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.

Max Jury, 'Numb'

Mar 8, 2016

There are nine spare, simple songs on Julien Baker's debut album, Sprained Ankle, and every one of them is sad. In fact, she came to the Tiny Desk with an untitled new one — since given the name "Funeral Pyre" — and she appropriately introduced it as "Sad Song #11." But Baker's shimmering electric-guitar picking, the purity of her voice and the yearning way she sings make each of her songs lovely and memorable rather than merely somber.

"'One More' is in your face. It's raw." Those words from Jasmyn Burke are plainspoken and true. Her band Weaves was my No. 1 discovery at CMJ 2015, quirky, loud and mysterious, four amazing and downright fascinating players. "One More" is the first song off their very first album. The Toronto-based band has worked on its upcoming debut for the last two years, almost as long as the musicians have been playing together.

Can two crushed hearts breath life into a desolate, dreary waterpark in the Mojave Desert? If they're PWR BTTM, armed with confetti cannons, glitter and a blasting rock song of lost love, the answer is: Of course they can.

These four musicians made their first record together a decade ago, but for many of us, 2016 will be the year Lake Street Dive becomes a household name. The appeal of this band of New England Conservatory friends lies in their warmth in harmony and comfortably styled songs — sometimes tilting toward soul, often rocking danceably on a new collection of songs called Side Pony.

Artists shine given restrictions and limitations. Subtlety and nuance are more easily found in minimalism than excess. That's the beauty of Brushy One String, whose sound is made by one big fat E-string and a voice so rich and full, all it wants is a bit of rhythmic and melodic underpinning.

Miya Folick, 'Oceans'

Feb 25, 2016

On this week's All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton share songs from a trio of bands on the verge of releasing breakthrough albums. Bob starts the show strong with a jaw-dropping new song from Car Seat Headrest called "Vincent," which we also featured as a First Watch.

Wilco: Tiny Desk Concert

Feb 23, 2016

Thousands of bands have made strong debuts, and many of those have made good second and third records — it's harder, but not unusual. It's truly rare to make your 10th album exciting and relevant more than 20 years on. For all that, I'd say Wilco is an American legend.

You're about to listen to a song from what is likely to be my No. 1 album of 2016. I haven't felt this way about a guitar-based rock record since I heard Courtney Barnett's debut last year.

Martin Atkins knows many of the secrets of life, especially band life. He's played in Public Image Ltd, Nine Inch Nails, Pigface, Killing Joke and more. These days, after a life of touring nightmares and general music business foolery, he writes and teaches about music in Chicago and he's distilled his knowledge of life into bits of wisdom.

There is new music from Quilt and that makes me happy. The band's third album, which is out next week on Feb. 26, is called Plaza, and its winsome, wandering electric folk thrills my late-1960s soul. The songs on Plaza, a combination of brand new material and newly invigorated older tunes, often revolve around place and family. We asked Anna Fox Rochinski (vocals/guitars), Shane Butler (vocals/guitars) and John Andrews (drums/vocals) to tell us how they were made.

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

Watching Ben Folds perform his songs on piano at the Tiny Desk, there seems to be a direct line between thought and expression, except perhaps when he stumbles or forgets a line or two. Folds has a knack for plainspoken, smartly crafted words that sometimes sting and always seem to speak the truth — like these words from "Phone In A Pool":

Seems what's been good for the music

Hasn't always been so good for the life

For a singer who's sought privacy in the parking lot of a Target so he could record vocals in the backseat of his car, Will Toledo hasn't been shy about sharing his work. By age 23, he'd already released a dozen albums. Toledo, who records under the name Car Seat Headrest, is prolific but never conventional.

"These are just the strongest melodies and the strongest ideas that occurred to me over a three to four year period, distilled."

EL VY: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 29, 2016

It's fun to see something truly new from someone whose work you love. Matt Berninger came to the Tiny Desk as lead singer of The National a few years ago, but this time he's collaborating with Brent Knopf from the bands Menomena and Ramona Falls. EL VY is their new project, and the two are perfect foils for each other — especially in this intimate setting, which highlights Knopf's playful piano and Berninger's resonant voice.

Today, we celebrate the release of our 500th Tiny Desk concert. It's amazing that something that started as a bit of a wisecrack has been so widely embraced by artists and fans. In 2008 at SXSW in Austin, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and I met up to see singer Laura Gibson. Laura was so quiet, and the crowd was so loud and rude — something about a March basketball game — that Stephen jokingly asked her to come play at my desk so we could hear her.

What is the role of a white person in the struggle of black people fighting injustice? That's the question posed by Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, as he puzzles out his own role as a white artist in love with hip-hop on a new song called "White Privilege II." Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released the song as a free download overnight via a website that also offers links to "supporting black led organizations," and already, conversation and controversy have begun.

I think of Wolf Alice as noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk, the band showed a different side — one that was childlike, pretty and quietly wonderful. I knew the three songs the group played from Wolf Alice's 2015 album My Love Is Cool, but I hardly recognized them at first. One test when you're trying to spot talent is seeing how artists step up to a challenge, and Wolf Alice's songs sound muscular even when stripped of volume. The Mercury Prize-nominated British band is a great discovery, and I'm still enchanted.

This immensely talented band from Asheville, N.C., was my favorite discovery at this year's Americana Music Festival. River Whyless builds its music around fiddle, guitar and harmonies, with imagination and textures that set the band apart from many of its acoustic and folk-based peers.

In the summer of 2014, Natalie Merchant came to Washington, D.C., to perform her first album of all-new material in 13 years. She was supposed to play here at my desk the day after that evening's performance. Instead, she fell ill, wound up in a D.C. hospital, and canceled her upcoming dates.

After seeing exactly 662 bands in each 2013 and 2014, my concert attendance plummeted in 2015. This past year I saw only 506 bands take the stage, but I have an excuse. I wrote a book.

It's A Holiday Soul Party! isn't just the title of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' new album. It also describes perfectly what you're about to see. No one does old-school soul like this band, and having the group perform traditional and nontraditional tunes for the holiday brought joy and laughs to NPR's staff.

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