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All Songs Considered

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

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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.

We got a lot of great suggestions when we asked readers to tell us their picks for the perfect pair of headphones last week. We also learned a lot. For example, you all know way more about this than I do.

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The Keaton Henson who appears on the new album Birthdays is an avowed hermit with a profoundly broken heart. He also has one of the most beautiful voices I've heard. The 24 year-old singer from London, who says he rarely leaves his bedroom, bares his wrecked emotional remains in an arresting new video for the song "You."

I love live music. But figuring out who's coming to town and when and where isn't so easy. I could go to every club's website to compile a list of upcoming shows, but that'd be cumbersome. Newspaper listing are often incomplete, don't look ahead and certainly don't filter or highlight who's in town based on my musical tastes.

"The video has a puzzle structure: the whole story progressively makes sense to the viewer as minutes go by."

10 Great Album Art Fake-Outs

Mar 28, 2013

This week, the Strokes put out the new album Comedown Machine, the band's fifth collection of wiry, tightly-produced throwback rock.

Let's get this out of the way: VHÖL includes members of bands that have put out some of my favorite metal albums of the last few years. Guitarist John Cobbett and bassist Sigrid Sheie are in Hammers of Misfortune, Mike Scheidt fronts YOB, and Aesop Dekker drums for Agalloch (among many other bands).

Even in still moments, particles incite microscopic riots. Brooklyn-via-Boston composer and multi-instrumentalist Ashley Paul is used to making a huge racket, most regularly with her husband Eli Keszler. On her Line the Clouds, there's tension in patience as she navigates a singer-songwriter's reactions.

The brand new video for Phosphorescent's "Song For Zula," from the band's sixth album, Muchacho, forgoes a literal illustration of song's heartbroken story for something more allegorical. In a single slow-motion tracking shot, the camera approaches a distant figure dressed in rags, bashing at chains that hold her to the ground.

I've been buying headphones for 30 years now, have owned more they I can possibly remember and still haven't found the perfect pair. I must chew through one or two sets a year in a never-ending, desperate (and futile) search to find the right acoustics, feel and functionality. I've tried in-ear buds, over-the-ear hooks, full-sized cans and wireless. Some sound great but fit horribly. Or the fit is perfect but the sound too tinny, or the controls don't quite work. The truth is, I hate headphones, especially because I hate being tethered to my stereo. It's like wearing a leash.

On this edition of All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton share some final discoveries from this year's South by Southwest music festival, including the British noise-rock group Savages and Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, the Swiss-German pop pair that records and performs as Boy.

This is the most exciting new Sigur Rós song I've heard in a long time, and I love the band's music. "Brennisteinn" (sulfur) is a remarkably aggressive piece of music for musicians who can sound so ethereal: Dreamy elements remain, but they provide an underpinning rather than driving the pulse of the song.

Some songwriters are so adept at capturing the mess and miracle of everyday emotion that their work resonates as exceptionally truthful. John Grant is one of those. In recent years, the 44-year-old former frontman for Colorado rock band the Czars has produced two exceptional collections of funny, brutal, nuanced songs — 2010's collaboration with the band Midlake, Queen of Denmark, and now Pale Green Ghosts, which will be released in the U.S. on May 14.

The musicians in Paperhaus live in my hometown of Washington, D.C., so I've seen this dynamic band more than a few times. In fact, they put on some of the best house concerts in the city, over a hundred of them at their own venue, also called the Paperhaus, so I've seen them both in clubs and their intimate living room.

SXSW 2013: Day Five Highlights

Mar 18, 2013

As the 2013 South by Southwest festival was winding to a noisy end — sirens, car horns and even a helicopter passed could be heard on the streets of Austin, Texas — there were plenty of smaller, quieter moments worth singling out. On the festival's final night, the All Songs Considered gang gathered to talk about what they saw, heard and felt during their last few hours in Austin.

SXSW 2013: Day Five In Photos

Mar 17, 2013

It's the last day of SXSW and now it's time to go on that smoothie detox to cleanse five days worth of BBQ, beer and breakfast tacos.

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