Originally published on Tue March 11, 2014 2:49 pm
This week Felix and I are heading over to one of our favorite places in the whole world — Austin, Texas — to meet up with some of our favorite musicians, watch some great live shows and, if Tio Felix has his way, eat a lot of Tex-Mex. Later today we'll be DJing a little get-together, and one of the highlights of this trip will certainly be our show with Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux.
Angel Olsen begins the song "Hi-Five" by paraphrasing Hank Williams, admitting she's so lonesome she could cry. She goes on to say she just wants someone who believes in love as urgently as she does. The twanging guitar throbbing beneath these sentiments suggests that it's going to be a long, lonely search. Over a matter of minutes, Olsen has created the landscape she'll inhabit for an entire album.
Roland Swenson is a co-founder and the managing director of the South By Southwest Music Festival. The idea for the festival came in 1986, when organizers of the NYC New Music Seminar contacted Swenson, then a staffer at the alt-weekly paper The Austin Chronicle, about organizing an extension to their festival in Austin. After that fell through, Swenson and others went ahead planning an event themselves and the first SXSW Festival was held 1987. He says they only expected 150 people.
Bob Boilen is the founder of NPR's All Songs Considered. A musician himself, he has a unique feel for presenting music on the Web. And he is a bit obsessed — and ambitious. Obsessed enough to attend more than 600 shows a year. Ambitious enough to listen to songs from 1400 acts scheduled to play SXSW each year to figure out what is worth seeing. And we are crazy enough to ask him to limit his picks to just five for our Sense of Place: Austin.
As excited as we are about NPR Music's 2014 SXSW showcase with Damon Albarn, St. Vincent, Kelis and others (which you can stream live on March 12 at 7:30 p.m. Central), those artists represent a fraction of the massive party happening in Austin, Texas this week.
There was a haze over Jake Bugg when he arrived at the Tiny Desk. He was expressionless and quiet. That all changed when he strummed fast and fierce on his acoustic guitar and began a flow of words reminiscent of Greenwich Village in the '60s, not modern Clifton in England's East Midlands, where he grew up.
Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 3:08 pm
It's still early days for the British band Glass Animals, but with just a handful of songs they've definitely gotten our attention. Their latest groover, "Gooey," has an undulating sexiness that makes it worthy of heavy rotation. The Kingdom remix drops the vocal to emphasize sheer atmospheric cool.
Every year Bob Boilen, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and I prepare for South by Southwest by listening to songs from roughly 1,500 artists. And when you go through that many bands you start to see trends in the names. The two most commonly occurring words are always — always — "black" and "DJ." In addition to those two, this year we noticed that "white" appears an awful lot, too, as does the name John. Michael, Paul and Jesse are also pretty popular. Go figure.
Our Sense of Place: Austin guest today, Shakey Graves, has been described as one of the best solo acts in town. With his finger-picked guitar and suitcase drum he takes over the stage. He put out his full length debut Roll the Bones in 2011 and an EP Donor Blues a year later. He has also spent time chasing acting parts, including one in Friday Night Lights. He even moved to LA to pursue roles, but ended up spending the time working on his music.
The very first person we thought to for our Sense of Place series in Austin was longtime resident Alejandro Escovedo. Make no mistake: Escovedo was born and raised in San Antonio, but has called Austin home for years. Today he reminisces about coming to Austin as a kid and tells how it was a tour stop with Rank and File, his band with his brother Javier, that convinced him to move back to Austin.
Orthy is our World Cafe: Next band for our Sense of Place visit to Austin. We picked Orthy, whose two EPs touch on electronic dance music, to illustrate the breadth of the Austin music scene. The inspiration for Ian Orth, who is at the heart of this band, is his ongoing weekly dance party Learning Secrets. He established Learning Secrets to turn rock fans on to dance music and vice versa. The full Orthy plays live, sharing music from their latest EP, E.M.I.L.Y.
The last thing anyone would say about South By Southwest is that it's an avenue for self-improvement. The annual mega gathering, which began last week for film and interactive-technology mavens and turns into a music conference and festival tomorrow, fulfills many needs for the culture nerd. Communal bonding? Yes – somewhere around 100,000 people will wander the Austin streets looking to high-five each other during this time. Fun? For sure.
Christylez Bacon attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a prestigious high school in Washington, D.C. that also counts Dave Chappelle and Meshell Ndegeocello among its alumni. When it came time to write a final paper for his U.S. Government class, he wanted to craft something more reflective of his upbringing in the city's Southeast quadrant — an area hit hard by crime and drugs in the 1980s.
Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 9:55 am
When it's nearly impossible to understand what a band is saying, discerning the message means cues have to come from elsewhere. The Syracuse noise-punk group Perfect Pussy issues maybe five easily discernible lines over the course of its frenetic 23-minute debut album, Say Yes to Love, but the band doesn't lack for conversation-starters.
Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 9:54 am
Back in 2007, Kevin Drew (of Toronto's baroque-pop collective Broken Social Scene) gazed longingly at a woman and pronounced her too beautiful for the carnal escapades swirling inside his brain. That song, "Tbtf," was among the wondrous creations on his solo debut Spirit If — a worship-dream set in a sleek, gliding tempo, and sung in a mood of melancholy wistfulness.
Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 9:56 am
"Under the Pressure," the nine-minute song that kicks off Lost in the Dream, opens with a few seconds of hair-raising electronic ticking and closes with two and a half minutes of full-band, synchronized, undulating feedback. In between, The War on Drugs shows many of the cards in its stacked deck: chugging drums, horn stabs, guitar runs that fly off into the atmosphere, keyboards with a strong melodic gravitational field pulling weight for singer Adam Granduciel's wandering mystic tenor.
Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 9:57 am
In the '90s, Chile experienced an artistic wave as the children of political exiles returning after the fall of dictator Augusto Pinochet brought enormous changes. Of course, waves never come alone: They bring in shells and rocks and souvenirs from faraway lands. The returning children of exiles brought new cultural trinkets with them in the form of music, words and ideas they picked up as their parents roamed the earth, waiting to come back. That wave also brought in hip-hop, and Chile became a hot scene for the genre.
Detroit's Orchestra Hall is one of the best symphony concert halls in the country. The acoustics are top-notch. The theater itself is grand. Important music is made there by some of the country's most talented classical musicians.
Ruben Studdard became a national superstar when he won "American Idol."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: After 24 million votes, the winner of American Idol 2003 is Ruben Studdard.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
MARTIN: Ten seasons of "Idol" have gone by since that win. But Ruben Studdard remains one of the show's biggest-selling stars. His new album is his sixth studio release. It's a collection of classic love songs with a few originals mixed in for good measure. It is called "Unconditional Love."
The folk- and roots-music world is full of cross-generational collaboration. But it usually takes the form of folksingers pairing up with other folksingers, borrowing from a long musical tradition. It's another thing altogether to take words written long ago and give them musical life. Leyla McCalla does just that on her new album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes. Though the disc includes a balance of her original arrangements with Haitian folk songs, what's most intriguing is the way she built many of the songs around Hughes' poetry.
When it comes to musical dynasties, it's tough to top the Bach family. From town fiddlers to court composers, the Bachs dominated German music for seven generations. Today, Johann Sebastian towers above all his relatives, but there's another important Bach we shouldn't forget — especially today, on the 300th anniversary of his birth.