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All Songs Considered

My dreams are never like Chris Kittrell's "Sea Of Dreams," but I wish they were. Watching this animation will be as close as I get. Chris Kittrell is a founding member of the band Baby Alpaca, the director of the video for the band's song, "Sea of Dreams," and the source of the video's concept — or at least his unconscious mind was.

"I got the idea from a dream I had," Chris Kittrell writes. "The whole scene was very Dada-rock. Stage set out to sea. Time and objects drifting by. Guitar riffing in the air. I love how nonsense and intuition can lead to invention."

Ever walked into a nearly pitch-black room after roasting on sun-beaten asphalt, only to sweat it out with a host of the moshing unwashed? No? But what if candles were involved — would that make it classier? Granted, there's an antelope skull mounted on the candelabra, and there's some skin-crawling metallic noise gurgling from the backs-turned band members onstage. Maybe that's just a Thursday night for Dragged Into Sunlight. But it was also last year's setup for the experimental U.K.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the solicitations disguised as tax refunds is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, what role parents can and should play in teaching their kids about classic albums.

Music videos are like funny math, where 1+1=3. That is, images have a meaning on their own, music has a meaning when you listen to it alone, but put images and music together and something new is born. 1+1=3. Try it randomly: put on a piece of music and watch a cartoon or an old movie ... people did it famously with The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats: No Twisting, No Shouting

Apr 24, 2013

Among hell-raising tour stories and loving odes to his wife Sharon, there's a nugget in I Am Ozzy, the entertaining autobiography of the original Black Sabbath vocalist, that sticks with me: Ozzy Osbourne loves The Beatles. The Prince of Darkness, mind you. I kept that in mind while listening to "Valley of the Dolls" from Mind Control, the third album by the U.K. doom-metal band Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats.

On this week's All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton settle into the new NPR Music offices and discover that it comes with their very own butler. After bumbling around in the studio, they also manage to figure out all the new gear and share some great new music.

The songs of Yellow Red Sparks, a folk-pop trio based in California, are twisted tales told through cinematic, often epic orchestrations. In the group's spectacular and creepy new video, for the song "A Play To End All Plays," a couple's failed relationship is acted out like an old circus sideshow before a finger-wagging audience. Frontman Joshua Hanson, who appears as the play's host, indicts the lovers with a surprisingly infectious melody and old-timey instrumentation.

This past week we lost one of the greatest album cover art designers of all time. Britain's Storm Thorgerson, who died last Thursday, was just 69 years old. He'd spent more than 40 years designing and orchestrating some of the most iconic album covers of all time. Even if you don't know the name Storm Thorgerson, you know his work. That prism on the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon? That was his.

It's a perfect illustration of the current age of music fandom that this year's Record Store Day comes at the end of the week when Twitter introduced its music service — an online streaming music tool that tethers discovery to acquaintances who probably know your taste about as well as the checkout girl at the grocery store does.

Albums that act like sketchbooks can be brilliant in their own messy ways, with tossed-off riffs or unfinished beats that offer a glimpse into the creative process. The uncategorizable Wreck and Reference has released two weirdly heavy and unnerving records thus far — Black Cassette and Youth (pronounced "No Youth") — by scribbling together doom metal, industrial, drone, noise and whatever else with drums, guitar and a Korg sampler.

It was probably the best performance piece I've seen in more than a decade. Specific Ocean, a piece by the dance troupe/rock band People Get Ready, which I saw at the New York Live Arts theater in the fall, was a model for the ways musicians can break from the standard, sometimes boring, format of playing on a stage. Some of the songs from Specific Ocean ended up on the group's 2012 self-titled album. Now there's a video, a documentation of that amazing New York performance, featuring the song "Middle Name."

New Building, New Mix: Songs About Change

Apr 17, 2013

Glenn Jones' Bittersweet 'Farewell' To A Family Home

Apr 17, 2013

It's incredibly calming to watch Glenn Jones play acoustic guitar. Whether he's appearing by the train tracks or in one of our Tiny Desk Concerts, there's nothing flashy about his style, only careful consideration as he gently hops over the frets like a lily-padding frog.

"Deep inside the heart of this crazy mess, I'm only calm when I get lost within your wilderness."

That's a key line in this song, "Joy," by Iron and Wine, the project of Sam Beam. Sam is a songwriter who has a way of making the personal very universal. It's also the line that piqued the interest of director Hayley Morris, who made a video for "Joy." Morris writes to us:

There's something to be said for unconventional artists who can still connect to an audience. The band Broadcast funneled oddball library-catalog music through dreamy space-pop. Shabazz Palaces is hip-hop's cubist Sun Ra. Altar of Plagues, which works outside the roots of black metal, knows a thing or two about unconventional sounds. But the Irish band has, until now, strictly been a longform outfit, stretching drones and abrasive tones across sides of vinyl.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the fruit baskets welcoming us to our new office is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to reconcile a person you like with musical tastes you don't.

I first met Thao Nguyen in 2008, in the earliest days of the Tiny Desk Concert series. I was a big fan of her witty, catchy songs. After she finished playing the Tiny Desk, Thao said something that has endeared me to her forever. Walking toward the elevators on her way out of NPR, she said, "That was intimate and awkward ... a lot like my last boyfriend!"

Editor's note: NPR is moving from its longtime home of 635 Mass. Ave. in Washington, D.C. to new digs a few blocks away. All the planning and packing has made NPR Music's Robin Hilton a bit reflect-y on all the time he's spent with the old building.

Tom Angelripper has been a part of the brash German thrash-metal game for more than 30 years now. Sodom's damning 1989 anti-war screed, Agent Orange, is a bona fide classic, but the impeccably named bassist and vocalist still has plenty of targets to hit and thundering bass riffs to deploy. Therein comes crashing "Stigmatized" from Sodom's 14th studio album, Epitome of Torture.

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, Guest DJ

Apr 9, 2013

The Postal Service was a band for a generation — the soundtrack to romance, tears and friendship. More than a million people bought its first album, 2003's Give Up, then waited anxiously for a follow-up that never arrived.

There'd be nothing wrong with "one-hit wonder" status if the term didn't suggest some sort of creative limitation; if people didn't assume that one hit means only one good song. But for Sean Nelson and Harvey Danger, the 1998 smash "Flagpole Sitta" has had a way of overshadowing the superior but less widely heard material that followed. By the time Harvey Danger self-released the tremendous 2005 album Little By Little..., the group's incisive, catchy, thoughtful post-hit songs were known mostly to obsessives and cultists.

The new video for STRFKR's song "Beach Monster" is an absolute horror show disguised as a breezy day at the sea. The band members, decked out in matching Buddy Holly suits and glasses, play against an blank blue background while staring blankly into the camera. The scene is intercut with a smiling couple at the beach with two children who draw in the sand and uncover something deadly.

Cayucas Spins A Twinkly Summer Daydream

Apr 5, 2013

Consider the one-man band: those brainy, studio-savvy musicians who can get the right sound out of any instrument they pick up. Solitary reflection is a given in their process, and that helps make them natural vessels for songs about summer romance — the most poignant of which take place long after the fling is over and only the memories remain.

Think of Lord Huron as an imaginary world as much as a rock band. Bandleader Ben Schneider has created characters and stories that fit together within an entire narrative filled with mystique. It's a bit dreamlike. To get an idea of how many layers there are in Schneider's invention, look at this website for author George Ranger Johnson. According to the site, George Ranger Johnson lives in Tuscon, Ariz. and writes adventure novels whose titles are identical to the song titles of the band Lord Huron.

Singer and violinist Emily Wells was one of our favorite discoveries at last year's South by Southwest music festival. Her 2012 album Mama was a surprising and beautiful mix of hip-hop beats and strings, with folk-flavored pop arrangements. Now Wells is back with a re-imagined, all-acoustic version of Mama, with the songs stripped bare and her voice more fragile than ever.

I love the crazy surprises you get when two or more artists get together and turn their creative ideas over to one another. When the band Junip wrote the song "Your Life, Your Call," frontman José González says, it was meant to be an unambiguous meditation on growing up, moving on and taking responsibility for your life. But in the hands of video director Mikel Cee Karlsson, the song, from Junip's new self-titled album, takes on a whole new (and disturbing) meaning.

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