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.

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.

Written as a farewell to her home in California, Lauren Shera's "Light and Dust" introduces the new direction she took on her third studio album, Gold and Rust.

Genevieve, 'Colors'

Mar 26, 2015

What a killer song. In fact, of all the tunes the All Songs Considered crew inspected before we headed down to Austin for SXSW, "Colors," the debut single by Genevieve, was the team favorite.

Spoiler alert: The Punch Brothers came to the Tiny Desk on Chris Thile's birthday. We made him a cake and gave him an NPR surprise! This wasn't the first time the brilliant mandolinist had brought a project to my desk, it was his fourth. The last time was with his longtime band Nickel Creek — and his new braces.

It says a lot that, with almost 7,000 entries to choose from, we selected Fantastic Negrito as the winner of our Tiny Desk Concert Contest. For his winning submission, he performed "Lost In A Crowd" in a freight elevator in Oakland. It was his passion, his voice and his backing band that landed him an invitation to perform behind my desk. We're proud of our choice.

If you're attracted to the strange, then you must watch "The Strangest Eyes." The music video for this song, by Wasted Wine, feels like a bastard child of David Lynch and Nick Cave. There's humor, but damn it's dark.

Phox: Tiny Desk Concert

Mar 2, 2015

I first saw Phox in an impromptu concert at a restaurant in Philadelphia. I thought the band was talented and charming, and I still do. Phox is six friends from Baraboo, Wis., who make pretty, catchy music. The group's not-so-secret weapon is Monica Martin, who sings with a smoky lilt in front of spare, tasteful instrumentation.

Sometime years from now I may be asked: What was your favorite day at NPR? I am likely to say it's the day Dan Deacon got the NPR staff worked up into a giant dance party! It's also the day Deacon and staff wheeled in an upright piano and connected it to his computer — a magical mix of old player piano and electronic avant-garde.

It may be freezing on the east coast, but on All Songs Considered this week, we've got the hottest tracks to keep you out of the cold.

At the top, North Dakota songwriter Tom Brosseau tells a heartbreaking story about a boy abandoned by his mother. Patrick Watson returns with a vast and beautiful sound that explores the distinction between humanity and technology.

With her huge voice and an assist from talented trombonist Daniel Walter Eaton, Zola Jesus presented a curious combination at the Tiny Desk — a combination I hardly ever encounter. Having seen her mostly with a big and powerful band, I wondered if this configuration would work. But it was magic, with the trombone poignantly complementing her mellifluous voice and stark personal words.

"They call me the hard luck boy," Tom Brosseau says at the top of his enchanting new album, later adding, "It all happened a very long time ago, when I was just a boy. My mother took me on what she called 'a little shopping trip' four or five states away, to a city she'd never been to before." In just that one song, in just four minutes, the North Dakota singer and storyteller tells a heartbreaking tale that hasn't left me since I first heard it.

The beauty of the Tiny Desk lies, at least partially, in the limitations of size and technology. We rarely amplify voices, for example, so for a band like Until The Ribbon Breaks, the challenge becomes how to take a loud electronic sound down to a volume where singer Pete Lawrie-Winfield can be heard. In this case, the solution involved a spaghetti strainer, a paint bucket and an acoustic guitar.

SOAK, 'Sea Creatures'

Feb 12, 2015

SOAK is the music of eighteen-year-old Bridie Monds-Watson from Derry, Ireland. I love the simplicity in her music and puzzling out the images in this song, "Sea Creatures." At one moment I think it's a love song, with lines like:

Today we're thrilled to announce that the winner of the Tiny Desk Concert Contest is Fantastic Negrito.

I'll be online at reddit.com/r/music on Wednesday, February 11, 1 to 2 p.m. EST, answering your questions on this post. I'm a little scared because you can actually ask me anything. It will be kind of like a Tiny Desk Concert (intimate, awkward) but I'm sure we'll have fun.

In case you need a little background information about me:

When I first imagined Mucca Pazza at the Tiny Desk, I honestly had no idea how the Chicago band's 23 members would fit in — in the literal sense of the term. To load-test this performance, we actually gathered a gaggle of interns behind my desk and began to stack people on cabinets, step-stools and, of course, desks.

Is there a single song that sounds like romance to you? My mom might pick Sinatra singing "Fly Me To The Moon." For someone growing up in the '50s it might be "I Only Have Eyes For You" sung by The Flamingos.

It might be easy to dismiss a music project from actor John Reilly, but that would be a huge mistake: Reilly is a fine singer, especially when he gets a hold of old-time material, and his guitar work provides a perfect foundation for these church and porch tunes from America's past.

This week on All Songs Considered, we start the show with new music Bob's been waiting for two years to hear: the great first single from Courtney Barnett's debut full-length album. Don't miss the video for "Pedestrian at Best" off her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.

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