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All Songs Considered

Sometimes all you need for a banging dance track is an unstoppable rhythm and a nuanced hook. Tweak the hook every couple bars, don't mess with the beat too much, and you've got a potential stomper on your hands.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the ironic promotional cassingles is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how a regretful fan of vinyl records can re-create her discarded collection.

Kirsten Elbourne Mathieson writes: "I'm big-time regretting getting rid of all of my record albums years ago. Any advice for someone starting from scratch with vinyl after all these years? What albums must be heard on vinyl rather than CD/digital?"

In the latest video from Seattle-based pop masters Telekinesis, for the song "Empathetic People," frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner ambles into an abandoned record-pressing factory and gets it running again. It's a curious glimpse into one of the last gasps of industry keeping music tethered to the physical world.

In the seven months since Gary Clark, Jr. released his major label debut, Blak and Blu, he's played for the President at the White House with Mick Jagger and blues legend B.B.

This week, All Songs Considered goes big with massive, heart-thumping new music from the gloriously exuberant, sprawling pop group The Polyphonic Spree, and the brilliantly experimental folk-rock band Akron Family. We also check out a gritty album from a Swedish group known as Goat, whose music is part prog-rock, part Afro-pop and undeniably awesome.

Sadie Dupuis: rock 'n' roll camp counselor, poet, songwriter, snack enthusiast. If you don't already want to be her best friend based on that description, Dupuis' solo-moniker-turned-band Speedy Ortiz captures the nonsensical wit of Stephen Malkmus, but is simultaneously ballsier and more self-deprecating.

If this song had just the tubular bells at the top and then that Motown guitar riff, I'd have been hooked and happy. But then, along comes Sharon Jones, the brilliant, powerful soul singer, and the song explodes. "Retreat!" is the perfect marriage of singer, song and band. A lot has happened to Sharon Jones and Bushwick's brilliant professors of soul, the Dap-Kings, in the three years since they last recorded. They played the Apollo, the Hollywood Bowl, Sydney Opera House and SXSW. And they've just gotten stronger and stronger.

A is for Alpine and it's also the name of Alpine's debut album. Alpine is a six-piece ensemble from Australia with an airy sound led by singers Phoebe Baker and Lou James. The group's album, A is for Alpine, has been out in their home since 2012, but it arrives in the U.S. on May 21.

The Handsome Family, the wife and husband duo of Rennie Sparks (vocals, bass and banjo) and Brett Sparks (vocals, guitar and keyboards), love telling stories, and they've been doing it in song for 20 years. A new album, Wilderness, is out May 14, and "Woodpecker," a song from the album, tells a fascinating tale about Mary Sweeney, who, in the 1890's, was known as the Wisconsin Window Smasher.

"'The World Is Changing' is groove with a message." That quote, a pretty good summary of the music of Femi Kuti in just nine words, comes from Juan Gélas, the creative director of a new video for Kuti's new song. Femi Kuti is a saxophonist, trumpeter, keyboard player and singer and songwriter. The son of legendary afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, he carries on the tradition of mixing Nigerian beats along with jazz and a healthy dose of politics. Juan Gélas says, "Femi Kuti continues to be a leading protest artist out of modern Africa and his voice talks to us all."

Chuck Johnson Plays A Raga That Rages

May 3, 2013

American Primitive music is flourishing right now. Electric and acoustic guitarists like William Tyler, Steve Gunn and Glenn Jones all have stellar releases out or on the way in 2013, and each digs different paths into this blues-based style.

Pete Lawrie Winfield makes music as Until The Ribbon Breaks, stark music with a good deep vibe; Massive Attack or James Blake would be good touchstones. Until The Ribbon Breaks doesn't have much music out yet, but "Pressure," a new song, has urgency. "'Pressure' was written at a time of upheaval and transition for me," Winfield writes. "I was sleeping at my studio and had no idea what I was going to do next.

First Watch: Kurt Vile, 'Never Run Away'

May 2, 2013

Kurt Vile is sometimes known as a shredder, which isn't exactly right. His guitar playing is accomplished, but it doesn't blow your hair back so much as wrap it gently in a worn, sun-bleached kerchief.

Deafheaven makes music that's both intensely personal and incredibly universal. Its excellent 2011 debut, Roads to Judah, was a blast-beaten, shoegaze-indebted metal record that felt perfectly of its moment. With the new Sunbather coming up so quickly, I wondered where primary members George Clarke (vocals) and Kerry McCoy (guitar) could take a band with such an immediate sound. Apparently, I needn't look further than the Internet.

He's 66 years old, has beaten his body beyond belief and Iggy Pop will still out-rock you. We kick this week's All Songs Considered off with a cut from his new record with The Stooges, Ready To Die. Hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton chat about Iggy and the rest of this week's mix from different cities.

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.

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