Bob Boilen

Ethereal and catchy don't often make a perfect pair within pop music, but the combination is exactly what hooked me on VON GREY, an Atlanta trio formed by the siblings Kathryn, Annika and Fiona von Grey.

The trio has classical music training, on cello and violins, but go further afield, as well; a Moog bass pedal, a mandolin a banjo. VON GREY have been making music publicly for the past six years, releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2012, the Awakening EP in 2014 and the Panophobia EP in 2015.

The Norwegian songwriter and singer Siv Jakobsen seems to fill her tunes with a storm of lyrical tension, sung over a sea of instrumental calm — her new album, The Nordic Mellow, is not always as intense as the song we're premiering today, "Shallow Digger," would lead you to believe. (The high-powered arrangements here, in fact, remind me of Led Zeppelin's thunderous "Immigrant Song.")

Algiers new album The Underside Of Power is one of 2017's most ambitious and intense records. I love it — but sometimes I have to just have to hit pause. There's a fierceness both in subject and sound and source, including speeches from Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers, bold and dark lyrical imagery of death and rage, sounds of people weeping, drones, chimes and what at times feels like the entire history of rock, gospel and R&B wrapped into fifty-one minutes. There's a lot to unpack here.

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.

Guest DJ: alt-J

Jun 6, 2017

The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Laron's classical training.

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"

Our 2017 Tiny Desk Contest has come to an end.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band turns 50 next week — so what's been done to celebrate one of the greatest records ever? They've remixed the entire album! The word "remix," in fact, may not capture the scope of the project — it's more like someone rebuilt a pyramid with fresh bricks. But a question remains: Why would anyone do so? I traveled to New York to meet Giles Martin, who spearheaded the project, to find that out.

On February 28, 1967, The Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios in London working on a new song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Today we're premiering "take one," the first attempt The Beatles made at recording it.

Tim Darcy has a gifted voice, with a delivery that triggers the Lou Reed and Roy Orbison pleasure centers of my brain. The words he delivers are mysterious and mellifluous, playing in my mind's ear long after his newest album, Saturday Night — so named because it was mostly recorded on the weekends in the midst of making his other band's second album — comes to its close.

"This song is called 'You Never Loved Me' — it's another cheery, optimistic number," says Aimee Mann, introducing the second of four songs in this Tiny Desk Concert. She has been writing songs on the human condition — more often than not with a strong sense of humor to underpin the inevitable melancholy — as far back as the '80s, when she was the singer and bassist in Boston's The Young Snakes. Mann's newest solo record, the first in five years, is baldly called Mental Illness — clearly, there's a deep honesty within these songs.

This is likely the quietest Tiny Desk Concert ever.

The first time I saw Christopher Paul Stelling his face was red and his eyes were wide, singing as if he were about to burst apart, as if he had so much to tell us and too little time, as if his mind was racing faster than his tongue could keep up with. He's a singer with the spirit of Woody Guthrie both deep within and showing on his sleeve. Stelling has a new collection of songs he has titled Itinerant Arias, which he says "sounds a lot better than 'travelin' songs,'" but that's exactly what they are. Songs which have in common no single origin, or sense of place.

Since I see a lot of live music, I'm often asked to recommend concerts worth shelling out money for. So, starting today and hopefully each week to come, I'm going to take some time to tell you about the inspired shows I've recently seen. I'll post my photographs from the concerts and tour links when available, to assist in steering you towards events you might not think to check out.

I want to introduce you to Chad Clark, a Washington D.C. artist with the band Beauty Pill, which begins a tour today with a musical hero of Clark's and of mine, Arto Lindsay.

As the primary booker of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I have this self-imposed rule: No artist can come back for a second visit unless there's something wholly different about what they're doing. The first time alt-J played the Tiny Desk, in 2012, they came as a four-piece; electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. They were a pretty new band, their album had been out a few months and they were playing in clubs for a couple hundred people, not much more.

(You can find a playlist of the artists I saw this week at the bottom of this piece.)

I didn't know much about Gracie and Rachel on first hearing "Only A Child." There's a terrific tension in the sound, an underpinning of mystery set against a baroque, but modern, pop foreground. Then I discovered that Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles seemingly embody the schism I heard in their song — Rachel's dark, classic violin is set against Gracie's more upbeat pop piano.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

It seemed like a simple video editing trick, run the tape backwards and it will look like this guy is driving backward. Well, it's no trick. The more I watch this video, for JEFF the Brotherhood's song "Punishment," the more jaw-dropping it is to see Harpreet Pappu careening on the highways and unpaved side roads of Bathinda, Punjab in India at full speed — and backwards.

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