Music is an incredibly important part of my life. I listen to it a lot for a variety of purposes. There’s the obvious pleasure of it as well as the nostalgia of some work. There is the pragmatic music that I go to if I want to feel a certain way. Due to my day job, I do a lot of grading––hours upon hours, days upon days of sitting and reading, analyzing, and responding. Unsurprisingly, it’s around grading that my tastes change the most because what I listened for a week and a half straight for one round of grading kind of loses its luster for the two weeks of the next round of grading that comes in.

I have my go-to playlists, titled appropriately as “Chill Grading” or “Chill Classical” or “Chill Soundtracks” or “Chill Pop”, a bevvy of arranged music organized for a single goal: to help me focus.

Occasionally, singular entries pop up and I become absorbed by them for awhile, and they fit perfectly into the “grading” mindset I’m looking for. That mindset is something that 1. doesn’t distract, 2. is engaging and interesting (but not distracting), and 3. something I can listen to on repeat for about 8 hours straight.

Tori Amos’ Native Invader and her more recent release, Ocean to Ocean, fit easily into that requirement (and they are incredible albums). Lately, I’ve been listening to the two soundtracks released for Red Dead Redemption 2, with music by Daniel Lanois (and others) that has walked right up to the edge of being distracting before hitting a crescendo back down to fun background music. Marco Beltrami’s amazingly laconic score to Logan made the round a few years back as well as a playlist compiling the two Broken Bells records (a playlist I listen to for fun on the regular as a result).

For this recent round of grading, though, I found a diamond in the rough aka the wilds of the internet. It came to my attention because it was a new album produced by Dan Auerbach, the guitarist and vocalist from the garage blues-rock band, The Black Keys––a band that had a profound impact on me in the early 2000s. I wasn’t surprised at his producer credit; he has produced a lot of strong albums over the years, from Doctor John’s incredible 2012 album Locked Down to CeeLo Green’s CeeLo Green Is Thomas Callaway to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ The Lion and the Beast.

As can be expected, the music he produces has a raw, lo-fi quality to it that captures an earnestness and credibility that may be as manufactured as any other sound, but it’s a sound I appreciate. I prefer the term The Black Keys used on their early albums: medium fidelity, which “requires equal parts broke-ass shit to equal parts hot-ass shit.

A new Auerbach-produced album floated across my dashboard last week, so I decided to check it out. It’s by the Ecuadorian-Swiss band comprised of brothers Stephan and Alejandro, called Hermanos Gutiérrez, and they make––for lack of a better word––Long John music. Their new album, El Bueno y El Malo, is a 30-minute dive into instrumental western bliss, as if written for a spaghetti western that was never made.

It’s all drama and slide guitar (which is also all drama). The frustrating part is that I’ve been making music for the Long John videos, and I realized that, even though I’d never heard them before, I was just trying to make Hermanos Guitiérrez music. That won’t stop me, though. Their music is as inspiring as it is enjoyable to listen to, and I couldn’t help but share as I’m deep in the throes of their music.