All Songs Considered

Gloom can be thrilling. No, really. Rev up a morose guitar riff swirled in reverb with a mean rhythm section, and suddenly a dank basement show throbs. That's where Cleveland's Pleasure Leftists thrive, with former members of the hardcore bands 9 Shocks Terror and Homostupids joined by vocalist Haley Morris.

After a series of singles and EPs, "Protection" comes from the post-punk band's debut album, The Woods Of Heaven. It's a moody, relentlessly driving track with some glammy, palm-muted flair, spun out of orbit by a warbly bass line and vocals that wail sky-high.

Partnerships between well-known musicians often result in unequal collaborations: One voice, usually the singer's, winds up dominating. So it's refreshing to hear "Return To The Moon," the first released song by a project called EL VY.

Look at the liner notes to any record by The Go-Betweens, and every song is co-credited "R. Forster/G. McLennan." Perhaps it was out of mutual respect, perhaps it was out of creative solidarity, but as with "Lennon/McCartney," fans of the Australian rock band could always tell who wrote what song; Grant McLennan and Robert Forster's distinct songwriting, vocal and guitar personalities were always on full display.

Lou Barlow has always been a restless - often anxious - old soul. In three decades of making music, first with Dinosaur Jr., later with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, the guitarist and songwriter has tried to make sense of his place in the world with a prolific run of spare, emotionally raw, and plain-spoken songs.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the brick-sized bale of bills that arrived during our recent vacation is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on how to play DJ from the passenger seat of a friend's car.

Sometimes rock 'n' roll can be a load of bull, gamed by release schedules, promotion cycles and Twitter beefs that turn as tepid as a beer left swimming in a swampy cooler all night. Featuring two guys who've been through the grind — Zak Sally played bass with Low in the '90s and Dale Flattum was in Steel Pole Bath Tub — and Gay Witch Abortion drummer Shawn Walker, The Hand has decided to cut through it all: no records, no tours, no studios, just dirty, full-throttle rock 'n' roll how they want it, when they want it.

"It's all love songs this time," says Mac DeMarco when we connect over Skype (cell reception at his place in Far Rockaway, Queens, is spotty) to talk about Another One, his latest mini-album. Make that love songs with little problems: Each of the songs on this charming, scruffy collection takes on love that's just out of reach, whether it's doomed from the start or just run its course. "It's just kind of like every angle of how somebody might feel if they're having strange feelings in their chest," DeMarco says.

Recommended Dose, our monthly column of the best in underground dance music, took June off while we argued over our favorite tracks of the first half of 2015. (You can see them here and listen to them here.) So we broke the rules and included a few cuts from June that we didn't hear while hunkered down in the NPR Music war room.

Guest DJ: Leon Bridges

Jul 28, 2015

The first line of Palehound's "Cushioned Caging" begins in the middle of a thought. "And when the organ starts a-playin," sings frontwoman Ellen Kempner, whose voice arrives in a crashing wave of sound after a twangy, beachy one-chord intro. It sends a message that resonates through the rest of the too-brief song: This ain't the half of it.

I'd never imagined a great song poet writing "Getting Ready to Get Down," but there we have it. It's a hard and humorous look at religion, sex and a "risky" teenager becoming herself despite Bible school intervention. I talked with Josh Ritter about this song, and you can hear that interview and the song here or subscribe to the All Songs Considered podcast.

The guitars that open "Rider of Days," the first single from folk giant Patty Griffin's forthcoming album Servant of Love, take a moment to come into focus. They swim up from silence and surface just in time for Griffin's unmistakable voice to arrive and settle over them. Everything about "Rider of Days" is a slow burn, in the same way a victory lap is taken slower than the rest of the race.

Sufjan Stevens told the Newport Folk Festival crowd that this was his dream come true. What he never would have imagined in his wildest of dreams was that his performance was to follow a surprise performance from James Taylor. He was humbled to play after "Sweet Baby James," but honestly, his songs carry a power similar to that of Taylor's for a new generation of folk music fans.

The most puzzling musician on the lineup at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival was easily Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. For me, Pink Floyd represents the antithesis of folk music, with the band's psychedelic pulsating landscapes and big rock drums and guitars. Out there and psychedelic, yeah — down home and folky, nope.

A Playlist For Newborns

Jul 24, 2015

On last week's All Songs +1, we shared the songs we think make a great introduction to the world of music for a newborn child.

We also asked you to share the first song you think a newborn should hear. Your picks spanned hundreds of years and nearly as many genres, from stirring orchestral works by Beethoven and Mahler to classics by Louis Armstrong and John Denver and softer songs by contemporary artists like My Morning Jacket and Phosphorescent.

Well, Drum Fill Friday is back after a two-month break, during which I changed an unimaginable number of diapers (on paternity leave) and spent many sleepless nights staring wide-eyed into the middle distance while holding a screaming baby. But in those rare quiet moments, when I was able to put on some tunes, I was busy taking notes with my brain pen whenever I heard a jammin' drum fill.

UPDATE: The Newport Folk Festival has wrapped up until next year. Follow NPR Music on Facebook and Twitter and you'll be alerted when we publish select sets from the festival this week.

NPR Music went to the Newport Folk Festival this weekend to record sets from Courtney Barnett, Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow, Lord Huron, Luluc and more. We'll publish the recordings early next week. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for live updates, photos and videos from the grounds.

All Songs At 15: I'd Like To Thank My Producer ...

Jul 23, 2015

All Songs Considered has been on a Guest DJ kick over the past few weeks. In two of our most recent sessions with Kate Tempest and SOAK, I noticed how both artists spoke about their producer reverently and at length. On each of their debut albums, they said, a producer helped shape a messy collection of songs into a coherent musical work.

It's been four years since James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg released Avos. The understated acoustic guitar duo record was exceptionally conceived and played, especially given that it was the first time the two met.

The Lamborghini Countach was one of the most outrageous supercars ever made. It's an ergonomic nightmare, a pain in the ass to get into, has zero tolerance for pedestrian (hell, vehicular) safety and yet ... it's still so awesome. Those defiantly sharp angles, that ludicrous speed, that rip-roaring engine — that's also not a bad way to describe Brooklyn's STATS.

We kick off this week's All Songs Considered with new music from Wilco. The band surprised fans by dropping a new album out of the blue late last week. It's called ... wait for it ... Star Wars, and Wilco is letting everyone download it for free from the group's website (for a month). But don't let the playful name fool you. Star Wars is one of Wilco's trippiest, most inventive and surprising releases in 20 years of making music.

Julien Baker started making her own music as a way to stay creative during the school year at Middle Tennessee State University. (MTSU is in Murfreesboro, and her band Forrister is Memphis-based.) It's this music-as-exercise mentality that lends her debut album Sprained Ankle the starkness and intimacy of a note to self.

Myrkur's Amalie Bruun makes black metal that is at once savage and sylvan, capable of harrowing violence one moment and beauty the next. Last year's self-titled EP was full of unharnessed promise, but with members of Mayhem and producer Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg (whose mid-'90s work with Ulver no doubt informs Myrkur), the forthcoming M gives body to the Nordic folk song, choral arrangements and shoegaze that haunt Bruun's music.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shipment of cat sedatives that have us pondering just how often we order shipments of cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on sedating children (not cats) via music.

Eagles drummer, singer-songwriter and producer Don Henley is back with his first solo album in 15 years.

Chvrches Tease New Album With 'Leave A Trace'

Jul 16, 2015

There is an unrequited yearning to Red River Dialect's music that's steadfastly pinned to hearts as they run every which way. That feeling is even written into the English band's album title, Tender Gold and Gentle Blue, descriptive colors that are warm and inviting but also vulnerable and given to telling hard truths.

Singer-songwriter Soren Bryce sounds like the type who has more ideas than there are minutes in a day. It's a particular kind of creative person: A novelist who wakes up with words ready to pour out, a painter who sketches compulsively on any available surface, a songwriter who rises in the middle of the night to capture a somnial melody. Bryce, who at 18 has taught herself six instruments and was classically trained on two others, seems to have the gene.