Archive For The “Music” Category

The Formula: Season 2 Trailer

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The Formula: Season 2 Trailer

The art of collaboration is the bedrock of hip-hop. And when these kindred spirits collab, they produce a body of work deep enough to drown out the noise.

Credit: NPR

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Grammy-winning Finneas releases his first full-length album

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Grammy-winning Finneas releases his first full-length album

NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with music artist and producer Finneas about his debut album.

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Jesy (feat. Nicki Minaj), ‘Boyz’

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Jesy (feat. Nicki Minaj), ‘Boyz’


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Blackfishing aside, there’s a reason Jesy Nelson isn’t a household name. “Boyz,” the former Little Mix member’s first solo attempt, is a pseudo-rap track founded on an extensive interpolation of Diddy‘s 2001 hit “Bad Boy for Life.” The once-iconic riff is muddled in “Boyz,” antithetically stuttering as if someone accidentally hit their elbow on the keyboard, glitched the instrumental and spliced it in random places. Always behind beat, the riff tries to catch up to a song that it’s incompatible with in the first place.

With “Boyz,” Nelson (you might know her — if nowhere else — from viral “balegdeh” meme fame) commits the cardinal solo career sin: being boring. Alongside toothless lyrics about liking men with tattoos, Nelson contributes a nondescript vocal that attempts to invoke the spirit of “Dirrty”-era Christina Aguilera but ends up being a bad Camilla Cabello impression. Nicki Minaj is the only redeemable part of “Boyz,” which makes sense for two reasons: One, Minaj can save any song with a couple of bars. Two, as seen over the past few months, she has done an incredible job of aligning herself with things that are just The Worst.

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Summer Walker (with JT from City Girls), ‘Ex For A Reason’

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Summer Walker (with JT from City Girls), ‘Ex For A Reason’

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It’s giving Nivea, it’s giving Tiffany Evans’ “Promise Ring,” it’s giving Ciara lusting after 50 Cent in 2006. What Summer Walker‘s new song, “Ex For A Reason” featuring JT from City Girls, is not giving is the entrancing, smoky lounge sound we fell in love with when the Atlanta singer-songwriter came in hot with 2018’s “Girls Need Love” and garnered more hype with her debut studio album, 2019’s Over It. Still, the fairly generic Buddah Bless and Sean Garrett-produced track catches the ear with a high-tempo beat, Walker’s signature honeyed-liquor vocals and toxic warning shots. Where it falls off is the tone-deaf guest verse from JT as she raps about pulling up on the new girl her ex is with. (JT’s current partner, rapper Lil Uzi Vert, has an ex-girlfriend who alleges that he punched her in July after seeing her with another man). All in all, “Ex For A Reason” is an underwhelming release best suited for mindless listening at the roller rink.

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Adele, ‘Easy On Me’

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Adele, ‘Easy On Me’

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For her first new song in six years, Adele deviates from the expected show-stopping lead single — goodbye, “Hello.” Instead, the determinedly straightforward and achingly honest “Easy On Me” is a slow burn. Produced by frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin, Adele’s return single finds the British singer-songwriter acknowledging internal demons and the damage they’ve inflicted. It’s not a heartbreak anthem as much as a tentatively hopeful ballad from a woman emerging from an emotionally marooned period. Rough with feeling, Adele’s pliant vibrato stretches before leaping over an intense piano progression. “Easy On Me” is a plea: a reminder to oneself and a loved one that giving up isn’t necessarily a failure and that even in our missteps, we’re worthy of tender patience. 30, Adele’s fourth studio album, will be released Nov. 19.

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A young, all-women ensemble upends the percussion paradigm

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A young, all-women ensemble upends the percussion paradigm

The percussion ensemble Recap has released its striking debut album, Count to Five.

Jacob Blickenstaff

Jacob Blickenstaff

The story begins in a New Jersey elementary school, where four young girls of color — Aline Vasques, Alexis Carter, Tiahna Sterling and Arlene Acevedo — were all best friends. In middle school they began studying percussion together with Joe Bergen, a member of the Mantra Percussion ensemble. They continued through high school and graduated from Mantra’s Youth Percussion Program. Now, at ages 19 and 20 — still mentored by Bergen — they’ve formed Recap and released Count to Five, an outstanding debut album.

These young women, and their new recording, represent nothing less than a paradigm shift in the field of percussion, where ensembles have long been populated almost exclusively by men. In addition, all the music on Count to Five is by women composers. Acevedo, talking about the new album online, said, “We want to show the world that anyone can do this. We’re young women of color doing this and you can too.”

Each of the six pieces on the album establishes a unique sound world. On Hammers, Sterling doubles as a flutist, deftly negotiating the jagged rhythms that interlock with various sizes of drums played by her colleagues. The music is by Allison Loggins-Hull, who happens to be Sterling’s flute professor at Montclair State University.

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The album is anchored by Lesley Flanigan’s Hedera, a mesmerizing and surprisingly meditative 20-minute work. Recap, on bass drums and tom-toms, lays down a pulsating foundation. Over top, the composer’s voice floats like pastel-colored clouds, increasing in density.

Percussion isn’t only about banging on drums. The album’s title track, by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón, sounds like you’ve opened up a dusty box of household items — and memories. Playing cards get shuffled, bubble wrap is squeezed, wine glasses are struck and chairs get dragged across the floor while a harmonica repeats a single note. Memory also plays a part in “Samar’s Song” by Mary Kouyoumdjian. Her voice — backed by violin, vibraphone and bass drum – pours out in grieving tones to remember the story of 5-year-old Samar Hassan, whose parents became civilian casualties before her eyes during the Iraq War.

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Two recent Pulitzer-winning composers, Ellen Reid and Caroline Shaw, contribute to Count to Five. Reid’s shimmering Fear / Release twirls like a kaleidoscope of shiny metal, while Shaw looks back in time with the song “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown.” She borrows words from an old 19th century hymn, one that’s also been recorded by the likes of George Jones. But the song assumes a new identity when Recap takes to marimbas, backed with subtle colorings of strings, piano and clarinets by the new music ensemble Transit. Shaw keeps the old-world feeling, but in this rendition the song feels more like an incantation than something to be sung in church.

With this impressive debut, the members of Recap see themselves as role models for other young women interested in percussion. And now, they’re all off to college — but oddly none are majoring in percussion. Still, for the time being, they simply want to continue playing together, strengthening that longstanding bond of music among friends.

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Music classes are back in school this year, finally indoors and off Zoom

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Music classes are back in school this year, finally indoors and off Zoom

For many students, band and choir classes were a far cry from normal last year — students practiced outside or over Zoom. With students back in school this fall, music classes look almost normal.


SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

For many students last year, band and choir classes were a far cry from normal. Students practiced outside or over Zoom. As Craig LeMoult of member station GBH in Boston reports, with students back in school this fall, many are overjoyed to take part in almost-normal music classes.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Students in Westwood High School’s wind ensemble class catch up with each other and fiddle with instruments as rehearsal begins. Then the director, Dr. Heather Cote, raises her hand, and they begin to tune up.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

HEATHER COTE: The first day that we were in here this fall, and they all played together, I started to tear up.

One, two, beginning and ready go.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: Last year, Cote says, they mostly practiced outside, which got harder as the weather cooled. And the students were split into two cohorts that came to school in person on different days.

COTE: We didn’t have the whole group together, so sometimes, you know, the balance was weird and, you know, you had too many of one instrument because all the other ones were in the other cohort.

LEMOULT: Senior and tenor sax player Frank Papetti says when they were at home last year, they’d mute their microphones and play along.

FRANK PAPETTI: Yeah, you kind of feel isolated. It kind of turns you off in a sense. You don’t really want to play. Nobody can hear you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: Now he’s thrilled they’re all back together again.

PAPETTI: Oh, my God. I’m super excited. I love playing my instrument.

LEMOULT: Things do look a bit different in wind ensemble this year. There’s a black filter covering the bell of Papetti’s saxophone.

PAPETTI: And honestly, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. It doesn’t make your sound much different at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: But scientists say it does make playing instruments safer. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland was one of the leading researchers behind a study that used lasers and high-speed cameras to visualize how aerosols spread from instruments and singers.

JELENA SREBRIC: When you put the mask or bell cover, the area that is immediately directly affected by a breath shrinks by one-third, which is enormous.

LEMOULT: Singing is a concern, too. One of the first-known COVID superspreader events in the U.S. happened in a choir in Washington state. The study’s authors put out a list of recommendations, including bell covers for bands and masks for choruses when they rehearse indoors. They also suggest things like physical distancing and added air filtration. The organizations that supported the study say about 20 states are requiring these steps – 20 more have some sort of recommendation to follow the guidelines, and 10 have none.

UNIDENTIFIED BAND DIRECTOR: And one, two – one, two, three, four.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: The high school jazz ensemble in Wellesley, Mass., is going a step further. As junior Max Goldensen points out, even as he plays his trumpet, he’s wearing a mask.

MAX GOLDENSEN: There’s a hole in the center, and each side has a magnet on it, so you can kind of flip it closed whenever you’re not playing.

LEMOULT: Freshman Ben Harris says for music class last year, he had to record his bass guitar parts into an app, which told him if he got the notes right. He says he went from loving music class to it feeling like a chore.

BEN HARRIS: I mean, it works, but it’s not, like, the nicest way to play.

LEMOULT: He says it felt a bit like a video game.

HARRIS: But not the most entertaining one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING JAMES TAYLOR SONG, “THAT LONESOME ROAD”)

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Walk down that lonesome road.

LEMOULT: Down the hall, about 40 masked members of a Wellesley High School choir are back together, including senior Nora Jarquin.

NORA JARQUIN: For all of us, like, this is our community. This is where we find joy in our day to day. Like, it’s a break from the schoolwork, and it’s a time – like, all my friends are in these choirs and in these groups. So to lose that was a really hard time. We don’t want to do that again.

LEMOULT: And they’re all hoping, with these new protective measures, that they won’t have to.

For NPR News, I’m Craig LeMoult in Wellesley, Mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING JAMES TAYLOR SONG, “THAT LONESOME ROAD”)

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Walk down that…

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR DIRECTOR: Two, three…

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Lonesome road.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tubist Richard Antoine White shares his unlikely path to the stage ‘I’m Possible’

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Tubist Richard Antoine White shares his unlikely path to the stage ‘I’m Possible’

White spent his early childhood in poverty in Baltimore, at times sleeping in abandoned houses. He’s now principal tubist in the Santa Fe Symphony and the New Mexico Philharmonic.

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Fans worry over ranchera icon Vicente Fernández, who remains hospitalized

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Fans worry over ranchera icon Vicente Fernández, who remains hospitalized

Mexico’s most famous ranchera singer remains hospitalized after a fall at his Guadalajara ranch, leaving fans on both sides of the border worried about his fate and the music he made so famous.


SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

He’s known as El Rey, the king of Mexican music, the country’s greatest living singer. For more than half a century, Vicente Fernandez has provided the soundtrack for Mexican life to nearly every corner of the Spanish-speaking world. The 81-year-old royal of ranchera music has been hospitalized for more than two months. And as NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports, fans are worried about his fate and the future of the music he defined.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICENTE FERNANDEZ SONG, “EL REY”)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The lyrics of one of ranchera’s most famous ballads takes on a more urgent tone these days, given Vicente Fernandez’s current health.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EL REY”)

VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: “The day I die,” he sings, “you will cry, cry and cry.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Back in 1974, when Fernandez popularized the song “El Rey,” he was singing of a scorned love. But since taking a fall this summer at his ranch outside Guadalajara and the near-daily rumors of his demise, his fans and fellow musicians have been mourning.

RIGOBERTO ALFARO RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “There is a lot that makes Fernandez great but nothing as much as his voice, that booming voice,” says 86-year-old Rigoberto Alfaro Rodriguez, who for decades arranged dozens of Fernandez’s songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Always dressed in an impeccable mariachi or charro suit with a huge, wide-brimmed sombrero and a pistol on his hip, Fernandez loved to show off that voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: In concerts, he’d lower his mic and belt out the ending of a song unamplified to thunderous applause.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

KAHN: Fernandez has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, starred in dozens of films, won three Grammys, eight Latin Grammys and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

ARTURO VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “He has left us with a great musical legacy,” says Arturo Vargas, the longtime guitarist with the famous group Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, a legacy that was hard-won. Breaking into the big leagues took Fernandez years. He spent his early career singing on street corners and in restaurants, shunned by record producers. But as other great Mexican crooners passed from the scene, space opened for the mustachioed cowboy from a ranch outside Guadalajara.

VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “His mark is significant. He’ll always be among Mexican music’s icons,” Vargas tells me as musicians warm up around us backstage at a recent International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Vocalizing).

KAHN: This night, Guadalajara’s Philharmonic Orchestra grandly sits behind Vargas’ 14-member mariachi band.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIACHI VARGAS DE TECALITLAN: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Seats went for as high as a hundred dollars a ticket. It’s quite an impressive price, given mariachi’s humble origins, says Jon Clark.

JON CLARK: It was the poor people’s music.

KAHN: Clark, now 69, has been playing, studying and writing about mariachi music for decades. He says while its roots probably go back to the arrival of Hernan Cortes on Mexico’s shores – the Spanish conquistador traveled with troubadours – historians didn’t pay much attention to the mostly rural and Indigenous music. He says that’s until after the Mexican Revolution.

CLARK: When the Indigenous culture became exalted in contrast to the Porfirio Diaz regime, where everything was Eurocentric. But by then, a lot of the history had been lost.

KAHN: Many towns throughout Mexico, especially in Vicente Fernandez’s home state of Jalisco, take credit for mariachi’s origin. Cocula, not far from Guadalajara, calls itself the cradle of mariachi, sporting a tiny museum and roving musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINIGNG)

KAHN: On Sundays, the local mariachi school’s youth group plays at noon mass right after they cross the street, still in their finest brass-studded suits and play in the town’s placita.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Vicente Fernandez’s tunes are always a favorite with the crowd strolling the public park or sitting on benches, enjoying a leisurely Sunday with family. Many join in singing unabashedly, pitch and tune be damned.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: While still a sentimental favorite, the genre has lost appeal with younger generations. Fernandez scorned crossover artists, even his own son, who produces many pop songs along with mariachi favorites. And that worries 52-year-old Magdalena Vazquez.

MAGDALENA VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “Frankly, music today has no message,” she says as she sells Tupperware and COVID masks right off Cocula’s Plaza. Her small stand sits in front of the city’s huge bust honoring Vicente Fernandez.

VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “I have two daughters, and I asked them, how will a boy romance you, win you over, with what song,” she asks. Her husband hides his face in his hands and laughs. It’s those hardcore traditional older fans that kept Fernandez’s music alive for more than five decades. Fernandez has run afoul of younger generations more woke than their parents. In January, he gave a half-hearted apology after images emerged of him groping a fan’s breast as they posed for a picture. In 2019, he said he refused a liver transplant, fearing it could have come from a homosexual. But for the die-hards, Fernandez’s legacy survived such transgressions. He’s always professed that he was motivated by his devoted audience, as he said in a farewell concert in Mexico City in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Appearing to choke back tears, he says, “it was always about your affection, your respect and your applause” and, as he sings in the song “El Rey,” not about fame or wealth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Fernandez’s music will live on. Reportedly, there are dozens of previously recorded songs to be released upon his death, allowing him to remain, as he sings here, the king.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Cocula, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICENTE FERNANDEZ SONG, “VOLVER, VOLVER”)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Black Country, New Road, ‘Chaos Space Marine’

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Black Country, New Road, ‘Chaos Space Marine’

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Back in February, the London post-punk band Black Country, New Road released one of the year’s gnarliest debuts. The genre-smashing For the First Time is an odyssey that encompasses rock, jazz, post-punk, spoken-word, klezmer and much more, in songs that could sprawl to the 6-, 8- or even 10-minute mark.

Now, just eight months later, the group has announced a full-length followup, called Ants From Up There. If its first single, “Chaos Space Marine,” is any indication, Black Country, New Road has spent 2021 learning to shoehorn its zillions of sonic ideas into smaller spaces: The track runs a mere 3 minutes and 38 seconds, but still barnstorms through a thrilling transcontinental epic, punctuated by frenetic horn blasts and hairpin turns.


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