Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

They came, they measured, and they returned to perform a show like no other. It was the great NPR Tiny Desk Takeover by Blue Man Group.

If you've not seen this performance ensemble and their production in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago or Berlin, then you've missed a night of magical fun. These Blue Men may never say a word, but the performances make for poignant looks at who we are as humans. They also make unusual music on instruments of their own design.

They came, they measured, they built and they plotted. But first, they had to borrow a few things from the NPR office.

Blue Man Group designed new instruments and a small-scale show solely for a one-time performance at the Tiny Desk. Celebrate the group's 25th anniversary with this musical and comical adventure, which you can watch this Monday, Sept. 26, at npr.org/tinydesk.

For the past 25 years I've had this notion that on every successive Leonard Cohen record his voice would get deeper and deeper until one day he'd put out an album so subsonic that you'd just feel it, not hear it. Well, we're close. On this day, Leonard Cohen's 82nd birthday, he's given us a gift: It's dark, it's beautiful and it's deep. "You Want It Darker" is the title track to his soon-to-be-released album, his 14th studio album in his 49-year recording career. The album of nine songs, out Oct. 21, is produced by his son, musician Adam Cohen.

In terms of sheer intensity, Saul Williams' Tiny Desk concert may be the most potent in our eight-year history. Only Kate Tempest comes to mind as its equal, which makes sense given that both mix music with bracing, truthful poetry. In Williams' opening song — "Burundi," from his album MartyrLoserKing — the main character is a computer hacker who lives in Burundi and fights for democracy:

There is a magical new film by Bill Morrison, who has has garnered love and accolades for his films that use archival footage to tell new stories.

His work has been shown around the world, recently as part of a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Along with his use of found footage, Bill Morrison often teams up with modern composers. He's made films using music by Philip Glass, Harry Partch, Vijay Iyer and Bill Frisell which gives you an idea of his reach into both the world of classical, avant-garde and jazz.

There's a new film about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds directed by Andrew Dominik called One More Time With Feeling. The setting of the film is a recording studio for a performance of songs from Skeleton Tree, the band's 16th studio album. But the backdrop to the film is tragic. In the summer of 2015, Nick Cave's 15-year-old son Arthur fell from a cliff while hallucinating on LSD. The film was made about five months later. Cave has not spoken at any length about his son, and this film is, in a way, his statement and thoughts on Arthur's death.

There's a long history of male singers with high lonesome voices, from boy choirs to Jimmie Rodgers, from Frankie Valli to Curtis Mayfield to Michael Jackson to The Weeknd.

The power of Big Thief lies in the stunning voice of Adrianne Lenker — as well as the band's intense rhythms, the guitar playing of Buck Meek and, right, the lyrics. Come to think of it, everything this band does serves the muscular warmth of these brilliant songs, which are not only memorable, but meaningful.

Here's something I find remarkable: There are only three professionally made recordings of The Beatles playing live in concert. Sure, there are bootleg recordings that don't sound very good. And there's a single-microphone recording from the band's days performing in Hamburg in the early '60s, but that's it.

Note: With hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton away this week, we've got an encore presentation of The Worst Songs Of All Time, from Feb. 2014.


Guitarist, actor, writer (and former Monitor Mix blogger) Carrie Brownstein joins us, along with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, to do something we don't normally do: Talk about the songs we really, really don't like.

There's brutal honesty in the songs of Margaret Glaspy that can make them feel cold, but they're also heartfelt. That's part of what makes Glaspy a top new artist of 2016 for many of the writers here at NPR Music.

The band San Fermin plays painstakingly orchestrated folk-rock, performed with two singers at the fore. The deep, dreamy male voice belongs to Allen Tate, who's about to put out his first solo record. But he's not straying too far from San Fermin: That group's mastermind and Tate's longtime friend, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, produced the forthcoming Sleepwalker.

I've missed Lisa Hannigan. Five years ago, the Irish singer-songwriter made an unforgettably beautiful record called Passenger. She came by to play a Tiny Desk concert that year, and then we had to wait for half a decade; it was tough, because I've missed her sad, delicate songs. It turns out the five-year gap wasn't her plan.

There's new music from The Tallest Man On Earth. Though the song, "Rivers" feels familiar, there's an immediacy here, as though singer Kristian Matsson quickly captured a passionate moment in time. The voice is rawer and homespun, with lovely horns and piano accompanying a tale about leaving.

A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead's ninth and quietest record, owes much of its sound to the band's visionary guitarist, violist, electronics wiz and arranger Jonny Greenwood. On this week's All Songs +1 podcast I talk with him about how A Moon Shaped Pool came to be.

The music of Kevin Morby is fairly straightforward and acoustic for the most part, with traditional, folk-based rock at its core. The mystery and intensity lies in the lyrics. His biting song "I Have Been To The Mountain," performed here at the Tiny Desk and on his 2016 album Singing Saw, was inspired by the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York City police officer.

That man lived in this town

Till that pig took him down

And have you heard the sound

What if you could see your favorite band in a living room, without all the background noise and cellphones you get at a live show? That's the question Rafe Offer, founder of Sofar Sounds, asked himself and a few friends after they'd seen a show where he couldn't even hear the band. Sofar Sounds operates around a simple idea: You gather together a few bands, a house in which they can perform, and an eager audience. However, the lineup isn't announced, which means the audience has no idea who's scheduled to perform until they arrive.

For Lucy Dacus, a 21-year-old with a warm and deep voice, singing comes as naturally as talking. As an adopted child in Richmond, Va., she was raised by a piano-playing mother; now, she writes songs that can be thoughtful, playful and powerful, with tremendous arrangements from guitarist Jacob Blizard.

Listening to John Congleton can be scary. The imagery — of "blood between my legs," of loving another "like a lion loves its kill" — can be horrifying. But the songs Congleton sings (from his album Until The Horror Goes) touch on what it means to be human, and what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood "temporary custodians" in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.

Gregory Porter's healing soul music sends a message of compassion, and he's got a baritone voice that resonates love. When Porter visited NPR, we'd just learned that our colleague, photojournalist David Gilkey, had been killed while working on a story for NPR in Afghanistan. When Porter began singing the calmly beautiful "No Love Dying," he may not have known how much it would mean to us.

When I first heard You Got Me Singing, a new record by Amanda Palmer and her father Jack, I thought, "How sweet. They probably sang many of these songs together long ago." Then I discovered how wrong I was.

At first it was simply the voice that shook me. I was in Austin, Texas, during SXSW, and my buddy Sean Moeller of Daytrotter told me he was recording a new favorite band and I should come by. The house/makeshift studio on Austin's East Side was saturated with the alluring voice of Natalie Carol and her solid yet rattling Neil Young-ish band. That was my introduction to Valley Queen, and I've seen them shake the walls at a few venues around the country now, one of which was here at NPR.

At first, I was drawn in by Adia Victoria's languid guitar sound: In her hands, it practically has a drawl of its own. Then I heard her stories — never trite, often personal, always potent — which you can hear in the words that open her Tiny Desk concert. "I don't know nothing 'bout Southern belles," she sings in "Stuck In The South," adding, "but I can tell you something 'bout Southern hell."

It's only June and this year is already jam-packed with remarkable new artists who've released some of 2016's most memorable music. These are artists who released their very first songs or first full-length albums so far this year.

Truth be told, when I saw the opening of this video, with Phaedra & Elsa Greene donning sunglasses and coordinated stars and stripes outfits, it felt trite: then the words kicked and the tone of the video along with my attitude, changed.

"America bleeds
The tears of a clown
Seeing stars
Behind bars."

Each year dozens of new artists become part of my life soundtrack. Last year Courtney Barnett, Soak, Ibeyi, Girlpool and many more all became a huge part of my listening for the year and some wound up on my final top ten list.

This year, Lucy Dacus, Big Thief, Margaret Glaspy, Mothers, Overcoats and Weaves are all part of my everyday listening, and are all artists making a debut either with their first album, EP or very first songs.

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