All Songs Considered

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.

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel aren't the first married couple to write songs about the challenges and celebrations inherent to lifelong love, but few focus more intently on a sense of play. Still, there's nothing naive or unrealistic about their songs: When they sing, "Love loud / Don't lose loud" in 2008's "The Re-Arranger," they're taking care to package a sweet little two-word slogan with a subtle but potent reminder that loving loudly is a job of endless maintenance.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside flyers that assume we have the means to acquire luxury items is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on the intensity of online backlash.

Andy S. writes via email: "Why do certain bands get singled out for seemingly out-of-proportion online hate? (See: Nickelback.)"

This week's guest Quizmaster is Kelly Olsen, drummer for the Philadelphia-based rock trio Cayetana. This is one of our favorite new bands of the past year. We featured Cayetana in a live concert webcast from New York during last fall's CMJ music festival, and most recently for their video for the song "Scott Get The Van, I'm Moving."

What goes on in your brain when you hear a new song? Is there a formula for what makes a perfect pop song? What's better, something brand new, or something familiar? It's nearly impossible to completely explain or understand why we like the music we like. But Susan Rogers, a music cognition expert and associate professor of music production and engineering at the Berklee College of Music, gets closer to making sense of it than we've heard before.

For a solid decade, Washington, D.C. was firmly on the map as the punk capital of the nation. During the 1980s, you could see Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Fugazi and Mission Impossible (featuring a 16-year-old Dave Grohl) in DIY spaces all over town. And what made it vital and game changing was that do-it-yourself ethos: no corporate anything, no major labels, just kids burning with energy, rage and creativity.

Every Thursday this year we're celebrating All Songs Considered's 15th birthday with personal memories and highlights from the show's decade and a half online and on the air. If you have a story about the show you'd like to share, drop us an email:

On today's All Songs Considered, we're hitting you with several premieres, beginning a heavy cut from My Morning Jacket's latest studio album, The Waterfall. On "Believe (Nobody Knows)," front man Jim James seeks meaning and truth in an uncertain world, while hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton consider a life of possibilities.

KEN mode has always been a noise-rock band that could hang with the metal crowd. The Winnipeg trio often bolsters its heavy, angular riffs with burly bass lines and muscular drumming, and knows when to bring the grind. But with its sixth album, Success, KEN mode scales back its metallic tendencies to bring it all back home to the sort of treble-heavy freakouts found on albums by Cop Shoot Cop, Drive Like Jehu and Big Black.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside bales of deep-discounted Easter candy is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on buskers, tipping and etiquette.

Holly R. writes via email: "How much of a tip is good for the street-side musician with a cup at his feet? What about for one playing in a bar?"

Record Store Day is that magical day each spring (this year it's Saturday, April 18) when geeks like us line up outside their favorite music shops to get their hands on a bunch of vinyl exclusives. These are the albums, EPs and singles bands and labels put out just to celebrate the day.

It took seven years for Robotic Empire to finish its tribute to Nirvana's In Utero, featuring covers by Thursday, Jay Reatard, Ceremony and Thou. With a lineup like that, it's no wonder the vinyl sold out quickly on Record Store Day.