Music

Music

The 1970s was an incredibly diverse decade for recorded music: from hippie folk at the start to disco, punk, the rise of reggae and the very first stirrings of hip-hop. At the beginning of the decade, Frank Sinatra had a song on the charts for 122 weeks. There was soft rock, metal and country. Album sales and progressive radio were huge.

All this is true. That's why it is so fascinating to look at the songs that ended up at the very top of Billboard's pop chart for each year of the decade — they certainly don't always represent all the change that was going on.

For Big Thief, fragility and power come inextricably intertwined. Singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker may let her songs sit and seethe for long stretches, but those slow builds only maximize the catharsis of the big, loud, high-volume bursts of force that follow.

The annual South by Southwest conference is in full swing in Austin, Texas, where thousands of musicians go in hopes of making the right connections for their big break. The number of bands from Latin America and from Latino communities has increased so much that organizers have created a mini-conference within the larger festival. It's called SXAmericas and Felix Contreras — the host of Alt-Latino, NPR Music's weekly podcast about Latino arts and culture — spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish about a trend he's spotted there.

L.A. Salami sings and fingerpicks his acoustic guitar like an old truck winding through windswept blue highways. The British artist's debut album Dancing With Bad Grammar was one of Bob Boilen's top 10 albums of last year, saying it was a "hidden gem in 2016."

When PWR BTTM takes the stage, it doesn't take long to figure out what you're going to get. From the first glitter-smeared seconds of the set-opening "Silly," the band came to shred and swagger with infectious joy, complete with backbends and solos and spangly outfits — at least one of which wouldn't survive the band's set at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, recorded live for NPR Music Wednesday night.

If you've only heard Lizzo's hit "Good As Hell" — and if you haven't, listen now, I'll wait — you might think the Twin Cities singer is a funny and ingratiating but fairly straightforward purveyor of self-affirmation and charismatic confidence. But as her joyful and explosive live show unfolded, complete with the arrival of the ecstatic backup dancers she calls "The Big Girls," it became clear that Lizzo has something more powerful going on.

"I'm ready for the world," Alynda Lee Segarra sings in the chorus of the rousing "Hungry Ghost" — and her band's set told that simple truth again and again. In the past seven or eight years, Hurray For The Riff Raff has blossomed slowly but fully, transforming its sound from intense-but-delicate one-woman bedroom recordings to the rip-roaring full-band jams that dominated the group's set at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, recorded live for NPR Music Wednesday night.

Whether it's vinyl records, disposable cameras or magnetic tapes, the present resurgence in outdated media use is worth reflection. What makes these imprecise, expensive recording devices superior to the ever-improving resolutions of their digital counterparts? According to the experimental German label PAN, the answer lies in the Japanese term mono no aware: the transience of things.

Katy Perry's "Chained To The Rhythm" is one the year's low-key-subversive pop songs with a title that suggests Top 40 pop, but is actually about how They Are Controlling You. WAKE UP SHEEPLE.

"Turn it up, keep it on repeat / Stumbling around like a wasted zombie / We think we're free / Drink, this one's on me."

Late yesterday evening, Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Katie Presley and Stephen Thompson wandered the streets of Austin recapping a day of music. For everyone, it was a day of political music that still made space for joy. Katie saw mostly rap yesterday, and she was especially struck by Moor Mother, whose fiery set had also inspired an excellent performance from New York-based rapper SAMMUS.

NPR's Scott Simon spoke to James Cotton in 2013. Hear an encore of their conversation at the audio link.

For a musician, Israel's compulsory military service has its challenges and opportunities. Yotam Silberstein used every moment of his military downtime to practice the jazz guitar. When he got out of the army, he became one of Israel's most renowned young players — but he still had a big move ahead of him.

Nursery rhymes can be nightmares, too. Or, at the very least, a reminder that fantasy can be just as gloomy as reality. Under the weirdly mischievous name Let's Eat Grandma, Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton make music that runs around the notions of pop — it is, at turns, unsettling, joyous and experimental. So, of course, we asked them to sing us to sleep.

President Trump's proposed budget calls for big cuts in a wide array of domestic programs — among them, agencies that fund the arts, humanities and public media.

Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be cut to zero under the proposal, and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely, the first time any president has proposed such a measure.

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The Shins visited our studio for one of the first full-band performances behind the new album Heartworms. Frontman James Mercer produced this album on his own — something he hasn't done since The Shins' 2001 debut album, Oh, Inverted World. "The Fear" sounds incredible live with a string section.

Set List

  • "The Fear"

Photo: Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW.

The resistance is real in the world of Amazon Video's original series The Man in The High Castle, based on the award-winning book by Philip K. Dick. Set in 1962, the show imagines a history where Germany and Japan actually won World War II and, 17 years after the loss, the United States is split between Nazi Germany (the East Coast) and Imperial Japan (the West Coast). In the midst of it all, a resistance movement has been formed in a neutral zone to fight for freedom.

Daymé Arocena must be an old soul. She's a bright, young singer with a surprisingly mature voice that's deep and dynamic. Her spirit is exuberant and her style is rich, steeped in Cuba's African rhythms and Santería culture and influenced by Whitney Houston, North American pop and jazz.

Amid truck horns and the distant sounds of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It," the All Songs Considered team gathered outside of Stubb's BBQ to recount a day overflowing with new musical discoveries and old favorites. On Wednesday night, NPR Music hosted its annual showcase at Stubb's. That event at that place has become as ritual as tacos and crowded streets for this crowd, but the show still astonished them. Stephen Thompson fell for Sylvan Esso's new songs.

If you've ever spent an afternoon with "Under the Sea" or "A Whole New World" or "Be Our Guest" stuck in your head, you can thank composer Alan Menken.

Menken scored The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and many other Disney classics. He says he prefers his songs "to be hum-able."

It was all too easy to paint the recent era of carousing country jams with a broad, dismissive brush. Reworking familiar tropes has always been central to country songwriting, so it wasn't merely the presence of repetition that rankled.

For more than a decade, singer-songwriter Sera Cahoone has specialized in a shy, introverted kind of folk music: She started her career at the back of the stage, playing drums for Carissa's Wierd and Band Of Horses, and the solo songs that followed reflected the gently unassuming nature of a singer who couldn't showboat in the spotlight if she tried.

Kelly Lee Owens' self-titled debut is a folk-pop album – kind of like how Arthur Russell, a longtime hero of the singer/songwriter/producer for whom she names the collection's wonderful second track, is a folk-pop artist. That is, completely and not all. Its melodies are effortless, romantic and repetitive; its atmosphere replete with pastoral open spaces and the kind of spiritual longing at the heart of human intimacy.

At the end of 2014, Geneviève Castrée and I were writing back and forth to each other about domestic life, baking bread, and the forthcoming records by both her own Ô Paon project (Fleuve) and and that of her husband Phil Elverum: Mount Eerie's Sauna.

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Valerie June's "Astral Plane" was already made to be a lullaby, a softly swaying, country-tinged soul song that scrapes the stratosphere. On the studio version from The Order Of Time, it's dipped in gauzy guitar and keys.

After missing two chances to control the compositions he co-authored while in The Beatles — once in 1969 when he and John Lennon were outbid and again to Michael Jackson, in a duplicitous move by the King of Pop, in the '80s — Paul McCartney is not taking any chances.

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