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All Songs Considered

Protomartyr doesn't make music for the casual listener. Over the course of four full-length albums, the Detroit-based band has produced a collection of lyrically dense, deeply philosophical (and usually very loud) songs that grapple with some of life's thorniest questions: What does it mean to be human? What is truth? What is the nature of good and evil?

Protomartyr lead singer and lyricist Joe Casey is, to say the least, a seeker — an existential traveler in search of a higher state of consciousness and meaning in an often callous, senseless world.

John Darnielle tells stories that make you care so deeply about the people in them that when Darnielle begins to scrape away the layers of grit and glory, you sink deeply, helplessly into their psyche and hope things turn out fine, knowing they probably won't. You find them in his songs as The Mountain Goats, and his novels Wolf In White Van and Universal Harvester. It's not hard to be a John Darnielle fan — and once you're in, you never leave.

Composer Hans Zimmer and Radiohead have teamed up to reimagine the band's song "Bloom," taken from 2011's The King of Limbs. The new version, much slower and sparer than the original, has been retitled "ocean (Bloom)" and was recomposed to soundtrack the upcoming BBC documentary Blue Planet II.

Radiohead shared a trailer with the music this morning on Twitter.

"Open your mouth wide," sings Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke over stunning, underwater footage of sea life. "The universal sigh / And while the ocean blooms / It's what keeps me alive."

The power in Wild Beasts' music has always been the drama, a dynamic seduced by complicated notions of sex and masculinity. Over 13 years and five albums, the English band has morphed from broody art-punk to, well, broody synth-pop, all the while finding beauty in dimly lit corners.

Jhené Aiko is not of this world.

Somewhere between pop-oriented R&B and traditional soul, the singer-songwriter floats like an ethereal voice disembodied from typical format and genre distinctions. So when we talk one week prior to the unannounced release of her epic new album, it comes as no surprise that she's much more interested in easing into the big reveal rather than making a huge splash.

Shilpa Ray is nothing if not honest. Her new album, Door Girl, captures New York nightlife in all its sordid, sweaty chaos and supplies caustic commentary on life in the unfeeling city.

It's one thing to be a Hollywood actor who can respectably warble your way through a karaoke scene now and then. It's another to be able to perform the lead in a Broadway production of a Stephen Sondheim musical. Sondheim's melodies are complicated, the vocal ranges they require are considerable, and the surprises buried in them are startling. They require not only a lot of sound, but a belly full of feeling.

The first time I saw the soulful singer Moses Sumney was in a church in Iceland. The Los Angeles-based singer was laying down loops with his guitar, and the sounds that day made and the songs that he sang had me eager to hear an entire album from this talented man.

When Leon Russell died last November, the 74-year-old star was recuperating from heart surgery and itching to get back out on the road. So it's no surprise that Russell — whose music fused soul, rock, gospel and country — left behind an impressive batch of songs that hadn't yet seen release. On Friday, 10 months after his death, On a Distant Shore continues a recorded legacy that hasn't dimmed.

Whether fronting the blazing punk band Vexx or the synth-pop duo CC Dust, Mary Jane Dunphe inhabits her projects with a knurly otherworldliness — her voice contorts and screams like an alien sent to reset the planet with rock 'n' roll. Bedridden by an ankle injury in the winter of 2016, she teamed up with friend Chris McDonnell (Trans FX) to write a batch of country-rock songs that buck like an old pickup.

Björk's latest song, like much of the Icelandic singer's work, is strangely seductive. "The Gate" heaves and sighs with spare arrangements of strings and woodwinds before expanding magnificently in a bloom of warped electronics that sound a lot like the work of dubstep artist Burial.

"I care for you" Björk trills, over and over. "Split into many parts / Splattered light beams into prisms that will reunite if you care for me."

Half-Light, the debut solo release from former Vampire Weekend producer and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, is one of the year's most arresting albums. Its breathtaking choral and string arrangements, idiosyncratic beats and intricate wordplay make it practically impossible to hear without giving it your undivided attention.

Sometimes there's nothing better than dancing away your heartbreak. Novelty Daughter — or Brooklyn-based jazz-electronic-pop musician Faith Harding — knows as much. "U Want What I Want," the first single from her forthcoming, self-released album Inertia, is a plaintive piece of forlorn dance-pop.

Okovi, the latest full-length from Zola Jesus, is a monstrously tortured album, built with densely layered grief and pain. Nika Roza Danilova, who's been writing and recording as Zola Jesus since releasing her debut in 2009, bares her most vulnerable thoughts and feelings as she sings about serial killers, suicide, crushing depression and fear. At times, even Danilova admits the songs are hard to hear.

If you haven't heard "Namesake," one of the many wildly joyous highlights of Tunde Olaniran's 2015 debut Transgressor, take a few minutes to listen before proceeding with... well, anything in your life. A boundlessly inventive ode to individuality, it sounds, appropriately enough, like nothing else.

Last week, All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and I took note of an article from The Guardian examining something within music that's uniquely byzantine: the practice of giving guest artists credits in song titles. You've no doubt seen some variation of it — "Song Title (feat. An Artist)." It's something that should be fairly straightforward, no? Well, no.

Singer Dave Matthews, who formed his band in Charlottesville, Va. in 1991, will host a benefit concert for the city following last month's violent protests there. Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Pharrell, Chris Stapleton, The Roots and Brittany Howard of The Alabama Shakes are slated to perform, along with other not-yet-named special guests.

Recording under the name Silver Torches, Seattle singer-songwriter Erik Walters specializes in smart and melancholy Americana — the sort of stuff that ought to be catnip to fans of, say, Ryan Adams or late-period Paul Westerberg.

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