NPR Music

If you've ever undertaken a creative endeavor, you may have found that inspiration doesn't always come when you're creating; sometimes, it strikes when you put your work down and walk away.

That's what indie-folk singer Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes discovered during his six-year hiatus from making music. The band's newest album, Crack-Up, came out this summer.

This Monday, the sun will be completely eclipsed by the moon. For those who choose to watch, a "partial solar eclipse will be visible everywhere in the contiguous United States," NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports, "but to see the total solar eclipse, you'll need to be in a sash of land that cuts from Oregon to South Carolina."

In this session of World Cafe, we welcome musician Simon Raymonde. Since 1997, Raymonde has led Bella Union, the record label he co-founded. Before that time, he was the bassist in the much-revered Cocteau Twins, which he joined in 1983. Now, he's about to release Ojala, an album of music he wrote with drummer Richie Thomas under the band name Lost Horizons.

In this session, we bring you a live session with Overcoats. The duo's music rests on two voices so perfectly in sync you'd swear they were coming from the same person — or, at least, from people who are related. Or, at least, people who've known each other their whole lives.

Its name alone suggests an explosive whizzbang of cotton candy pop — Pinkshinyultrablast makes shoegaze that yanks tufts of sound every which way in some kind of cinematically sped-up slow-mo. It's irrepressibly cool music — last year's Grandfeathered was a personal favorite, a sonic treasure hunt on every listen.

Those of us who fell in love with her debut album, Sprained Ankle, have been hungering for more of Julien Baker's sparse, confessional songs — brutally honest and cripplingly insecure, self-deprecating but laced with just enough hope to keep you hanging on — since the album's 2015 release (only briefly sated by the release of "Funeral Pyre," a one-off single, in January).

For artists who make breakup records, a big part of the appeal is having their uninterrupted, unqualified say. It can be a cathartic experience to call out former partners for heartlessness and narcissism, to stake your claims to the high ground and come out looking good. There's a seductiveness to that sort of indignation. Just ask Justin Bieber. But the elements of emotional truth in such approaches are often enmeshed with unreliable narration.

Where will you live after the apocalypse? That question becomes more relevant once you realize the apocalypse is now, and ongoing, with society unmaking itself in convulsions and recovering in spurts. And the place where it's leaving Americans is what Erika M. Andersen calls the Outer Ring. It's that circular band of highways and avenues surrounding a city, where vape shops share strip-mall space with Halal butchers and Triple XXX Pleasure Zones, and immigrants stand at the bus stop next to Trump voters while their children get stoned together in the Kwik Mart parking lot.

Most of us know Chuck Berry as a pioneer, if not the pioneer, who defined rock 'n' roll. My guest today knew him as dad.

Charles Berry Jr. is here to share memories of growing up watching the elder Berry on TV, joining him on tour in his later years and contributing to what would be his final record, an album called Chuck that was released in June.

As with the best Van Morrison songs, "Transformation" billows out from its oft-repeated refrain. The lead single off Morrison's upcoming Roll With The Punches (out Sept. 22) consists largely of the 71-year-old Irish singer belting "gonna be a transformation" over a triumphant soul progression. But if there's been a transformation in Morrison over his long career, it isn't evident here. This is a soaring bit of classic Morrison roots-soul — and his best outing in recent years.

It's only rolled out a few songs so far, but the Brooklyn band Frances Cone has already carved out a distinct sound — a sweet slow burn in which songs build gradually and carefully into something truly grand. The gorgeous "Unraveling," from a forthcoming album called Late Riser, really gets at what works about Frances Cone's music: Each cooed "ooooh" is in the exact right place, weaving together to form a warm and hypnotic tapestry.

Guest DJ Week: Björk

Aug 16, 2017

Note: Our week of Guest DJs continues with Björk. The Icelandic singer recently announced she'll be releasing a new album, possibly before the end of the year.

Wilco has released a new song against ignorance and violence in the wake of last weekend's unrest in Charlottesville, VA. The track, called "All Lives, You Say?" is a short country shuffle that takes aim at the slogan "All Lives Matter," designed as a counter-protest to the Black Lives Matter movement.

A Bootstrapped British Invasion

Aug 15, 2017

Guest DJ Randy Newman

Aug 15, 2017

Note: This week we're featuring select episodes from our Guest DJ archives. Today we've got a conversation with Randy Newman. The singer, composer and pianist recently released his 11th solo album. It's called Dark Matter. Bob Boilen originally spoke with Newman back in 2008 when Newman released his previous record, Harps And Angels.

The moment you get a look at ALA.NI behind the Tiny Desk, you'll notice it in the foreground: The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It's a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI's voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

In addition to being rugged, ragged-mouthed and extinct, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister and a prehistoric crocodile now also share a name.

"If you came to this set looking to be cheered up, you're screwed," John Paul White deadpanned from the stage at Newport. The comment drew laughs from the assembled crowd, but there was a wry truth to it: Eerie harmonies and Kelli Jones' fiddle shrouded White's tender songs in a dark, mournful beauty.

"These are my sisters," said Natalie Closner, introducing the song "Wind" during Joseph's Saturday-afternoon set at the Newport Folk Festival. "This is about that."

This weekend, Bay Area music festival Outside Lands celebrates its 10th anniversary, and you can listen to many of its eclectically-curated sets right here.

Advisory: This is a live stream. Language is unpredictable.

Tristen Gaspadarek and Buddy Hughen share a house in the graveyard of a golf club, where they make music that captures the stubborn hope and creeping obsolescence at the heart of modern life. Tristen, who performs and records under her first name, was raised in Chicago but moved to Nashville a decade ago. There she met the guitarist and producer Hughen, and the pair was soon collaborating.

Ian Svenonius doesn't like to sit still. The singer, bandleader, and author is always juggling multiple projects, and the one he's helmed longest — the garage-rock group Chain And The Gang — has gone through multiple configurations in its eight years of existence. In June, he released a sampling of their catalog re-recorded by recent members, and now, just a few months later, he's back with a completely original album, Experimental Music, made with a new set of co-conspirators.

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