Archive For The “Music” Category

Bob Boilen's Top 50 Songs of 2017

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Bob Boilen's Top 50 Songs of 2017

JJ Mitchell (left) and Hana Elion of Overcoats.

Anna Azarov/Courtesy of the artist

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Anna Azarov/Courtesy of the artist

Despite the flood of new music in 2017, there were songs I came back to over and over again. I still star-rate my downloaded songs in iTunes (the main reason I don’t care to migrate to Spotify), so when the end of the year arrived I sorted my songs by star ratings and went back over the best of the bunch, then narrowed things down to a list of my 50 favorite songs of 2017, eliminating duplicates from the same record.

The playlist below has 49 of those 50. Spotify is missing one, as is every other streaming service. The song is “Silly” by PWR BTTM. PWR BTTM is a band I loved. I heard its second album, Pageant, long before it was scheduled to be released, and long before Ben Hopkins was caught up in allegations of sexual assault earlier this year. For many, those allegations changed the way we listen to PWR BTTM’s music and even the ability to listen to their music — the album was pulled off streaming services and out of stores by the band’s label. I know that some will disagree with its inclusion here, but I can’t pretend this music wasn’t part of my year, that it didn’t make me laugh and bring me joy. I’ll continue to have an open ear to how this story unfolds and will see if it changes the way I think of this band, a band whose songs vanished both physically and digitally with a swiftness I’ve never witnessed. (Since I had downloads of these files, I can decide whether to keep them, rather than relying on a streaming service or a record label, an issue we should talk more about — for many reasons — in the coming year, as downloads look like they will be a part of digital music history and not digital music’s future.)

The playlist below isn’t ranked, but my 11 favorite songs are at the top. It’s funny — when I look at my own list, I begin to see patterns in what I like. This year, that was mostly songs written and sung by women or men with androgynous voices (Cigarettes After Sex, Tom Adams, Adam Torres). With the exception of Algiers and Sinkane, most of the songs are filled with an open-air sound; there seems to be breadth and breath in the music I loved this year. And I still don’ t connect well with pop music, but that’s been true for most of my life since I turned off commercial radio in 1969. I hope you’ll find something new to love here. On Monday we’ll have your picks, as we post the results of our 2017 All Songs Considered Listener Poll.

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A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

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A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

Abelita Mateus, Marcia Ball, Helen Sung and Joanne Brackeen were this year’s A Jazz Piano Christmas guests.

Jati Lindsay/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

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Jati Lindsay/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

What are the holidays without Charlie Brown?

Nowadays, the quietly elegant and celebratory recordings by pianist Vince Guaraldi have become as much a part of the holidays as the sound of unwrapping presents. And every year we are treated to at least one interpretation of that classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by one of the pianists on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas. This year is no exception.

In fact, listening to our annual show every from the host podium, it’s amazing how the music originally meant for the lovable Peanuts characters has become as integral as other classics.

Our guests this year bear this out: Abelita Mateus, Helen Sung, Marcia Ball and NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen create an intimate and toe-tapping meditation on peace and the holidays with tinges of Brazil (Mateus), Louisiana (Ball), classical music (Sung) and good old-fashioned swing (Brackeen).

Holidays are indeed time for family, tradition and jazz.

Hear The Performances

  • Abelita Mateus

    Abelita Mateus

    Jati Lindsay

    Set List:

    • “The Christmas Song”/”O Tannenbaum”
    • “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”/”O Little Town Of Bethlehem”

    A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

    13:46

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/570475826/570477511" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

  • Marcia Ball

    Marcia Ball

    Jati Lindsay

    Set List:

    • “I Told Santa Claus” (Fats Domino)
    • “This Time Of Year” (Ray Charles)

    A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

    13:58

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  • Helen Sung

    Helen Sung

    Jati Lindsay

    Set List:

    • “Christmas Time Is Here”/”Skating”
    • “Go Tell It On The Mountain”

    A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

    16:20

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  • Joanne Brackeen

    Joanne Brackeen

    Jati Lindsay

    Set List:

    • “Winter Green Tea Soy Latte”

    A Jazz Piano Christmas 2017

    8:11

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/570475826/570477731" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

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Here's Why Black Thought's 10-Minute Freestyle Is So Remarkable

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Here's Why Black Thought's 10-Minute Freestyle Is So Remarkable

Black Thought’s latest freestyle reinforces the art of lyrical acrobatics in hip-hop.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The RootsBlack Thought proved yesterday that eviscerating lyricism still matters in hip-hop when the rapper dropped a nonstop, awe-inspiring 10-minute freestyle on Funkmaster Flex’s Hot 97 radio show.

Spitting over the beat of Mobb Deep’s “The Learning (Burn),” the Philly MC delivered a performance that’s so impressive, his name began trending on social media last night after the freestyle published on YouTube. Just as the fanfare ensued, Black Thought himself hopped on Twitter to drop a little humble brag about the whole thing.

“That verse was just what I had to say at the moment,” the rapper tweeted.

As a co-founder of The Roots and member of TheTonight Show band, fans have a chance to see Black Thought rhyme on television almost every night — but rarely like this. Similar to a comedian crafting an hour-long comedy special out of individually rehearsed and distinct-but-related smaller bits that add up to an overwhelming crescendo of laughter, a freestyle like this is a methodical act of linguistic acrobatics very few rappers are agile enough to execute. From the breath control to the stacking of metaphors to the spectrum of his playful pop culture references (Shakespeare, Jesus and the Kardashians all get name-dropped) woven throughout, there is something remarkable about holding that sheer volume of wordplay in your dome at a time and being able to let it off at a moment’s notice in one take.

To top it off, Black Thought’s demeanor throughout the freestyle (check the the tip of his hat at the 6:43 mark) further asserts his G.O.A.T. status.

Try not to lose your breath.

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Emily Haines On World Cafe

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Emily Haines On World Cafe

Emily Haines

Justin Broadbent/Courtesy of the artist

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Justin Broadbent/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Legend Of The Wild Horse”
  • “Nihilist Abyss”

In this session, we slip into the world of Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton. Haines is the lead singer of the electro-tinged rock and roll band Metric, but in her solo work you won’t find any wailing guitars or radical synths — the spotlight shines right on her voice and the work of art that is her songwriting.

Hear Emily Haines, solo on the piano, in the player above.

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Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2017

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Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2017

Sylvan Esso’s What Now is Stephen Thompson’s favorite album of 2017.

Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of the artist

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Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of the artist

It’s hard not to view 2017 as a year of great reckoning; as a time in which the world is forced to contemplate consequences ranging from ugly political divides to environmental disasters to a wave of high-profile resignations and humiliations over decades of sexual misconduct. Though escapism will always have its place in pop culture, 2017 has been a year of complacency deferred and sleeping giants roused. So it’s only natural that much of the year’s best music would reflect that tumult, albeit in radically different ways.

As always, this list compiles the 10 favorite albums — not the 10 “best,” mind you — of one subjective listener. If your favorite album of 2017 missed the cut, rest assured that it’s nesting comfortably in a many-way tie for #11.

Stephen’s Top 10

Cover for What Now

1. Sylvan Esso, ‘What Now’

    If What Now were just a winning collection of busily kaleidoscopic electro-pop, it’d still make this list. But Sylvan Esso — the duo of charming singer Amelia Meath and versatile producer and multi-instrumentalist Nick Sanborn — also deepens and enriches its second album with thoughtful and profound meditations on what it’s like to age into contentment without sanding off the rough edges that make us feel alive. “I was gonna die young,” Meath sings in one emblematic song, before adding a few touching and funny words of devotion: “But now I gotta wait for you.” What Now is about surrendering your inhibitions in order to make room for forces bigger than yourself: sound that inspires movement, vulnerability that inspires reflection, love that inspires awe.

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    Cover for DAMN.

    2. Kendrick Lamar, ‘DAMN.’

      Imagine the weight of the expectations Kendrick Lamar must have faced in following the epic ambitions of To Pimp A Butterfly. Yet DAMN., with its all-caps treatises on elemental and all-consuming ideas — “BLOOD.,” “LOYALTY.,” “LUST.,” “LOVE., “FEAR.,” “GOD.,” et al — streamlines his arrangements without sacrificing his willingness to dig deep and pick apart the driving forces in his life. “HUMBLE.” is the chart-topping banger, but even better is “LOVE.,” a hooky, sticky ballad about trust, longing and the risks and rewards that come with letting someone in.

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      Cover for Rainbow

      3. Kesha, ‘Rainbow’

        Kesha emerged as a pop-music force back in 2009, buoyed by smartly stupid, agreeably overdriven pop jams like “TiK ToK.” Eight years later, she’s released one of the most emotionally resonant (and relevant) power ballads in recent memory. Inspired in part by high-profile lawsuits surrounding her allegations of sexual and emotional abuse against her former producer, “Praying” has given accusers and survivors a unifying anthem of grace and self-belief. But Rainbow also roars throughout with merrily free-wheeling, hater-bashing, heart-swelling abandon, whether she’s championing women (“Woman”), outcasts (“Hymn”), forgiveness (“Learn To Let Go”) or some combination of the three.

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        Cover for Capacity

        4. Big Thief, ‘Capacity’

          Big Thief’s second album could have been a concession to the pursuit of mainstream success: a hyper-polished variation on the blustery jams of 2016’s Masterpiece. Instead, Capacity dug deeper by going quieter, all the better for highlighting the intimate, empathetic, evocative storytelling of singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker. Darkness gives way to warmth as Capacity progresses, peaking in one of 2017’s most beautiful songs: In “Mary,” Lenker ties her words into dense, poetic bundles as she softly celebrates a friendship that’s endured and evolved into something sacred.

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          Cover for CTRL

          5. SZA, ‘Ctrl’

            It took SZA years of frustrating delays and label squabbles before she finally got to release her first full album. Pointedly titled Ctrl, the result practically explodes with unbound charisma. Mining her own messily distinct, genre-blurring, detail-rich strain of R&B, SZA sounds for all the world like an icon in the making, and the A-listers who pop up as guests (Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, et al) clearly agree. Sexually frank and filled with vividly personal details, the star’s words — sometimes bold, sometimes self-deprecating, always slyly winning — celebrate liberation and introspection as crucial to SZA’s development as an artist and a human being.

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            Allison Pierce, Year Of The Rabbit.

            Courtesy of the artist

            6. Allison Pierce, ‘Year Of The Rabbit’

              Allison Pierce made her name as half of the folk-pop sister act The Pierces, but her solo debut finds the Alabama-born singer-songwriter veering into a more countrified lane. A smart, timeless set of ingratiating Americana songs, Year Of The Rabbit chronicles what it’s like to grow just old enough to know better, while still fending off self-pity, jealousy and broken trust. Fans of Kacey Musgraves and Allison Monroe should find much to love in the way Pierce steeps Year Of The Rabbit‘s songs in wry, plainspoken intelligence, dressed up in arrangements that can be soft and soaring, often at once.

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              Cover for Joan Shelley

              7. Joan Shelley, ‘Joan Shelley’

                In 2015, Kentucky singer-guitarist Joan Shelley made what may well be a perfect album: Over And Even, a uniformly gorgeous collection of songs that infuse Appalachian folk music with a gently airy, wistful vibe. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, Shelley’s self-titled follow-up doesn’t so much raise her game as find ways to subtly expand and streamline her sound. “We’d Be Home” kicks off the album where Over And Even left off — which is to say it’s one of 2017’s prettiest songs — but soon finds ways to let her songs rumble and probe without losing their plainspoken, yet somehow otherworldly, grace.

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                Cover for The Nashville Sound

                8. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, ‘The Nashville Sound’

                  Jason Isbell has spent his adult life slaying demons. Now that he’s a sober, married dad, what’s left? Oh, just a lively social conscience, an ongoing awakening to the world beyond himself, lived-in thoughts about a shifting American South and deeply moving observations on the kind of love and devotion that can cross over into feelings of salvation. “If We Were Vampires” may be the most emotionally rich song of Isbell’s tremendous career: a weighty, winsome look at lifelong love that keeps its eyes fixed squarely on sad but profound truths about the impermanence of us all.

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                  Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger In The Alps.

                  Courtesy of the artist

                  9. Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Stranger In The Alps’

                    Phoebe Bridgers demonstrates that it’s possible to sing languid, pretty songs while maintaining an air of nervy darkness. On her full-length debut, the California singer puts her soft but impeccable phrasing to good use in treatises on dysfunctional relationships, unhealthy obsessions and, in a knockout seven-minute cover of Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle’s “You Missed My Heart,” the consequences of a crime of passion. In “Motion Sickness,” Bridgers shows a knack for rock and roll that bares its knuckles a little bit. But for all its gentle grace, the rest of Stranger In The Alps cuts just as deep, while still radiating ominous beauty.

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                    Cover for Sleep Well Beast

                    10. The National, ‘Sleep Well Beast’

                      Seven albums into a career spent mining the recesses of a tortured, perpetually self-flagellating soul, The National would be forgiven for hewing to formula on Sleep Well Beast. But Matt Berninger’s deep, perma-weary voice is instead set against songs that roil and unsettle in fresh and intoxicating ways. A suitably paranoid tone-setter, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” drenches The National’s sound in an alternately ghostly and ramshackle racket. But best of all is “Day I Die,” which deftly showcases The National’s gift for reflecting moodily on the human condition while soaring to the rafters.

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                      The North Mississippi Allstars On 'Mountain Stage'

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                      The North Mississippi Allstars On 'Mountain Stage'

                      The North Mississippi Allstars have been the modern-day torchbearers for the distinct, funky, Hill Country blues associated with their native state for 22 years. Led by the brother team of guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Cody Dickinson, the band makes its third appearance on Mountain Stage since 2001, with songs from their latest record Prayer For Peace.

                      Luther Dickinson’s dynamic guitar work, evidenced throughout, is framed by the bass work of Danielle Nicole, with a solid dual-drum foundation of Cody Dickinson and second drummer Rob Walbourne. Cody Dickinson takes to the keyboards and lead vocals for “Deep Elum,” which is followed by “Miss Maybelle,” a work of “barnyard psychedelia” learned from one of their Mississippi mentors, R.L. Burnside.

                      “You Got To Move” is a highlight, featuring Nicole’s vocals, some gritty slide guitar work by Luther Dickinson and both drummers trading riffs. They close with the title track of their latest release, “Prayer For Peace,” released in June 2017.

                      SET LIST

                      • “Need To Be Free”
                      • “Deep Elum”
                      • “Miss Maybelle”
                      • “You Got To Move”
                      • “Prayer For Peace”

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                      The 100 Best Songs Of 2017

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                      The 100 Best Songs Of 2017

                      NPR Music’s best 100 songs of 2017. (Clockwise from upper left) Goldlink, Margo Price, IBEYI, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Tyler The Creator, Big Thief, SZA and Sharon Jones.

                      Courtesy of the artists

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                      Courtesy of the artists

                      The best songs we heard this year reflected a deep sense of collective need. For safety, for respect, for self-definition. For money or sex or revolution. Maybe we just hear what we crave, but on huge hits and semi-obscure album cuts alike, it seemed that musicians in 2017 were facing down eternity or the possibility of annihilation. Both Sylvan Esso and Jason Isbell linked love with death. Kendrick Lamar gave us his most tender song yet, as well as his harshest condemnation. Ibeyi and Kesha gave us righteous anger and forgiveness. Sharon Jones faced the end. Harry Styles pivoted from cheery pop to epic rock while glancing over his shoulder at the apocalypse. It’s just a song, right? But if the end really is near, here’s our countdown: the 100 best songs of 2017.

                      Hear the Spotify playlist.


                      Chris Stapleton

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      100. Chris Stapleton
                      “Broken Halos”

                      Chris Stapleton is the embodiment of sturdy country masculinity, and that’s not just because of his mountain man appearance. He often walks the line between deep feeling and stoicism, bending notes and belting as a man who bears up beneath emotional burdens, who owns his failings, who faces his sources of pain. Stapleton plundered his back catalog of songs for a couple of albums this year, and “Broken Halos,” written with his former Steeldrivers bandmate Mike Henderson, has become not only a modestly successful single, but Stapleton’s go-to response to recent tragedies. Sounding both toughened and subdued by experience, and buoyed by his wife Morgane’s harmonies, he extends the country and gospel tradition of songs that accept that many losses defy reason. —Jewly Hight

                      Listen to “Broken Halos”


                      Kelly Clarkson

                      Vincent Peters/Courtesy of the artist

                      99. Kelly Clarkson
                      “Love So Soft”

                      Does Kelly Clarkson have the right to make a banger? The original American Idol’s gift for blending and transcending genres, the good nature that shines through on this ode to grown people’s love, and above all, that Maybach of a voice — cruising into overdrive, turning on a dime with a little “whoo!” — add up to this high-speed chase of a track, which says: absolutely. —Ann Powers

                      Listen to “Love So Soft”


                      Tyler, the Creator

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      98. Tyler, The Creator feat. Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy
                      “911 / Mr. Lonely”

                      Tyler, The Creator paints the progression of loneliness as something of a Soul Train party on the two-part track “911/Mr. Lonely.” Featuring supporting vocals from Frank Ocean, Steve Lacey and Anna of the North and produced by the rapper himself, Tyler sets mild despair into motion. While the production is infused with old school boogie vibes thanks to a melody sample of The Gap Band’s “Outstanding,” the message is somber. “Treat me like direct deposit/Check up on me sometime/Ask me how I’m really doin’/So I never have to hit that 911.” —Sidney Madden

                      Listen to “911 / Mr. Lonely”


                      Kiel Scott/Courtesy of the artist

                      97. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah feat. Elena Pinderhughes
                      “Encryption”

                      In 2017, the New Orleans trumpeter released three often-great LPs that combined elements of his hometown jazz/funk/soul, with an army of acoustic and electronic percussion and synths referencing everything from trap to techno. It birthed at least one classic composition. “Encryption” already features the muted Scott blowing through an Afro-Caribbean groove when a bass-synth counterpoint enters the fray unexpectedly. The darkness of its texture recalls Detroit’s Underground Resistance, instantly changing the music’s feel. When, 30 seconds later, soloing flautist Elena Pinderhuges joins the chat, a most unique roundtable on contemporary African-American instrumental music is called to session. —Piotr Orlov

                      , sparkles with his accumulated wisdom and seasoned wit, and its most poignant track is the piano ballad “Old Timer,” written by Muscle Shoals fixtures Donnie Fritts and Lenny LeBlanc. Nelson captures the bewildering disconnect between the active life of a still-sharp mind and the decline of an aging body, with his warm, knowing vibrato conveying a touch more frailty than it used to. —Jewly Hight

                      Listen to “Old Timer”


                      Singer/songwriter Ozuna performs during Calibash Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on January 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

                      Ethan Miller/Getty Images

                      95. Ozuna
                      “Si No Te Quiere”

                      Breakout Puerto Rican-Dominican reggaeton artist Ozuna dropped a banger at the end of this summer. “Si No Te Quiere” blared out of cars, got us dancing en el supermercado and reminded Latin music that reggaeton not only fuses with pop, but can thrive in trap. While the album Odisea, hit No.1 on Billboard’s Latin Albums Chart, the song is reminiscent of old school reggaeton sounds akin to Arcangel and Baby Rasta Y Gringo, bringing us back to the roots of perreo. This is the magic that occurs when the island and mainland are in constant subcultural and musical exchange. —Jessica Diaz-Hurtado

                      Listen to “Si No Te Quiere”


                      Kimi Hanauer/Courtesy of the artist

                      94. Code Orange
                      “Forever”

                      The mutants of metallic mayhem talk a big game as the self-proclaimed “thinners of the herd,” separating the kittens from the panthers (the band’s chosen emblem) when it comes to extreme music: “We walk a path of re-creation / A feeling you will never know.” The title track from Code Orange’s third album is not so much an opener but a battering ram wrapped in barbed wire, a collection of annihilating riffs ensnared in the band’s tag-team trio of snarling vocalists. —Lars Gotrich

                      Listen to “Forever”


                      Maleem Mahmoud Gania

                      93. Maalem Mahmoud Gania
                      “Bala Matinba”

                      There is something so intoxicating about Gnawa music, a traditional form from Morocco that belongs to the descendants of sub-Saharan African slaves who use song and dance in their Sufi spiritual and healing rituals. This recording of the late master Maalem Mahmoud Gania, who died in 2015, is simply Gnawa music at its best: layers of call-and-response singing, propulsive polyrhythms clacked out on metal castanets called qarqaba and the heady, plaintive sound of the three-stringed guembri lute (also known as a sintir). Dig down deep into this roots music and be utterly transported. —Anastasia Tsioulcas

                      Listen to “Bala Matinba”


                      Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

                      Alex Chaloff/Courtesy of the artist

                      92. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
                      “Aura”

                      One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music, Anna Thorvaldsdottir writes luminous works, flush with expressive sounds and textures. “Aura,” arranged specifically for the incisive Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, seems to radiate from the primordial landscapes of her native Iceland. Vibraphones are bowed, bass drums are massaged and metal tubes sound out a muted theme, all in the service of creating a penetrating, crepuscular atmosphere – in a word, an aura. —Tom Huizenga

                      Listen to “Aura”


                      Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      91. Ambrose Akinmusire
                      “Maurice & Michael (sorry i didn’t say hello)”

                      Ambrose Akinmusire has been a standout bandleader on the postmodern jazz landscape, as well as one of its leading trumpeters. And his current quartet, with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown, hasn’t been better documented than on its recent double album, A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard. This is the opening track from that release, a fanfare made up of punchy syncopations and sleek, thrumming rhythm. It encapsulates much of what you need to know about the band, which sounds alert at every turn, coiled and ready to strike. —Nate Chinen (WBGO)

                      Listen to “Maurice & Michael (sorry i didn’t say hello)”


                      KH

                      90. KH
                      “Question”

                      A loop-based wonder, this barely-released Kieran Hebden track slayed pretty much every party it was played at. (At times, the only track to do so.) The reason? It’s partly because the delicate guitar picking on the Bobby Powell nugget at its source raged into a funky wildfire atop Hebden’s beat and partly because its desperate vocal plea — “Got to find the answer to the question/Somebody? Somebody?” — resonated like an unexploded ordnance in a world all-too ready for the next shoe to drop. Other than “Bodak Yellow,” this was the only song that danced down Babylon at every turn. —Piotr Orlov


                      89. Betsayada Machado
                      “La Situacion”

                      Betsayada Machado

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      Betsayda Machado has been making this kind of music for quite a long time. Afro Valenzuela folk may be far from just about any music fan’s radar, but as this track shows, Betsayda and her group breathe new exciting life into tales of slavery, runaway slaves and, ultimately, cultural pride. It’s classic African call and response with a group that includes Machado’s sister and other family members. Her powerful voice soars above the collective spirit and convinces us there is something greater than us all. —Felix Contreras

                      Listen to “La Situacion”


                      88. GVSU New Music Ensemble
                      “Glass Surface”

                      GVSU

                      Bill Ryan/Courtesy of the artist

                      Sometimes a song travels unexpected pathways. This hybrid pearl by Daniel Rhode was born with purely acoustic instruments in mind, then the young composer took it into the studio for electronic “tailoring.” Emerging from a reedy drone, a glistening shard of melody begins to reproduce — it sounds synthetic, but it’s actually a violin riff, tweaked via skillful processing. After a calm passage of lower-pitched waves, the theme returns and blossoms ecstatically. The music is a highlight of RETURN, an album of chill electroacoustic works performed by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble. The unassuming group, led by Bill Ryan, is comfortably ensconced amid the rolling farmlands of western Michigan. —Tom Huizenga

                      Listen to “Glass Surface”


                      87. Irreversible Entanglements
                      “Fireworks”

                      Irreversible Entanglements

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      The bass line is something out of Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s funky streak, a rubber-band thump wrapped around sparse, but insistently thwacked snare. It is the fervor that lights Camae Ayewa: “When did your heart break? At what point did you break down and cry out, ‘I can’t take this anymore!’?” The poet and musician best known as Moor Mother isn’t the leader of Irreversible Entanglements — spread across Philly, New York and D.C., no one is — but the band does draw a through-line from ’60s free-jazz to our current despair, with urgent improvisation that unfolds like a fire flower of rebellion. —Lars Gotrich

                      Listen to “Fireworks”


                      86. Bicep
                      “Aura”

                      Bicep.

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      British tandem Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar got their start in dance music as curators of an MP3 blog. Now, they’re the subject of breathless reviews in the world’s most-respected electronic music magazines. In fact, Bicep sits at the enviable nexus of critical acclaim and popular appeal, a perch shared by Four Tet, Caribou and not too many others. “Aura” is the duo’s latest — and arguably greatest — big-room anthem, full of bulbous bass, twinkling synths and an infectious melody reminiscent of the classic U.K. rave of Orbital. —Otis Hart

                      Listen to “Aura”


                      85. Benjamin Clementine
                      “Phantom of Aleppoville”

                      Craig McDean /Courtesy of the artist

                      British singer and pianist Benjamin Clementine drills down into the dark world of child abuse and bullying in this sprawling, shape-shifting tome. It’s the most ambitious track on an album full of drama, chaos and quiet solitude. —Robin Hilton

                      Listen to “Phantom of Aleppoville”


                      84. Ashley McBryde
                      “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”

                      Ashley McBryde

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      It’s “Dah-LON-e-ga” — one of the real, barely-mapped Southern towns where Ashley McBryde, 2017’s most exciting new country voice, spent years playing in tiny bars, perfecting her twang and her knack for profundity. It’s also the perfect setting for her pocket romance about love blossoming on a day when everything else went wrong. —Ann Powers

                      Listen to “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”


                      83. Anne Akiko Meyers
                      “Fantasia”

                      Anne Akiko Meyers

                      Josep Molina/Courtesy of the artist

                      In 2014, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers finally found her nerve: She asked the elderly dean of Finnish composers, Einojuhani Rautavaara to write a piece for her. Little did she know his composition for her would become the revered man’s penultimate work — Rautavaara died last year at 87. His “Fantasia” for violin and orchestra, with its autumnal tone, seems to bid a bittersweet farewell. After a stern orchestral introduction, the violin launches into 13 minutes of rhapsodic melody. The orchestra supplies an atmospheric foundation for Meyers to sing out beautifully in long, flowing lines on her 1741 Guarneri del Gesù violin. Even if it wasn’t a valediction, Rautavaara left us with some of his most breathtaking music. —Tom Huizenga

                      Listen to “Fantasia”


                      82. Julien Baker
                      “Appointments”

                      Julien Baker

                      Nolan Knight/Courtesy of the artist

                      There’s a pause three-quarters of the way through “Appointments.” Built on repetitive guitar and piano, the song hinges on that moment; in that second of space, the overwhelming feeling of futility and defeat is transformed. What follows — Julien Baker’s repeated intonation of determination and resolve — ultimately grounds “Appointments” in hope. Though uncertainty lingers and disappointment can’t be diminished, there’s a fight in spite of what’s known. —Lyndsey McKenna

                      Listen to “Appointments”


                      81. Gabriel Garzón-Montano
                      “Sour Mango”

                      Gabriel Garzon Montano

                      Courtesy of the artist

                      By the time Gabriel Garzon-Montano released his album, Jardin, last summer he had spent three years of intense writing, observing and touring with rocker Lenny Kravitz. So there is a lot of attention to detail in the crisp and evocative lyrics as well as the exquisitely layered sonic landscape. On “Sour Mango,” Garzon-Montano’s playful vocals mix an extra funky slow groove that is practically an artistic statement of purpose from an artist with a developing musical vision, who will hopefully give us lots more like this. —Felix Contreras

                      Listen to “Sour Mango”

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                      How To Survive Playing To An Empty Room And Other Advice For A Band's First Tour

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                      How To Survive Playing To An Empty Room And Other Advice For A Band's First Tour

                      Kam Franklin (left) is lead singer of The Suffers, a band from Houston that started touring three years ago. Amber Daniel is lead singer and bassist of Blame the Youth from North Carolina. They’re preparing for their first tour.

                      Courtesy of Jay Bee Zay and Allison Slade

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                      Courtesy of Jay Bee Zay and Allison Slade

                      When you’re facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Consideredis connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they’re letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

                      North Carolina band Blame the Youth has been playing together in and around Charlotte for three years.

                      Now, they’re at a point where they’re trying to decide just how serious they are.

                      Are you about to undergo a major life change, like start your own business or deploy overseas in the military? Or have you gone through one already? All Things Considered invites you to share your experience, either to ask questions or pass on your own lessons learned. Email us at nprcrowdsource@npr.org, with “Been There” in the subject line.

                      Amber Daniel and her bandmates still have their day jobs. Amber is an elementary school music teacher who teaches private lessons on the side, and being on tour full-time would be a big change.

                      “We’re getting to the point where it’s like, so you gonna do it? You ready, you ready?” she says. “Speaking for myself, yeah.”

                      But Amber still has some concerns about hitting the road.

                      Three years ago, the Houston band The Suffers were in the same place — wondering if they should go on the road, and how to do it.

                      Kam Franklin, the band’s lead singer, says The Suffers’ decision started with a big discussion among the bandmates about quitting their jobs and taking a chance, which everyone decided to follow through on.

                      “There will always be something to come back to,” says Kam. “But you can’t go back to these opportunities when they’re right in front of you. “

                      This interview has been edited lightly for clarity


                      Advice from Kam Franklin

                      On deciding to tour full-time

                      We had a conversation and we were like, alright, we know we’re doing this, but we don’t know what’s gonna happen after. And like where was gonna be the stopping point for us to know that, OK, this is when we need to go back to our old lives. And you know, is everybody down to quit their jobs.

                      On dealing with your bandmates on the road

                      Over-communicate your needs and your frustrations to your band and to your team early on. Passive aggression will ruin your band. It will ruin your business. And I know it seems really silly but saying things like, you know, I need to stop for tampons, or I need to go to a bra store because my back is hurting because this bra is old and I’ve played too many shows in it. At a certain point you guys are gonna be it to each other. It’ll be beyond family, beyond a romantic relationship and you have to learn how to not only respect one another’s space but how to respect yourself by over-communicating when it’s necessary.

                      On playing to an empty room

                      We have never, thankfully, played to zero people. But we have definitely played to a room that probably had a dozen people in it, including the people who were working there. But at the end of the day you have to take on this mentality of, “Who cares?” Because at the end of the day, is this what you want to do with your life? So look at that show as a practice for the major stage.

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                      JD McPherson On World Cafe

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                      JD McPherson On World Cafe

                      JD McPherson

                      Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the aritst

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                      Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the aritst

                      • “Desperate Love”
                      • “Hunting For Sugar”
                      • “Lucky Penny”

                      In this session we welcome JD McPherson, the Oklahoman who made retro rock sound modern with “North Side Gal.” There’s a reason his new album Undivided Heart & Soul sounds different. McPherson uprooted his family from Oklahoma to Nashville, Tenn., and ended up making the new album at the historic RCA Studio B — whose walls have soaked up music from major country acts for decades. Elvis, Charley Pride, Floyd Cramer: They all recorded there. In fact, the studio is a museum in the daytime. “After the tours end each day we would have to load in all of the gear and record deep, deep into the night and then tour down and reset the room for the tours the next day,” McPherson says. “So it was like, it felt like we were sorta getting away with something being in there late at night.”

                      JD McPherson tells us about the ghosts in the walls and how his Okie musical upbringing was as much punk as roots music. And he rocks out live. Hear it all in the player above.

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                      Watch Bon Iver's Justin Vernon Perform At NPR Music's 10th Anniversary

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                      Watch Bon Iver's Justin Vernon Perform At NPR Music's 10th Anniversary

                      Credit: NPR

                      Justin Vernon’s career as Bon Iver has perfectly aligned with NPR Music’s existence. It was 10 years ago this past summer that For Emma, Forever Ago began to write the project and the myth of its creation into indie-rock legend, making Vernon’s own name nearly synonymous with it in the process. The idea of that cabin in the woods and Vernon’s wounded, multi-tracked falsetto have since become iconic. That legacy has become something that Vernon and his bandmates have worked at times to escape — to beautiful effect on their latest record, the vocal processing- and sample-heavy 22, A Million (you can watch our full concert video featuring much of that album here).

                      At our 10th Anniversary Concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Vernon performed alone, but as Bon Iver. He began with a rendition of his 2014 single “Heavenly Father,” the earliest prominent use of the OP-1 synthesizer which came to define 22, A Million. He concluded his set with a cover of Leon Russell’s 1970 ballad, “A Song For You.” Vernon has an ear for covers that showcase his voice (see the jaw-dropping cover of “Satisfied Mind” by his early band DeYarmond Edison’s or his incredibly popular “I Can’t Make You Love Me” cover), and Russell’s spare arrangement and strong melody are the perfect scaffolding for it. It is an instrument so distinctive that it brings an unmistakably singular sound to every performance, whether accompanied by acoustic guitar or OP-1, on an original song or somebody else’s, no matter the project or era.

                      SET LIST

                      • “Heavenly Father”
                      • “A Song For You” by Leon Russell

                      CREDITS

                      Director: Colin Marshall; Producers: Colin Marshall, Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey; Technical Director: Josh Rogosin; Live Mix Engineer: Shawn “Gus” Vitale; Supervising Producer: Mito Habe-Evans; Managing Producers: Bob Boilen, Jacob Ganz, Jessica Goldstein, Abby O’Neill; Creative Director and Producer: Peter Glantz; Concert Videographers: Bronson Arcuri, Kara Frame, Nickolai Hammar, Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Niki Walker; Production Assistant: CJ Riculan; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Special Thanks: The 9:30 Club; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins.

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