All Songs Considered

Songs We Love: Anna B Savage, '1'

May 26, 2015

Listening to Anna B Savage's music is like being told a secret. Very little information has been released about the London singer-songwriter, which adds to the mystique wrought by her husky, confessional voice. Every aspect of Savage's aesthetic is spare, from the title of her first single, "1," to the title of her debut EP, EP, to her lyrics, which offer piercingly honest insight into the scourge of insecurities faced by a pair of lovers revealing themselves to each other for the first time.

May is international drum month! To celebrate, we bring you a discussion in percussion with a group of guys who will bang on almost anything (including a cactus). The members of Sō Percussion are the guest quizmasters for this week's Drum Fill Friday.

Even if you don't know anything about jazz, it's quite possible you've heard the music of saxophonist Kamasi Washington: That's him on the latest albums by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. But that's only the very tip of his iceberg.

Karen Dalton's career was built on covering the songs of others. Patty Griffin writes songs that others famously cover. Both artists are considered masters of their respective crafts by their peers, but neither is a household name. Each has a voice that sounds like it couldn't possibly be made by the person making it.

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Cate Le Bon wrote some of my favorite words of 2013 on her album Mug Museum. White Fence is the swirly psych-like music of Tim Presley. Cate and Tim are friends — Cate played guitar on a tour with White Fence — and so now there's this: DRINKS.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

This week's Drum Fill Friday comes from Guest Quizmaster Hanna Brewer, drummer for the Texas party-rock group Purple. The group is known for its rowdy live shows and healthy sense of humor, and is currently on tour for its debut album, (409).

Brewer, who also sings for Purple, shared a range of her own influences for this week's puzzler, from hip-hop to reggae, rock and pop. I'd give it three drum sticks out of five for difficulty. As always, good luck, careful listeners!

While they're not splitting open a person's chest and massaging their heart back to life, musicians and the songs they make may actually be saving lives.

When Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released its self-titled debut record in 2005, it became one of the first albums to break big because of the Internet. The band recorded and released it on its own, without any label support, and shared it on the group's website, where fans picked it up and quickly spread the word.

I've been a fan of Laura Burhenn since we met at NPR's studios with her band Georgie James eight years ago. Her pop wisdom and desire to push her limits have produced some great music, especially the past two Mynabirds records.

On our show this week, bigger is better. We start with a pop anthem and feature a set of artists all leaning into or newly discovering their boldest, most attention-grabbing music yet. Some, as in the case of a frontman gone solo and a bilingual saxophone-heavy punk band, deliver precisely the momentous sounds we'd expect. Others used the pull of memory, a desperate four-month stretch of insomnia, or a single shared microphone and two minutes of trippy ambience to level up their sonic ambitions.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a backup pallet of kennel-grade cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on when music might stand between life and death.

Ann L. writes via email: "Can a song really save your life?"

This week Bob Boilen and I and a handful of other people from NPR Music got to see Sufjan Stevens in concert. It was a life-changing performance — one we'll all remember for many years.

Mother's Day is back again (it's this coming Sunday) to remind you to do something nice for your mom. But maybe you don't need a commercial holiday to think about your mother and all she's done (or hasn't done) for you. Maybe all it takes is a song. If so, we want to know what it is. What song reminds you of your mother every time you hear it? Tell us in the form below. We'll talk more about it and make a playlist of some of the picks in this week's Plus One podcast.

Sharon Van Etten could sing the instruction manual for a dishwasher and make it sound like lyrical poetry. Over the course of four full-lengths, her voice has only evolved and grown both bolder and more nuanced. Van Etten plays every word like an instrument, bending one note into the next with a woozy purr that's sometimes sensual, sometimes heartbreaking but always arresting.

Tuva Lodmark and Nella Daltrey, the pair of 22-year-old Swedes who together make up the minimalist-rock duo Pale Honey, have been making music together since elementary school. Their latest music is quite spare – they turn it up every now and then with some great distortion, but usually it's simple, propulsive synth lines paired with strummed guitar and an understated beat. They remind me of The xx with a slightly elevated pulse.

Singer Jeen O'Brien has been around for a while, making music with a number of artists. She and Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene are in a band together called Cookie Duster. Don't ask me what a cookie duster is — I have no idea.

This week on All Songs Considered, we grapple with the alchemy of creation — the myriad ways a musician gets from blank page and empty studio to a full sound and lyrics that ring true. We were inspired in part by a show Bob saw recently by Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt, where he performed 26 songs, each based on a letter of the alphabet. (Merritt, whose projects are often governed by external limitations, claims that his best-known project, 1999's monumental triple album 69 Love Songs, took him only a year to write.)

When you're underwater, blurred images and sounds have a way of coming into their own focus. It's disconcerting at first: The current moves in an unknown rhythm, and then it becomes your center. That's where J.R. Bohannon's music undulates gracefully as Ancient Ocean. From his first offering on vinyl, Blood Moon, the 14-minute "Beargrass Creek" gently rocks to and fro, seeking rhythmic harmony in synths and strings.

It's hard to get your head around the amount of work it must have taken to make the new video for Son Lux's "Change Is Everything." Conceived and produced by The Made Shop, the whole thing was painstakingly pieced together entirely with a foam white board, a whole bunch of map pins and old-school stop motion animation.

When we asked listeners to tell us about a song they turned to this week — one that spoke in some way to weighty events unfolding around the world and how they felt — we weren't sure what we'd get. Would it be mostly songs of solace? Songs of grief, or anger?

Last week's Drum Fill Friday was a tough one: I'd give it four out of five stars for difficulty. One thing that's nice about the tougher games is that they can turn you on to some great songs and bands you've never heard before. That said, I tamed this week's puzzler a bit — more like two out of five stars — so hopefully you'll be a little more familiar with the fills, while still feeling challenged. As always, good luck, careful listeners!

This past week we held a listening party in Denver, and one of the songs we played for the crowd was Stephin Merrit's "Book Of Love," from his album 69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields. Our panelist, Amelia Mason, writer for WBUR's The ARTery, called it a perfect song, and many of us in the room agreed.

All Songs is a music podcast, and we like to have fun. But music can speak to significant political, cultural and social events that can be challenging to process on their own. Songs can spark a protest or offer peace of mind, or just be close companions.

Guys, the sticky is not the only thing on Weedeater's mind. Truth is, these Southern sludge rabble-rousers have been through some hard times — health scares, a lost member — but that doesn't shake up their fifth album, Goliathan. At 1:47, "Bully" isn't technically Weedeater's shortest song (if you count intros and interludes), but is a squirrely sludge-punk bruiser with bassist Dixie Dave cackling like a supervillain.

Why do we like falsetto so much? Why is melody the single most important part of a song? And why does country music move (or repel) us? These are just a few of the questions that popped up during our All Songs Considered listening party in Boston last week.

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