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All Songs Considered

Bands That Should Be Bigger

Nov 20, 2012

The halls of music history are littered with bands that should have made it big, but never did. Maybe they put out a couple of amazing records and you feel like you're the only person on the planet who appreciated them. Or maybe they're still trying, and you're holding out hope, along with the band, that that big break will finally come.

I first saw this guitar and drums duo last month, in their home town of Asheville, N.C. during Moogfest. The festival is often thought of as just an electronic music festival and it does skew in that direction, but it primarily celebrates the creative souls in music and in doing so honors the spirit of electronic music pioneer Robert Moog. The sonic palette of guitarist Shane Perlowin and drummer Ryan Oslance certainly fits that description.

Got a question you'd like the All Songs gang to consider? Leave it in the comments below or drop us an email: allsongs@npr.org.

Is music part of your Thanksgiving holiday? Will you be battling dad for control of the family speakers? Or is it a war between the siblings?

Erin McKeown's music is a bit hard to describe. It is music and lyrics with meaning so it makes me think, but it's also playful and so it makes me smile. I'll have another chance to hear it soon, since Erin has made a new record, called MANIFESTRA. The album, her seventh, was funded by her fan base via PledgeMusic and will be out on January 15. Today we premiere her song, "Jailer."

Stop motion with live actors is nothing new in music videos. The Beatles did it nearly 50 years ago for the film A Hard Days Night. Peter Gabriel's 1986 "Sledgehammer" video is still mind-blowing. But few have done it as elegantly as Canadian rock duo The Zolas do for the band's mesmerizing, and amazing new video, "Knot In My Heart."

First Watch: Miguel, 'The Thrill (Live)'

Nov 15, 2012

This is a languid gem of a song paired with very disturbing video. The music, "Even If We Try," is by Night Beds, the project of Winston Yellen. Yellen is a Colorado Springs musician now making his home in Nashville. In fact the songs on the debut album from Night Beds, Country Sleep, were written and partially recorded in Tennessee at the former Sycamore Homestead in Tennessee of Johnny Cash.

Bob Boilen has had a ban on seeing arena rock shows for more than 30 years, but it may ending. He recently saw The Who at a mega-dome concert, performing one of Bob's favorite albums in its entirety. On this edition of All Songs Considered, hear a cut from that record and why Bob loves it so much.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the press releases and urgent pleas from deposed Nigerian dictators is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, as discussed this week, our interactions with those around us.

Joanna Groom asks: "How do you maintain your dignity as a music snob without alienating others?"

Song Premiere: The SteelDrivers, 'I'll Be There'

Nov 13, 2012

Endless love is not always a good thing,, as some of pop's best kinda creepy songs attest. "You'll find some things you can't leave behind," roars Gary Nichols, leading the harmony rush in "I'll Be There," the aggressively haunting song from daring bluegrass outfit The SteelDrivers.

Which thing is true?

Ra Ra Riot has experienced constant change in its six-year existence, from commercial success and an aborted label deal to the 2007 death of drummer John Pike. But the band's sound has never shifted as radically as it does on its new album, Beta Love, which comes out Jan. 22. With the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn — there's that constant change again — Ra Ra Riot shifts gears once more, dialing down the string arrangements in favor of a more synth-driven sound.

I've seen thousands of concerts over the years but none of them, since 1978, have been in an arena. I never had that eureka moment, I just stopped going. That means for 34 years, I've passed on major, monster acts. No McCartney, no Springsteen, no U2 and no Led Zeppelin (that one hurts the most).

Who says a rock 'n' roll queen can't do country? Not Wanda Jackson. Best known as a rockabilly pioneer and original FOE (Friend of Elvis — she toured with him in 1955), the 75-year-old Oklahoma native has always had a thing for twang, too. Rock fans who've recently discovered Jackson know her for ravers like 1960's "Let's Have a Party. Last year, the Jack White-produced The Party Ain't Over caught that fiery spirit and ran with it.

Song Premiere: Kowloon Walled City, 'Cornerstone'

Nov 9, 2012

There's a special place in my heart for sad bastards who howl through crushingly loud amp stacks. Dinosaur Jr, Hüsker Dü and Warning, for example, all offer opportunities to stare weepily out the window while subtly banging your head. But not enough heavy bands seeking the musical equivalent of failure-through-distortion follow the hung-head example of the Athens, Ga., trio Harvey Milk.

From the opening chugging guitar sound, this song could only be The Rolling Stones. For the first time in seven years, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood got together to record two new songs, and you can hear "One More Shot," which was recorded in Paris with Don Was producing, right here.

I saw forty shows during the CMJ Music Marathon this year, and the one by the Brooklyn-based band People Get Ready was by far the most creative. Part of what I love about the band is the way its members think outside the box ... way outside the box. For brevity, I'll describe People Get Ready, led by guitarist, dancer and choreographer Steven Reker, as an indie-rock-performing-art-dance troupe. This is magical musical theater.

I first found the music of Gashcat buried among 2,000 other songs in a playlist NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson put together to help us prepare for South By Southwest earlier this year. I assumed I wouldn't like them and only listened because I thought the name was ridiculous. Gashcat. What does that even mean?

Host Bob Boilen has been on the road having way too much fun. (CMJ Music Marathon, Moogfest, Peter Gabriel).

Ben Sollee is not only an unconventional cellist, but also an unconventional human being. Recently, he took his cello, walked up the long steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the mall in D.C. (along with the Mason Jar Music film crew) and began to perform. It's not legal to do that, but like I said, Ben Sollee — the guy who bikes his cello across the country — is not a follower. The following video captures the moments in the shadow of Lincoln amid a throng of tourists.

From Ben Sollee:

Here's a puzzle: You're a not particularly well-known rapper with a couple of albums under your belt, trying to introduce yourself to a wider audience. You've got a song with a harp sample and lyrics with a wide range of references that include Afrika Bambaataa, Cash Money Records, Rammellzee, Burt Bacharach, the Brill Building, Zola Jesus, Human League, outrageously expensive high-fashion brands like Prada and Balenciaga and low-budget but prolific art collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

Alt-J is a quirky band that, over the past few months, has found its way to the top of my listening pile and is now my favorite album of the year. I'm not alone. Yesterday alt-J's album, An Awesome Wave, won the Mercury Prize. This choice prize for bands in Great Britain is selected by music journalists and other music business folks and often goes to underdogs. This year is no exception.

Pere Ubu made some of the darkest and most creative music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thirty five years after its release, The Modern Dance would easily make my top 10 of all time. We hear the word "industrial" bandied about to describe music — The Modern Dance exemplified that genre.

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a confetti cannon. But even more so, I love it when visuals draw me into a song. It doesn't happen often, but this video for the song "Red Hands" by Walk Off The Earth had me scratching my head wondering how it was done while it kept me smiling at the same time.

It's not the first time this band has made me smile. Earlier this year this Canadian band gathered round a single acoustic guitar and recorded themselves playing a cover version of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" that has now been watched 138 million times.

The Best Of Moogfest 2012

Oct 31, 2012

Song Premiere: Ilsa, 'Fluid Bound'

Oct 31, 2012

Ilsa makes no secret of reveling in debauchery and exploitation flicks, so Intoxicantations is a perfectly clever title for the band's new album. The word-mash is a little hokey, like a B-movie with a lot of blood and bare-chested women, but still a line every metalhead or pulp comic-book writer will wish he'd thought of first. But even the most awesomely gruesome titles and covers need real guts (spilling out or otherwise), and with "Fluid Bound," the Washington, D.C., metal band drips with demented horror.

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