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Stephen Thompson

For nearly 20 years, Little Big Town's members have plugged away through label troubles, divorces and the death of loved ones, but they've never endured a lineup change.

Like many awards shows, the Grammys are about more than just honoring artistic achievement: They're also about anointing ambassadors for a music industry that's forced to evolve as quickly and constantly as trends and technology mandate. Of course, the awards also attempt to represent dozens of far-flung genres, from traditional pop to EDM to country to jazz to Latin music to classical to rap and beyond.

February isn't exactly the best month, what with all the cold weather, limited daylight, copious awards shows, New England Patriots Super Bowl victories, and Valentine's Day. So you'd be forgiven for thinking, "The only thing that could truly articulate my pain is a band in which puppets sport eyeliner and sing a song called "I Am Sad And So Am I."

Cloud Nothings began when leader Dylan Baldi was a freshman in college back in 2009, and the Cleveland band's early recordings capture the bratty scrappiness of seemingly directionless kids.

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in search of great new discoveries. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of acts, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

In a career that spans more than 20 years, Spoon has perfected a kind of ruthlessly airtight efficiency: Every few years, the Austin band returns with a new batch of perfectly compact three-minute pop-rock songs. As consistent as it is beloved, Spoon never fails to hit its mark — delivered forcefully, and with hooks for days.

It's been four and a half years since The xx released Coexist, an album of barren, wounded ballads that drew their dramatic tension from the air between notes. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim made the most of the suffocating sparseness, but after a while, Coexist cried out for a bit of catharsis.

"Restless" is one of 2017's first great songs: a dreamy, sweetly throbbing electro-pop jam with a warmly soaring, heartfelt vocal at its core. The latest single from darkDARK, a production duo based in LA and Austin, the track features some of the best ingredients around, from charming analog synths to the relentlessly pleasing voice of Haley Bonar.

As the lead singer and songwriter in The Hold Steady — and, before that, Lifter PullerCraig Finn filled the air with a frenetic flood of words, singing vividly about antiheroes who seek escape and redemption in the form of drugs, religion, rock 'n' roll and many pursuits in between.

Sherlock and Pop Culture Happy Hour both premiered in 2010, but until now, the two have never intersected in the form of a full segment on our show. The series of 90-minute episodes — which air in America as part of PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! series — stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, respectively. Last weekend, Sherlock launched its fourth three-episode season (not counting a one-off special in January 2016), which makes this a perfect time to dive in.

The brainchild of classically trained songwriter and bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin has evolved from an immaculate, studio-bound chamber-pop ensemble to a looser, livelier full-time operation.

You'd be forgiven for viewing nominations for the 59th Grammy Awards, announced Tuesday morning, as a battle between two powerhouse singers: Beyoncé, whose Lemonade leads the field with nine, and Adele, whose 25 has been a sales juggernaut since its release late last year.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

The twists and turns of the 2016 election — not to mention the characters at the top of each major-party ticket — provide many opportunities for comedy. But it's tough out there for late-night joke-makers, who face more competition than ever, not to mention a social-media landscape in which seemingly every possible quip is being made in real time.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is about to embark on a West Coast tour. San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

Dirty Projectors' early career opened a virtual fire hydrant of ideas: albums overstuffed with sound and chaos, reined in by real artistry, released in rapid succession. But as bandleader David Longstreth honed his vision, the hydrant's flow has given way to a trickle. It's been more than four years since the last new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan, and Longstreth himself has stayed largely out of the public eye.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco and Los Angeles are already sold out — though we've just added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Seattle on Oct. 17 and Portland on Oct.

[In case you haven't heard, a big announcement: Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! We'll be in Seattle on Oct. 17 (with Audie Cornish), Portland on Oct. 19 (also with Audie Cornish), San Francisco on Oct. 21 (with Mallory Ortberg), and Los Angeles on Oct. 23 (with Kumail Nanjiani). For ticket information, click here — and remember that all four shows go on sale Tuesday, Sept. 6, at noon Pacific Time.

As Sylvan Esso, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn craft danceable pop songs that exude an ambivalent, searching quality. Sure, they're catchy as anything, and Meath — a veteran of the a cappella folk group Mountain Man — knows how to command a spotlight. But Sylvan Esso's songs also bear the weight of melancholy, even as Sanborn's springy arrangements send them soaring.

Summer has a way of sending the Pop Culture Happy Hour team hurtling across the country, so this episode required a bit of logistical maneuvering: We actually recorded it several weeks ago, just as Linda Holmes and I were about to jet off on separate West Coast jaunts. Glen Weldon wasn't yet back from Comic-Con, the rest of us aren't in Historic Studio 44... everything's topsy-turvy!

On this week's episode of All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen and guest host Stephen Thompson play new music from Regina Spektor, experimental rap from Clipping, which features Daveed Diggs of Hamilton, and a great synth track from singer-songwriter Lowell.

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