NPR Music & Concerts

Music features, reviews and "first listens" from NPR.  For WUNC's music programs,  Back Porch Music.

Effortless storytelling is at the heart of This Is The Kit. And the stories the band's only permanent member, Kate Stables, weaves are profound but sweet with a tone that quietly reels you in.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Gifts

Dec 13, 2017

Whether you're looking for gift ideas or simply looking for an hour of fine music, we have the perfect blend, featuring Cherish the Ladies, Nicola Benedetti and Pete Clark.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This comes close to the quietest Tiny Desk Concert we've ever had. The music Greg Gonzalez makes with his longtime bandmate Phillip Tubbs as Cigarettes After Sex is hushed. The common thread in these songs is minimalism, heard in both Greg's guitar and Philip's synth, that lay just under Greg Gonzalez's barely audible, somewhat spoken singing. Yet, somehow, this sound that barely exists holds together because of the strong melodies in these songs. I find I sing them to myself over and over again.

"Do you pray at all?"

It may as well have come in all caps, the way it landed like an accusation instead of a question. It wasn't the first time I'd received a text from my mother dripping with good ole Christian guilt. The only sin greater than letting God down is allowing your parents to find out your faith walk is no longer patterned after their footsteps.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

Content advisory: The video above may contain language that is offensive to some.

Put your love of perfection outside the office door and come in for some office fun. This collaboration between Philadelphia's Kurt Vile and Melbourne's Courtney Barnett is more about newfound friends poking jabs, goofing around and having fun with words than reaching any new musical heights.

The Ooz, the title to King Krule's latest album, is the perfect name for his music. It conjures, in my mind, a word mashup of "cool" and "jazz." The music is eerily evocative with lyrics that talk about the sorts of depression singer and guitarist Archy Marshall has dealt with in his young life. And, at 23, he has a lot to say on the subject.

Classical music has never lived in a bubble. For centuries, it's always found common ground with folk music.

Enter, the Danish String Quartet.

The Ted Leo who showed up to perform at our office this fall was no stranger to NPR Music; in fact, he'd stood on that very spot a few years earlier, trading verses with Aimee Mann in their collaborative project The Both. But he did seem like a changed man.

Only Walter Martin would bring a barbershop quartet to the Tiny Desk. Best known as a singer and multi-instrumentalist with the band The Walkmen, Martin has spent his solo career making unabashedly joyful, sweetly innocent and playful music perfectly suited for quirky four-part harmonies. It works particularly well on the song with which he opens this performance, "I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour," a brilliant and comical call-and-response story-song about, well, going alone on a solo Australian tour.

Host Fiona Ritchie catches up with the Scottish singer and songwriting legend Dougie MacLean to chat about his latest album. Hear songs from this much-anticipated collection New Tomorrow, the live album Caledonia Cantata and more.

Moses Sumney puts a great deal of thought into the heartfelt music he creates. On his debut album, Aromanticism, he was inspired by everything from the works of Plato and Aristophanes' account of the origin of humanity to the Bible, particularly Genesis and the story of creation. It's all in an attempt to understand human relationships and the sorts of couplings we tend to be drawn to. But despite the working and reworking it took to put these ideas to song, and to then make his brilliant debut, there's a spontaneous side that you'll see in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Phoebe Bridgers' songs come laden with sly, finely detailed observations about unsuccessful flirtations with hypnotherapy, unsettling conversations about Jeffrey Dahmer, and everything in between. Her phrasing is impeccable — warm, cool, conversational, gently slurred — but her songs also swim in the self-aware obsessions and messy meanderings of an unquiet mind.

Like a good mixtape from a friend, performances by David Greilsammer tend to range widely in repertoire and surprise with cunning juxtapositions. On a recent album for example, the Israeli pianist alternated sonatas by avant-garde pioneer John Cage and baroque master Domenico Scarlatti.

Singer and songwriter Ledisi is a veteran R&B queen, which she immediately affirmed at the Tiny Desk with her powerful opening tune "Let Love Rule." It's the title song of her latest album, and a dazzling display of vocal range and technique. And yet, it hardly showcases the full scope of her artistic expertise. Classically trained, Ledisi is also celebrated as a jazz artist, which she clearly demonstrated when she broke out into a effortless scat outro on her second song, "I Blame You."

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is a complicated guy. In the years since that iconic and much-beloved rock band broke up in 2000, Corgan has continued to put out music under various names and projects – including several releases as Smashing Pumpkins, with different lineups – while often stumbling through a bumpy minefield of his own making.

"¡De...spa ... cito!"

The song of the summer actually became the Song of the Year at the 18th annual Latin Grammy's held in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

"Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee also picked up Record of the Year, Best Urban Fusion Performance and Best Short Term Video.

Vince Staples is impossible to categorize. A Southern Cali MC who prides himself on his Long Beach bona fides while eschewing the prototypical gangsta rap tag with which he's often mislabeled, he's a natural at bucking the status quo. Yet he also sees clear divisions between art and commerce that lead him to question how institutions choose to define — or fail to distinguish — the two.

Benjamin Booker has a deeply tender voice that, at times, can feel like a whisper But it always cuts to the heart. "Believe," his opening number at the Tiny Desk has a yearning for something to hold on to, something to understand. It's a timeless desire which can be about the personal or the political.

Now, Now's breakout album, Threads, was not as much about breaking up as holding on. Its songs carried in them a weary recognition of how desire and nostalgia linger in the body and mind, and zoomed in on the brittle filaments that bind together people who have long since declared themselves better off apart.

Considering all the unique monikers MCs have concocted throughout the history of rap, Aminé — Adam Daniel's middle name by birth — isn't all that strange. But that hasn't kept him from becoming the hip-hop artist with the hardest-to-pronounce name of the moment. He's been called everything from anime (as in Japanese animation) to amino (as in the acid).

For decades now, country's aesthetic and ideological sensibilities have been shaped as much by the music's modern, middle-class suburban appeal as its rural working-class roots, which can make for quite the rhetorical push-and-pull (likely one of many factors that contributed to the Dixie Chicks' famed expulsion from the format over voicing distaste for the second President Bush during a U.K. concert). Working-class political speech hasn't always been recognized as political at all; it's just as likely to be dismissed as class resentment.

For Laura Burhenn, 2016 was a tough year and she wasn't alone. We lost David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince (and so many more beloved artists).

The Thistle And Shamrock: Seasons Of Mist

Nov 9, 2017

From the Celtic colors of Cape Breton Island to the amber of Highland Perthshire and the stunning autumnal displays of the Appalachian Ridges, we feature music from Maddie Prior, Dougie MacLean and The Critton Hollow String Band.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In a career spanning nearly three decades, Ani DiFranco's music has evolved in countless ways, reflecting everything from a major relocation (from New York to New Orleans) to her acquisition of a funky, shimmery backing band. But she's also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.

Wyclef Jean doesn't get his just due. It was only after The Fugees had the world in their collective palms, and then disbanded, when we got to know his unadulterated abilities as a musician — his first solo album The Carnival was a project equal to (if not greater than) his greatest successes with The Fugees. From there, his focus shifted to discovering and producing stars, stretching all genres in his solo mission, and philanthropic work for his homeland of Haiti.

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