Stephen Thompson

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.


So many 1990s alt-rock hit-makers have reunited over the years, it's hard to keep track of who's coming back, who's never left, and who's already returned to the shadows. Most have attempted a comeback at least once — Jesus Jones released an album just last week — so it's rarely a surprise to encounter a press announcement from a reconstituted Deep Blue Something or Crash Test Dummies.

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.

A quick scan of the headlines reveals, for those who'd let it slip their minds, that the world is essentially an exploding toilet of governmental crisis and global conflict. A quick scan of tomorrow's headlines will likely reveal, for those who dare anticipate them, an entirely new set of threats and catastrophes. The old ones won't have resolved themselves, mind you; they'll merely have been joined by a fresh set of nauseating calamities, each landing in our lives with the shudder-inducing plop of a full diaper dropped off a tall building.

For Tunde Olaniran, art is about big ambitions, bigger ideas and the relentless pursuit of joy and comfort within his own skin. The Flint, Mich., native's bold and wildly dynamic 2015 debut Transgressor announced him as a playful multi-hyphenate provocateur who sings, raps, writes and choreographs from a vast well of creativity.

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.

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.

Austin singer-songwriter Mélat Kassa used her hometown's recent SXSW music festival as a springboard to reach new fans from around the world. Mélat, who performs under her first name only, crafts a smart and stylish sound that's inspired by a mix of contemporary American R&B and Ethiopian pop. At the Austin Convention Center's Radio Day Stage earlier this month, she performed her standout single "Push" with the help of a stripped-down live band.

SET LIST

  • "Push"

We don't always delve into music on Pop Culture Happy Hour, but this year's South By Southwest music festival gave us a nice opportunity to spread around a few recommendations. I'm already renowned for never shutting up about the six-hour playlist NPR Music calls The Austin 100 — which, it turns out, you can still stream and download in its entirety until March 31 — but what we've got here is a slightly more digestible discussion of 2018's SXSW highlights.

In the run-up to SXSW 2015, the All Songs Considered team could agree on one pop jam to rule them all: Genevieve's "Colors." Sometimes billed as "Show Your Colors," the song has popped up in commercials and landed the singer at the Tiny Desk, where curmudgeonly pop skeptic Bob Boilen couldn't help but marvel at how thoroughly he'd been won over.

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.


Every band needs to refresh and reconsider its sound sooner or later, no matter how sharp it's gotten over the course of a long career. Creative stagnation comes for us all — even The Decemberists, a band whose records have always come bursting with verve and verbosity.

Sampling the thousands of bands playing South By Southwest each year is like trying to take a sip from a tidal wave: It's hard to find an entry point, and you're more than likely going to wind up flattened.

Next week, the annual music festival kicks off in Austin, Texas, so All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin requested a digestible primer — five songs by artists worth hearing this year.

Last year, NPR Music and NPR member stations across the country launched a new series called Slingshot designed to boost the careers of up-and-coming public radio favorites. Since the beginning of 2018, 22 new Slingshot artists have been announced. Many of them are about to head to Austin, Texas, for next week's South By Southwest Music Festival. To preview the big event, here are a few artist recommendations from the Slingshot series.

Look, it's gonna be a tough week. Maybe you stayed up late watching the Oscars and you're already underslept; maybe there's a lot going on at work right now; and certainly, if nothing else, whatever transpires in the news will accumulate so quickly, you won't believe that only four days have passed by the time we get to Friday.

The Austin 100

Mar 1, 2018

In the middle of every March, the SXSW Music Festival fills Austin, Texas, with thousands of musicians from around the world. It's a marathon so daunting — it's a marathon and a sprint, really — that even longtime SXSW veterans need a hand winnowing the festival's countless discoveries down to digestible doses.

That's where The Austin 100 comes in. Handpicked from thousands of bands playing at this year's festival, these 100 songs highlight the best SXSW 2018 has to offer — songs from around the world, across a broad spectrum of genres, sounds and styles.

If you're a Spotify user, you can listen to most of this year's Austin 100 in our Spotify playlist. For a complete list of the musicians in our mixtape, visit npr.org/austin100.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Folk / Funk / R&B

Why We're Excited: When singer and violinist Sudan Archives discovered the way the violin is played in Northeast Africa, she overhauled her sound to accommodate it. Now, her slippery pop and soul music incorporates sharp and hypnotic violin lines like the ones that animate the irrepressibly clattering "Come Meh Way."

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago

Genre: Soca

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Genre: Funk, R&B, Bounce Music

Why We're Excited: Winners of the third annual Tiny Desk Contest last spring, Tank and the Bangas' many members have spent the past year winning over the rest of the world. The band's brassily kinetic, genre-smashing energy absolutely must be witnessed live, but "Quick" shows that it's possible to contain Tank and the Bangas' immense allure on a recording, too.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Chamber Pop

Why We're Excited: Gracie Coates sings ominously but brightens the proceedings with soft, buoyant piano parts; Rachel Ruggles, for her part, plays swooping, hypnotic lines on the violin. It's a particular sound — at once sunny and dark, sad and sweet, gentle and intense. In "Only a Child," Gracie and Rachel place lives of anxiety and conflict in simple, refreshing context.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Genre: Metal

Why We're Excited: Nate Garrett launched Spirit Adrift as a doom-metal solo project during some major transitions in his life, including sobriety and a cross-country move. Now that he's surrounded himself with a full band, Garrett spends his second album (Curse of Conception) drawing some of his inspiration — not to mention raw, thundering power — from more traditional metal bands like Metallica and Judas Priest.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: London, England

Genre: Jazz

Why We're Excited: Ezra Collective keeps one foot planted in traditional jazz but lets the other wander far and wide, bringing back rhythmic traces of hip-hop and Afrobeat. On the new Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, Ezra Collective sounds alternately taut and spacey in tunes that don't stay in one place long, let alone recede into the background.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: "Syml" is the Welsh word for "simple," which should provide a sense of the aesthetic at work in SYML's "Where's My Love." Brian Fennell writes straightforwardly heartwarming, sweetly engaging folk-pop songs, softening each with a voice that embodies comfort and kindness.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Buck Meek is best known as the lead guitarist and cofounder of Big Thief, but he's also got a nice, low-key side gig going as a solo artist. On his own, he rambles and twangs through conversational, countrified, vividly detailed stories of wanderers, lost souls and dreamers.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Manchester, England

Genre: Dream Pop

Why We're Excited: Songwriters Heather Baron-Gracie and Ciara Doran love to mix elements of '80s pop into their dreamy, sparkling sound, but Pale Waves' songs feel remarkably fresh — in part because great hooks are great hooks, regardless of the era that inspired them. "Heavenly" is as gorgeous as it is infectious, which is saying something.

SXSW Schedule:

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