KTEP - El Paso, Texas

All Songs Considered

Around the NPR Music office we all swear like a twee version of Veep — but on-air and on-website we receive a tiny electric shock every time we try to spell out our favorite dirty words. (That's not true, but it's funny to think about.)

We're not quite to the halfway point of 2017 and we've already discovered dozens of new artists who've gone on to become a permanent part of our musical lives, from Diet Cig and Charly Bliss to Overcoats, Vagabon, This Is The Kit and many more. We'll define a "new" artist as someone who released their debut full-length in 2017. (If they haven't released a full album, an EP or single can count).

We get right down to business this week with the fantastic, frenetic pop of Guerilla Toss. The New York band has a new album on the way and recently released "Betty Dreams Of Green Men," a cut inspired by alien abduction, addiction and the obsessions that can consume a person's life.

The Southern dialect is a complex thing, especially when pouring out the mouths of three of the regions best rappers ever. From the marble-mouthed flow of trapper du jour Gucci Mane, to the elongated vowel sounds of the dearly departed Pimp C, to the sticky, multi-syllabic delivery of OutKast's most consistent player Big Boi, it comes in all drawls and colors.

SZA's CTRL is here, a resolutely confident and skillful R&B album that explores the notions of control and honesty, with thoughtful features from Travis Scott ("Love Galore"), Kendrick Lamar ("Doves In The Wind") and Isaiah Rashad ("Pretty Little Birds"). And it almost didn't happen.

There's a stunning project by a handful of music's current big-thinkers: composer Nico Muhly, songwriter and singer Sufjan Stevens and guitarist-composer Bryce Dessner of The National. The trio, along with percussionist James McAlister, have created Planetarium, an existential song cycle that confronts both the heavens and the human condition in a marriage of hypnotic sound and song.

If you've ever listened to The Marked Men or Radioactivity, Jeff Burke is a songwriter who knows his way around a power-pop-punched punk hook. The same goes for Japanese musician Yusuke Okada, who makes rollicking garage-rock with Suspicious Beasts. The cross-continental duo make hazy, flowery '60s psych with a bit of '80s jangle as Lost Balloons, their second album Hey Summer arriving just in time for long bike rides, long sips of sweet tea and staring at clouds.

Guest DJ: alt-J

Jun 6, 2017

alt-J's art-rock weaves dark, seductive and otherworldly tales that lean heavily on folk traditions — their version of "House of the Rising Sun," their inclusion of lines from the Irish tune "The Auld Triangle" in "Adeline" and the Shakespearean references in "3WW" come first to mind.

"Oh, these three worn words
Oh, that we whisper


Like the rubbing hands
Of tourists in Verona
I just want to love you in my own language"

I can see it now: Late summer, half-tipsy in the back of a cab at the end of a humid night, awkwardly making eye contact with other passengers in similar or more alcoholically dire situations. (What's that, half-price frosé all night? Better you than me.) Then a droning beat lulls me into that half-awake space? OK, whatever, another pop song on the radio.

Our 2017 Tiny Desk Contest has come to an end.

Rainer Maria's story began in Wisconsin and, at least for a time, ended in New York. In the interim, a span stretching from the mid-'90s to the mid-aughts, the band found and refined the sound it was born to play: a tense, wordy, emotionally wound-up bundle of jagged guitars, literary references and vocals that could harmonize beautifully or crash into each other discordantly. Rainer Maria's songs exuded raw, life-and-death drama befitting the group's youth, and every second felt unabashedly sincere.

The War On Drugs will release A Deeper Understanding, its fourth full-length, late this summer, coming three years after the band's previous album, Lost In The Dream.

The new album Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child) was never meant to be a tribute. Brandi Carlile is far too modest and clear-headed to puff herself up that way.

Sarah Kinlaw doesn't just want to play with your senses, she wants to illuminate them. The NYC-based musician and choreographer makes multimedia art that's tangibly, haptically intimate. She described one recent project as "sensorial pop," an equally apt umbrella for her solo debut as Kinlaw, a trigger for every body.

A couple of weeks ago I snuck a Harry Styles cut on the show, to see if I could trick Bob Boilen into loving the One Direction singer's solo effort by not telling him who it was. (It didn't work).

Matt Pond PA has been churning out charming power-pop songs for nearly 20 years — a run that will extend to 12 full-length albums when the band releases Still Summer on August 11. Its arrival will mark a major milestone in a long and creatively fruitful career: Once tours for the new record have run their course, singer-songwriter Matt Pond is effectively breaking up the band, dropping the "PA" and carrying forward with new projects.

Musicians cover each other's songs often enough that the results rarely qualify as news. But covering a whole album, song for song? That's a labor of love ambitious enough to warrant attention.

Carly Rae Jepsen, the pop star of our hearts, voices Odette in the animated film Leap!, which will see U.S. distribution in September. Her character is a caretaker who coaches a young girl (voiced by Elle Fanning) to become a ballerina in Paris. I sense whimsy and heartfelt speeches are in my future.

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