We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the tiara we ordered as the grand prize at our upcoming eating contest is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on people who simply don't enjoy music.
Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.
Every Thursday this year, we're celebrating All Songs Considered's 15th birthday with personal memories and highlights from the show's decade and a half online and on the air. If you have a personal memory about the show you'd like to share, drop us an email: email@example.com.
Sometimes you don't know that you've missed something, like an old friend or a recipe tucked away in a cookbook, until it reappears just when it's needed. In August, I went to see Unwed Sailor's set in Washington, D.C., partly out of nostalgia. I came away not only fortified by the instrumental rock band's currency, but also reminded of primary songwriter Johnathon Ford's thoughtful, ardent bass playing; he also worked with the underrated Roadside Monument in the '90s. Without using words, Ford is a natural storyteller who doesn't force an emotional narrative.
The songs of Elliott Smith are widely revered — especially by those who came of age in the '90s — but a new generation of listeners is only beginning to discover him. Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith is likely to expose new fans to the great singer-songwriter. Smith released five albums in his lifetime and died in 2003 from two stab wounds to the chest; he'd left a suicide note. His songs, which often dealt with depression and desperation, were beautiful and frequently quiet.
Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 8:15 am
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This week on All Songs Considered: Our favorite electronic artist, Dan Deacon, is back with another playfully infectious dance party, one he recorded both in the studio and in bathrooms and greenrooms during his most recent tour. Also, NPR Music contributor Katie Presley joins us with a hypnotic groove from the Seattle-based duo THEESatisfaction and a slow-burning jam from New Orleans singer-songwriter Kristin Diable.
When I was a college radio music director in the early 2000s, there were few more important bands in my life than The Sea And Cake. I repped them hard back in the day, and that's because these Chicago renaissance men fit my (admittedly reductive) two criteria for greatness: a) sound like no one else, and b) keep it catchy. They nailed it on both accounts over the course of four albums for Thrill Jockey during the '90s, and are still doing their indie-jazz-kraut-pop thing to this day.
Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 4:53 pm
Trying to predict a musical future is impossible. I have proof: Bob Dylan is recording songs Frank Sinatra made popular! No one saw this coming and nothing could prepare us for it. It's weird and kind of wonderful. Here's a man clearly in love with the Great American Songbook and despite his restricted vocal he's brave enough to tackle it.
Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 12:10 pm
I'm not a drummer. And it's a lot harder for me to articulate why one fill works over another than it is for people who've been hitting the toms since they were kids. So when our guest Quizmasters have the week off and I put together one of these puzzlers myself, I just reach for the songs that always get me air drumming. Driving in the car, waiting for the Metro, walking down the street — the fills in this week's Drum Fill Friday are all ones that get my arms flailing. I wonder if it's strange for drummers to know they've created beats and patterns that idiots like me try to pantomime.
Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 1:34 pm
Every Thursday this year we're celebrating All Songs Considered's 15th birthday with personal memories and highlights from the show's decade and a half online and on the air. If you have a personal memory about the show you'd like to share, drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 10:24 am
Some noise freaks will have you believe that if the music doesn't kill you, it's not extreme enough. Since 2000, the Brooklyn band Zs and its rotating cast could sometimes be accused of that mentality, as they've looked to the caustic examples of '60s free jazz, '80s No Wave and minimalism. Zs' members take grand leaps into music with no place to land, which is what makes the approachable (but no less challenging) Xe, especially its title track, the group's most radical statement.
Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 7:14 am
The young singer and guitarist Jackson Scott first popped up on our radar when he released his psych-pop debut Melbourne in 2013. It was a lo-fi wonder that included an unsettling but strangely sunny (and unforgettable) tribute to the children killed at Sandy Hook.
At the center of Mind Over Mirrors' sound lies the Indian pedal harmonium, an instrument that elicits a piercing tone; it's at once devotional and alarming in its presence and volume. Jaime Fennelly typically surrounds these song-driven drones with tape loops and synthesizers, and on The Voice Calling, he's joined by Circuit Des Yeux's Haley Fohr, whose deep baritone voice could also be described as devotional and alarming. She's an incantatory force in "Calling Your Name."
Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 8:53 am
Hear The Discussion And Songs
The news headlines weren't always easy to read last week, between the mass shootings in Paris and the relentless violence in Nigeria. But over the weekend, in New York City, some of the most remarkable global music groups in the world converged for a moment of musical solidarity.
It's been six years since Blacklisted's No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me, a gritty hardcore record that outwardly plays with melody, noise and lunging tempos that felt truer to Soundgarden or Nirvana's Bleach than anything else. Now comes When People Grow, People Go, a record that leans more on the band's straight-ahead hardcore fury, but with experimentation lurking beneath the surface. Here's one of the album's major ragers, "Burnt Palms."
If wizards, battles and crunchy riffs roll your 20-sided die a critical hit, heed Visigoth's call. On its debut album, the Salt Lake City power-metal band looks to Manowar, Judas Priest and Manilla Road ("Necropolis" gets covered here) for that classic '80s sound, but the production is decidedly heavier, with mammoth choruses led by Jake Rogers' regal voice. Take a listen to the title track from The Revenant King and try not to raise your fists in triumph.
I go to so many shows, and for years I've been taking photos with my phone and posting them on my Instagram account @tinydesk. But a few months into 2014 I bought one of those tiny little mirrorless cameras by Sony. Then I caught the photo bug pretty bad (or good).
Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 9:28 am
I missed another year of TV shows. I missed every single Netflix and HBO series. I did, however, see four times as many movies in 2014 as I did in 2013: four, instead of just one. What I did see once again was a whole lot of live music, 662 performances to be exact. (I count each band as a show or performance.) In a year packed full of concerts, I saw 555 different bands in 144 venues across 16 cities. It turns out I saw exactly the same amount of shows this year as last, which made me laugh ... guess I've hit my ceiling.
Fifteen years ago this month, All Songs Considered posted its very first episode. When you listen to that debut (with the link above) and hear host Bob Boilen say it's "a music show for your computer!" it feels very quaint by today's standards. But when ASC first launched, it was considered groundbreaking.
Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 7:27 am
Searching for Christmas music you've never heard before? Well, Mitchell Kezin is a collector of what he calls "Christmas orphans," those Christmas songs hardly played and mostly unknown. After being a closet collector of Christmas music for years, now he's directed a documentary about obsessive crate-diggers who specialize in rare Christmas music.
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