WUIS Xponential

WUIS Xponential

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the brick-sized bale of bills that arrived during our recent vacation is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on how to play DJ from the passenger seat of a friend's car.

What do Mozart, Herbie Hancock and Michael Jackson have in common? For one, their musical talent was discovered early — they were all considered child prodigies.

To wrap up World Cafe's Sense Of Place visit to Stockholm, we talked with the charming Swedish folk-pop duo First Aid Kit in Philadelphia just last week. Sisters Klara and Johanna Soderburg sat down to discuss their impression of Stockholm growing up right outside of it — including early busking excursions to the city to finance new hair color.

"I can't stop mourning, it's like hearing cancer spreading," singer and bassist Julie DeLano sings. "It's like hope is a fairy tale and so are the gods, and change is unheard of." In "Wake Of The World," the buoyant final track from the Brooklyn band Gold's self-titled album, DeLano unfurls a laconic string of half-sung, half-spoken inner feelings and open statements about the sad and unsustainable state of society.

Sometimes rock 'n' roll can be a load of bull, gamed by release schedules, promotion cycles and Twitter beefs that turn as tepid as a beer left swimming in a swampy cooler all night. Featuring two guys who've been through the grind — Zak Sally played bass with Low in the '90s and Dale Flattum was in Steel Pole Bath Tub — and Gay Witch Abortion drummer Shawn Walker, The Hand has decided to cut through it all: no records, no tours, no studios, just dirty, full-throttle rock 'n' roll how they want it, when they want it.

KCRW Presents: Baio

Jul 31, 2015

Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio is striking out on his own as Baio, and he brought a string quartet to KCRW's studio to premiere songs from his first full-length. The album veers between danceable electronic music and thoughtful, catchy pop songs like this one, called "Needs."

SET LIST

  • "Needs"

David Hyde Pierce On Song Travels

Jul 31, 2015

Actor, singer and comedian David Hyde Pierce is best known for his Emmy-winning role as Niles Crane on the long-running TV series Frasier. He's also a Tony-winning actor for his role in Curtains.

Pierce and Song Travels host Michael Feinstein open the show with "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," and Pierce sings a few of his favorite standards with Feinstein at the piano.

"It's all love songs this time," says Mac DeMarco when we connect over Skype (cell reception at his place in Far Rockaway, Queens, is spotty) to talk about Another One, his latest mini-album. Make that love songs with little problems: Each of the songs on this charming, scruffy collection takes on love that's just out of reach, whether it's doomed from the start or just run its course. "It's just kind of like every angle of how somebody might feel if they're having strange feelings in their chest," DeMarco says.

When I first saw Shamir at NPR Music's SXSW showcase, the 20-year-old singer popped on stage with a Yo Gabba Gabba T-shirt and proceeded to light up the night with his disco-infused funk and joyful energy.

Recommended Dose, our monthly column of the best in underground dance music, took June off while we argued over our favorite tracks of the first half of 2015. (You can see them here and listen to them here.) So we broke the rules and included a few cuts from June that we didn't hear while hunkered down in the NPR Music war room.

Jason Isbell is riding high this week: His new album Something More Than Free is number one on Billboard's country, rock and folk charts. The musician from rural Alabama got his start with the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, and then went solo. For the past few years, he's been sober, after drinking brought him "close to the point of no return."

Sturgill Simpson doesn't adhere to what's expected of him.

The company you keep says a lot. On his upcoming full-length debut, Seven Sundays, Inglewood singer-songwriter SiR (born "Sir" Darryl Farris) is making a hell of a statement through his collaborative choices.

Attention all music geeks: Can you identify the 35 album covers Canadian singer Kalle Mattson re-creates in this video?

"Avalanche" is the title track for his new EP, to be released on Aug. 21. It's a big, bold sound for Kalle and draws from the influences of many of the musical heroes he pays homage to in this video, as he told us via email:

Calling all design geeks and fans of cool album art! Check out this thing we made.

It tells the story of graphic designer Denise Burt and her album covers. Read about her process, see the art — and hear the music that inspired her.

Shortly after Burt moved to Copenhagen in 2000, she landed a job creating album covers for Denmark's Dacapo Records. Trouble was, she didn't know a thing about the contemporary classical music the label specialized in.

Joss Stone's voice first stunned listeners more than a decade ago. The British singer was only 14 years old then, but her booming, soulful voice got noticed, as did her knack for taking success in stride. At age 28, she hasn't stopped: Stone's newest album, Water for Your Soul, comes out this Friday.

In the fallout of a breakup, it's natural to spiral into self-analysis, pore over the past for evidence of where it all started to go wrong, and then try to recreate the story from selectively remembered details. This is where Night Beds' Ivywild begins.

First Listen: HEALTH, 'Death Magic'

Jul 29, 2015

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As "Never Were," a standout from Worriers' 2013 EP Cruel Optimist, reaches the end of its charging first verse, the drums and guitars stop on a dime. In a few evocative lines, we've just learned of singer Lauren Denitzio's journey from inquisitive child to dutiful student to radicalized young adult, eager to risk life and limb in the service of protest.

The surf rock of La Luz is marked by more than just the reverb on Shana Cleveland's guitar. For, just as the art of surfing is harder than it looks, guided as it is by a deep understanding of subterranean forces, so too the heavy tides of the Seattle quartet's music rely on more than just sonic signatures. Like most physically demanding endeavors, surfing looks simple when practiced by people most familiar with the effort involved. Perfectly riding a wave seems as uncomplicated in theory as doing a single push-up — easy, that is, until you learn the first thing about muscle.

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