – “Fit To Be Tied”
With the Grass Punks in 2014 and Perfect Abandon in 2015, musician Tom Brosseau began a trilogy of albums about “life from a local perspective” that is now coming to a conclusion with the release of the new album North Dakota Impressions. "I have learned to do something I love doing and keep on repeating it. This trilogy is a memory painting. Maybe all of my work, this thing I love to do and to repeat, are all memory paintings in a way. Home, loss of love, wonderment about another world. These are threads that weave together Grass Punks, Perfect Abandon, and North Dakota Impressions.” The jangly acoustic guitars and heavy, yet clean, vocal harmonies on “Fit To Be Tied” make it a standout track on the album. "'Fit To Be Tied' is an original composition of mine from the 1990s and is in a way the starting point for this new album. Fit to be tied is an English phrase that I heard growing up, uttered only in times when emotions are just so confounded. So confounded that those around you might do well to tie you up to keep you from exploding. For me, this phrase brought to mind a thing that you couldn't hold on to or not meant to last, like the blossoms of an apple tree, and you always want one more day of the delightful apple blossoms.” North Dakota Impressions is out September 16th on Crossbill Records.
Audrey Spillman – “Amy”
Singer-songwriter Audrey Spillman makes her home in Nashville these days, but her full-length debut record, Thornbird, dips back into the musical influences of her childhood growing up in Georgia. Spillman’s debut refuses to be pigeon-holed and covers a lot of ground from pop to jazz to folk. “One of the things I've discovered on my musical journey is that I have no idea of where I fit into the current musical spectrum,” Spillman says with a laugh. “I just create music that feels right to me.” A good example of that is the fantastic Memphis R&B vibe of “Amy.” Thornbird is out September 16.
Russell Potter – “Blue Wind Boy”
Further bolstering its reputation as an invaluable resource of hard-to-find American folk music, indie label Tompkins Square is back with another outstanding collection of rare acoustic guitar recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Presses. Like many of the previous volumes from the IA series, Vol. 8 introduces listeners to 14 masterful American Primitive guitar players whom are virtually unknown outside a very small group of rare record collectors. Among them is Russell Potter, who released two homemade records on his own label in the late ’70s and pressed a very limited amount of vinyl. Fortunately for us, at least one of those copies survived so that we can still enjoy Potter’s beautiful 1979 recording of “Blue Wind Boy” – an original composition Potter co-wrote with a friend that was inspired by a character from Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories. Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Presses is out September 16 on Tompkins Square.
Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Memories Of My Son”
The writer and director of the film Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, Yoji Yamada, is considered to be one of the last great filmmakers from the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema. His new film concerns a mother’s grief over the loss of her son due to the bombing of Nagasaki. To score the film, Yamada sought the talents of renowned Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Listen to the gentle and reflective title track, “Memories Of My Son,” by clicking the link above. Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, the soundtrack to the film, is out September 23 on Milan Records.