On this week's show, our hosts are joined by Stephen Thompson to discuss their favorite discoveries at SXSW. Everyone had such a swell time at the musical blitzkrieg that they came down with colds. Their respective illnesses cannot dampen the colorful and illuminating memories that they made at SXSW 2014.
The Lost Brothers — Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland — are Irishmen from musical families who met while working in Liverpool. The two began writing songs together in their spare time, and liked the results so much that they decided to form a singing duo. They relocated to Portland, Ore., and cut their first album with M. Ward and Bright Eyes producer Mike Coykendall. Since then The Lost Brothers have issued two more recordings, and their most recent, The Coming of the Night, was made in the Nashville studio of Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs.
Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 12:31 pm
At Quilt's core are Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski, who met at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts. They bonded over a shared fondness for '60s idealism and a love of stacked harmonies. On the band's second album, Held in Splendor, warmly interwoven harmonies and playing go a long way toward explaining why its members chose the name Quilt.
This is FRESH AIR. Marty Ehrlich is a jazz composer who plays clarinet and saxophones. But he doesn't play much on his latest album. He conducts his large ensemble performing his compositions. It's his first album devoted to his orchestral music.
The Leeds-based post-punk band Eagulls hit the stage at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, ready to deploy some serrated weaponry. From neatly attired singer George Mitchell's assured yelp to a guitar attack that's clean and direct, the group generated a stormy sound that roared and banged with sleekness and power, while hinting at the doomstruck beauty of forebears like Joy Division.
Remember when you were little and you relied on friends or music videos to learn the latest dance moves? You couldn't rewind MTV to break down the steps, and you might look a fool for sashaying left instead of right, or whatnot. This is the beauty of the GIF, a motion suspended in looped animation that allows you all the time in the world to get that shimmy down. SXSW was full of crazy dance moves and we had Adam Kissick capture five worth emulating.
Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 11:47 am
The human voice, the true original instrument, is still the most expressive and personal of all. It's one reason more than 42.5 million Americans sing in choirs, and why we seem to be hardwired to tell our stories through song. It also probably explains why I'm a vocal music junkie, eagerly pawing over the operas, recitals and choir albums that land on my desk and in my download folder.
Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 9:26 am
South by Southwest 2014 is a wrap, and it's hard to quite comprehend how much was packed into its five days. Which is why we've put together a handy guide to a small sampling of the massive quantity of music we consumed in Austin last week.
Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 3:30 pm
"No one on the corner has swagga like us," sang rapper M.I.A. in her global hit "Paper Planes." The song was later sampled by T.I. and Jay Z in their hit song "Swagga Like Us." A few years before that, it was Jay-Z who declared "I guess I got my swagger back" on his 2001 album The Blueprint.
The word swagger should be a familiar term to anyone who has listened to popular hip-hop songs in recent years; a recent search on Rap Genius turned up more than a thousand songs that used the word in the lyrics.
Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 12:46 pm
Now that she is back on the road, now that the Internet is again awash in pictures of her sweating on stage in Glasgow, running through sold-out crowds in London in costume, it seems as good a time as any to talk about what for many young women was the most important big live show of the past two years — Beyoncé's "The Mrs.
It's been more than a decade since New York darlings Cibo Matto mixed up their unique batch of hip-hop-infused cocktail-pop. What have they been up to since their 1999 album, Stereo ★ Type A? With downcast eyes and a wink, vocalist Miho Hatori told KEXP, "Well, we were in jail." Bandmate Yuka Honda quickly picked up on the ruse, "We worked out ..." "... read lots of Bibles ..." "... learned how to cook with the smallest equipment."
Aside from U2, Bell X1 is the Irish band with the most airplay in their native country. They got together as schoolboys in County Kildare, calling themselves Juniper. Back then, the lead singer was Damien Rice. He left soon after, with Paul Noonan taking over as lead. They changed their name to that of the aircraft that first broke the sound barrier (flown by West Virginia native Chuck Yeager).
When a performer has an exceptional night, we sometimes say he or she "left it all on stage" — the "it" being effort, energy, passion, sweat. To close a concert with a raw throat and a rumpled appearance signifies full disclosure, proof that the person on stage has held absolutely nothing back. Diane Cluck's performances, at their best, take a near-opposite approach: unfolding melodies of winding complexity without the barest hint of strain or struggle.
Connecticut-born composer-pianist Timo Andres likens his music to "walking into an interesting apartment and seeing a few things next to each other that tell you something about a person." At once familiar and modern, forward-looking and reverent, Andres's music tells the story of a composer striving to reconcile a fascination with the past and composers ranging from Mozar
If you think you know what Middle Eastern music sounds like, think again — because Beirut-born electro-pop singer Yasmine Hamdan is positioning herself in an incredibly interesting place. She's singing at the intersection of sexy electronica and iconic Arab tradition, fed in equal parts by PJ Harvey and the legendary Syrian-Egyptian vocalist Asmahan.
Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 9:39 am
Thou has never been about convention. The Baton Rouge metal band has little in common with its NOLA sludge peers, bucking Southern tropes for a world-heavy consciousness that comes from doom, punk, grunge, black metal, blues and drone.
Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 9:41 am
A couple weeks ago a writer friend texted me a screengrab of an Instagram of a stocky guy in a tight black T-shirt tucked into pleated black slacks. The pants were held at his actual waist by a black leather belt with a gold buckle. After the photo the friend texted simply "NORMCORE?" The man in black was Samuel Herring, lead singer of Future Islands, and he was already meme-ing his way into the hearts of thousands on Tumblr because of a certain dance move.
Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 9:40 am
This is a recording of a jazz trio playing the score to a 101-year-old ballet. It is not a "jazzing the classics" record or a "fantasia on the themes of" sort of project. It is a band translating one of the landmark works in music history to piano, bass and drum set, and doing it as literally as possible.
Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 9:39 am
For a band originally slotted under the postpunk "angular guitar" descriptor, Liars threw plenty of curveballs in their 2001 debut, 2001's They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top. There was the ESG sample midway through, then came closer "This Dust Makes That Mud," which turned into a 20-minute loop of noise. With each subsequent Liars album, there was a stylistic swerve, from the tribal drum ethno-wave of 2004's They Were Wrong So We Drowned to the Jesus and Mary Chain garage rock of Liars (2007).
London band Yuck's buzzworthy 2011 tour included a stop at SXSW, where they played the NPR Music showcase and marked the release of their debut album. They returned with their second album, Glow & Behold, in October. In the interim, former lead singer Daniel Blumberg left the band, opening the door for guitarist Max Bloom to take over the role — something he says was natural to do.
Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 12:12 pm
Get ready for St. Patrick's Day with these 25 lucky love songs from NPR R&B. And if you want to stay up all night, check out hundreds of more soul, funk, disco and slow jams on our NPR Music Radio channel, I'll Take You There.
Saturday at SXSW, things go over the edge. Language fails. The mind shimmies free from its moorings. Maybe it's the fatigue. Maybe it's the crowds. You could argue that the constant waves of sound that rattle eardrums over five days in Austin jars something loose inside a person's brain.
Hisham Aidi's new book is a sort of musical tour around the world. It's called Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture. From hip-hop in Brazilian favelas, to Pakistani punk rock, to Gnawa-reggae in North Africa, it's a look at young urban Muslims and the music they make and listen to.
Speaking with NPR's Rachel Martin, Aidi recalls meeting a French band called 3ème Oeil — "Third Eye" — at a music festival in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop.
Let's say you're driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California — top down, of course. What's the soundtrack you want to hear? The music of Tycho often seems engineered to fill that very role.
The group is the brainchild of producer Scott Hansen, who describes his three-piece band as an audio-visual project. On the new album Awake, the San Francisco-based artist has taken his passion for design and merged it with his interest in ambient music; click the audio link to hear his conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin.
Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 5:03 pm
With hundreds upon hundreds of bands and tens of thousands of music lovers descending upon Austin for just five days, South by Southwest moves pretty fast. So we slowed it down for you. Because they're awfully considerate, NPR Music's video team — led by Mito Habe-Evans — picked out some of the fastest moments at SXSW 2014 and made them go real slow.
Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 11:20 am
On Friday, March 14, Lady Gaga gave the keynote at SXSW 2014, a long interview conducted by John Norris that covered her career in pop, from her roots in the rock clubs of downtown New York to her decision to partner with a corporate sponsor for the concert she performed at Stubb's the night before. (You can see the complete video of the interview on this page.)
NPR Music's Ann Powers was in Austin for the keynote, and she filed this report.