Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Longtime NPR fans may remember another contribution Boilen made to NPR. He composed the original theme music for NPR's Talk of the Nation.

There was a moment, listening to Gardens & Villa's new song "Fixations," that I was transported back to 1974 and hearing Brian Eno's "Third Uncle" from that brilliant album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It's all in the way Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen blend buzzy synths, guitars and vocals to make one sonic signature.

Anna & Elizabeth are almost single-handedly resurrecting the "crankie." If, like me, you didn't know what a "crankie" was, it's like a mural on a spool — each drawn and crafted to be hand-cranked and unfurled at the pace of a song. The effect, as experienced here in "Lella Todd Crankie," is breathtaking.

Ben Folds music has taken another turn, firmly embracing strings and chamber music yet still maintaining a passion for his love of pop. So There, his next album, will consist of eight chamber pop songs with the very talented yMusic Ensemble and one piano concerto performed with the Nashville Symphony. Today we premiere a little pocket symphony of sorts, a bit of pop perfection called "Capable of Anything."

It's often true that the songs we wind up loving most are the ones that surprise us. I'm not a pop music lover, not a lover of songs with obvious hooks, so when I heard the big fat chorus that starts off Genevieve's "Colors," I thought, "uh-oh." What wound up drawing me in first was her voice — powerful with a tiny bit of rasp and a sweet smile in her phrasing. And then that perfectly positive message, worded in a way that gave me chills:

They came to the Tiny Desk a bit groggy, having been up late playing music in the hotel the night before. It's what Frank Fairfield and his friends Tom Marion and Zac Sokolow do when they're together. And the music they make is casual and mostly hand-me-down songs from well before Fairfield was born nearly 30 years ago.

Every Thursday this year we're celebrating All Songs Considered's 15th birthday with personal memories and highlights from the show's decade and a half online and on the air. If you have a story about the show you'd like to share, drop us an email: allsongs@npr.org.

There's sweetness to Madisen Ward And The Mama Bear's music that makes me smile, and then there's so much more. I first saw the Kansas City mother-and-son duo perform last fall in Nashville's Blue Room, a small, perfect-sounding stage at Third Man Records. The bluesy roots of the music suited the space, and the sound — with young Madisen Ward's powerful, quivering voice backed by his mother Ruth — had a homespun feel.

They've made music together since they were young teens, coming together in Edinburgh from places as far apart as Ghana and Maryland. Young Fathers' hip-hop-infused poetry is intense; you can hear that on the group's new album, White Men Are Black Men Too.

Cate Le Bon wrote some of my favorite words of 2013 on her album Mug Museum. White Fence is the swirly psych-like music of Tim Presley. Cate and Tim are friends — Cate played guitar on a tour with White Fence — and so now there's this: DRINKS.

I've been a fan of Laura Burhenn since we met at NPR's studios with her band Georgie James eight years ago. Her pop wisdom and desire to push her limits have produced some great music, especially the past two Mynabirds records.

Bellows' debut album, Blue Breath, was among my Top 20 records of last year. What sets Bellows apart from thousands of other guitar-bass-drums bands out there is its heart. Oliver Kalb sings about things that matter to him in ways that matter to me. His sing-song, matter-of-fact phrasing and guitar melodies are memorable, and the harmonies are lovely, with the staying power to drift in my head for days on end.

We met at a ping-pong party in Iceland. Brendan Angelides introduced himself as a musician and friend of Jónsi and Alex Somers, who were hosting the party. When I came home from the Iceland Airwaves music festival, I listened to the music Angelides makes under the name Eskmo, and was intrigued.

Christopher Paul Stelling is a brilliant fingerpicker with a message: "I know my work is never done, 'til I can see the good in everyone." That's the heart of his new song, "Hard Work," and the setting for this live, one-take performance couldn't be simpler: his tiny NYC kitchen. The song comes from his stirring album, Labor Against Waste, which is out on June 16.

When we asked listeners to tell us about a song they turned to this week — one that spoke in some way to weighty events unfolding around the world and how they felt — we weren't sure what we'd get. Would it be mostly songs of solace? Songs of grief, or anger?

There's a quiet and a calm from José González that amplify his words. This has never been truer than on his new album, Vestiges & Claws. The songs are full of abstract imagery — more paintings than stories. He performed this song, "With The Ink of A Ghost," at my desk.

Idle as a wave
Moving out at sea
Cruising without sound
Molding what's to be
Serene between the trace
Serene with the tide and ink of a ghost

Why do we like falsetto so much? Why is melody the single most important part of a song? And why does country music move (or repel) us? These are just a few of the questions that popped up during our All Songs Considered listening party in Boston last week.

People always ask me, "What's your favorite Tiny Desk Concert?" Well, right now it's the one recently performed by DakhaBrakha. The creative quartet from Kiev, Ukraine make music that sounds like nothing I've ever heard, with strands of everything I've ever heard. There are rhythms that sound West African and drone that feels as if it could have emanated from India or Australia. At times, DakhaBrakha is simply a rock band whose crazy homeland harmonies are filled with joy.

For a solid decade, Washington, D.C. was firmly on the map as the punk capital of the nation. During the 1980s, you could see Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Fugazi and Mission Impossible (featuring a 16-year-old Dave Grohl) in DIY spaces all over town. And what made it vital and game changing was that do-it-yourself ethos: no corporate anything, no major labels, just kids burning with energy, rage and creativity.

On today's All Songs Considered, we're hitting you with several premieres, beginning a heavy cut from My Morning Jacket's latest studio album, The Waterfall. On "Believe (Nobody Knows)," front man Jim James seeks meaning and truth in an uncertain world, while hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton consider a life of possibilities.

Young, soulful English singer Jessie Ware has a powerful voice, but it's used with grace. Her singing brings warmth to electronic music and swoon to her own pop, so it's no surprise that her visit to the Tiny Desk was filled with casual poise and spontaneity.

Record Store Day is that magical day each spring (this year it's Saturday, April 18) when geeks like us line up outside their favorite music shops to get their hands on a bunch of vinyl exclusives. These are the albums, EPs and singles bands and labels put out just to celebrate the day.

When Bon Iver's Justin Vernon saw Norway's Highasakite perform at the 2012 Oya Festival in Oslo, he fell in love. Soon the two bands were touring together. Now the only band I know that tours with a flugabone has taken one of Vernon's songs and made it even more majestic than the original.

If I had to pick one new band that you should absolutely listen to, it's Algiers, three young men who grew up in Atlanta. Sonically, they make really eerie gospel music that's a rock-inspired amalgamation of all different stuff. In "Black Eunuch," you can hear the sounds of both black and white churches of the South and great guitars. Though they now live in London and New York, their roots are definitely southern based and their lyrics deal with the conservative politics of where they grew up. I've never seen them before and they're completely new to me.

Idaho's Built to Spill were one of the most beloved rock acts of the '90s and now the indie rock pioneers are back with a new rhythm section and the band's first album since 2009. This week on All Songs Considered, we bring you a new track from upcoming album Untethered Moon, which you can hear in its entirety on First Listen.

His songs feel familiar; they're old friends before the first play is done. They'd fit nicely on a mix alongside Paul Simon or the McCartney side of The Beatles.

Death Cab For Cutie came as a trio: Ben Gibbard sang, Nick Harmer played bass, and we wheeled in our piano for Zac Rae. This intimate set included two new songs — including "Black Sun," the first single from their new album Kintsugi.

Every Thursday this year we're celebrating All Songs Considered's 15th birthday with personal memories and highlights from the show's decade and a half online and on the air. If you have a story about the show you'd like to share, drop us an email: allsongs@npr.org.

Alpine, "Foolish"

Mar 31, 2015

It's hard to believe that it hasn't quite been a year since the first Sylvan Esso album came out. The odd yet perfect marriage of Nick Sanborn's electronics with Amelia Meath's voice feels like a familiar friend by now. And yet seeing these songs performed softly — and captured in the light of day — made them feel fresh and lovable in new ways.

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