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The Musical Universe

 

After 27 years, Bill and Ted are on their way back to close the time loop in a new film, Bill and Ted Face the Music.

Liminal space can be both a beginning and a transition — it's the threshold that floats between worlds. When you just need to drift into nothingness from the aches of daily life, that unending quality makes for good ambient music, no?

The band's name — The Dreebs — sounds like urban-dwelling forest trolls, slipping in and out of sewers and city-sanctioned parks in packs.

Violinist and vocalist Adam Markiewicz, guitarist Jordan Bernstein and drummer Shannon Sigley have all played in the equally twisted PC Worship, and were all, at some point, part of a commune-like space called Le Wallet that's fostered many musicians in the New York scene. After a few records and digital releases, Forest of a Crew mutates The Dreebs into a strange and beautiful creature.

New phases are the unseen forces of life. In persons, in movements, they are the quietly unfolding moments and soul detritus that build momentum over time, only revealed as a crescent of new being. That's the poetry of a new moon, a solar body that exists, but is invisible to the unaided eye, and only rarely illuminated by an eclipse.

After a 14-year absence, Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited rocked until dawn at Glamis Arena, an open-air stadium packed with some 20,000 fans of three generations. Mapfumo — Mukanya to his fans, a reference to his totem, the baboon — moved his family out of the country in 2000, to escape turmoil and harassment under the regime of Robert Mugabe.

Imagine you're at a party with your most favorite music geek friends. The conversations range from favorite new albums, and favorite Smiths or Belle and Sebastian B-sides to best Neil Young guitar solos and Drake features. Then comes the big one: What was the greatest year in music? That's a question that we discuss and debate regularly in the World Cafe offices.

Back in 2016, Irish singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton — a.k.a. Jealous of the Birds — was one of NPR Music's favorite SXSW discoveries. Her song "Goji Berry Sunset" demonstrated a remarkable gift for converting spare and common ingredients (voice, acoustic guitar, a bit of whistling) into a sound that's dense, gently hypnotic and utterly her own.

Do yourself a favor: don't Google "Wand" and "Pure Romance" while at work, unless your place of business happens to be an adult toy store. Your browser history will thank you either way.

Lucky for you, you don't need to search for the Los Angeles psych-rock band's video for "Pure Romance." We're premiering it right here.

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.


Throwback soul and honky-tonk never seem to go entirely out of fashion. Both breakthrough acts and performers building small followings on the vinylphile fringes have embraced those aesthetics as vehicles for emotional grit and analog authenticity. That hasn't been as true of country-funk, a vintage style far more prone to periods of obscurity, but which is now enjoying a quiet resurgence.

Lowell George always took the road less traveled — even if it didn't lead to the bank. The revered singer and guitarist of Little Feat told Chicago's WXRT as much in 1979, two weeks before he died at just 34 years old.

Australian singer-songwriter Gordi (a.k.a. Sophie Payten) has a dusky and evocative voice that usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it's echoing down a stairwell, or else she's bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi's occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

It's a cliché, but it's true: Adults are always complaining about the next generation. Chloe and Halle Bailey have something to say about that.

One of Rome's must-see sights is the Vatican's Sistine Chapel — but it's usually so packed, visitors have a hard time absorbing the majesty and beauty of the frescoes painted by Michelangelo.

Now there's a new spectacle in town, where visitors can sit comfortably in plush theater seats and feast their eyes on every detail of the Sistine's masterpieces.

The #MuteRKelly movement is picking up steam. Founded late last year by Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, #MuteRKelly seeks to draw attention to the artist's controversial past and is pressuring companies to cut ties with him.

Wu Man is recognized as the world's greatest virtuoso on an instrument that is over 2000 years old: the Chinese pipa.

Britt Daniel is the leader and co-founder of the Austin band Spoon — their latest album is "Hot Thoughts." We've invited him to play a game called "Mmm, mmm, good!" Three questions about soup.

Click the audio link above to see how he does.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Updated May 4 at 6:35 p.m. ET

In a week of renewed attention to two decades' worth of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against R&B singer R. Kelly, a pair of new reports from BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post were published on Friday, bringing forward allegations from three more women who say they were abused by Kelly.

Last month, the National Endowment for the Arts crowned four new NEA Jazz Masters, including Todd Barkan, a jazz advocate whose early interest in Latin jazz piano turned into a successful five-decade career as a prominent impresario, club owner and record producer. Guitarist Pat Metheny continues to redefine the parameters of his instrument through innovative technique and signature sound. Pianist Joanne Brackeen's unique style commands attention, and Dianne Reeves has become one of the world's preeminent jazz vocalists, whose genius in retrospect seems ceaseless.

It was a week into the bizarre "red pill" Kanye West tour that the whole affair seemed to reach its zenith — or its nadir, depending on where you're sitting. Kanye completed his transmogrification into a sentient Reddit thread when he appeared on TMZ this week, parroting well-worn talking points about black-on-black crime and calling slavery in America "a choice." Van Lathan of TMZ was not having it.

Don Friedman On Piano Jazz

May 4, 2018

In honor of the birthday of Don Friedman (May 4, 1935 — June 30, 2016), Piano Jazz presents this broadcast from 1996. Although Friedman first studied classical piano, he fell in love with the voice of jazz and performed with jazz greats such as Chet Baker and Buddy DeFranco.

In this session, Friedman demonstrates his unique sound on a solo of his "Waltz for Marilyn." He and McPartland duet in "Stella by Starlight," and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi joins for "How Deep is the Ocean."

For a lot of music fans, uttering the name Jeff Buckley is tantamount to prayer, and whispering the title of his song "Eternal Life" is prophecy. While there are limited morsels of Buckley's otherworldly essence left on this earth, there are untold stories from those who knew him. It's taken Dave Lory two decades to tell some of these tales.

James McMurtry On Mountain Stage

May 4, 2018

Texas-based singer and songwriter James McMurtry has been a favorite at Mountain Stage since he made his first appearance on the program in 1989. Host Larry Groce notes in his introduction that McMurtry "can create a character, set a scene and give you the kind of details and feelings that make you have an experience instead of just listening to a song."

It's springtime, and depending on where you live, you've likely either already begun the year's first May weekend or are getting ready to set out into the world. The air hangs thick with anticipation, with hope, with pollen — these are heady times, and you need a song to mirror the intensity and wonder of it all.

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