NPR Music

Imagine you're at a party with your most favorite music geek friends. The conversations range from favorite new albums, and favorite Smiths or Belle and Sebastian B-sides to best Neil Young guitar solos and Drake features. Then comes the big one: What was the greatest year in music? That's a question that we discuss and debate regularly in the World Cafe offices.

Back in 2016, Irish singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton — a.k.a. Jealous of the Birds — was one of NPR Music's favorite SXSW discoveries. Her song "Goji Berry Sunset" demonstrated a remarkable gift for converting spare and common ingredients (voice, acoustic guitar, a bit of whistling) into a sound that's dense, gently hypnotic and utterly her own.

Do yourself a favor: don't Google "Wand" and "Pure Romance" while at work, unless your place of business happens to be an adult toy store. Your browser history will thank you either way.

Lucky for you, you don't need to search for the Los Angeles psych-rock band's video for "Pure Romance." We're premiering it right here.

For a lot of music fans, uttering the name Jeff Buckley is tantamount to prayer, and whispering the title of his song "Eternal Life" is prophecy. While there are limited morsels of Buckley's otherworldly essence left on this earth, there are untold stories from those who knew him. It's taken Dave Lory two decades to tell some of these tales.

James McMurtry On Mountain Stage

May 4, 2018

Texas-based singer and songwriter James McMurtry has been a favorite at Mountain Stage since he made his first appearance on the program in 1989. Host Larry Groce notes in his introduction that McMurtry "can create a character, set a scene and give you the kind of details and feelings that make you have an experience instead of just listening to a song."

Even though the world will eventually come to an end, there's still beauty and hope in all of us and in song. That about sums up the wistful mystery that is the music of Darlingside. The quartet brought dystopian storytelling wrapped in choral harmony with this performance at the Tiny Desk. Their singing is layered on a bed of percussive and melodic tones, made with guitars both acoustic and electric, violin, cello, mandolin and a tiny synthesizer.

Two recurring themes run throughout the albums we're featuring on this week's New Music Friday: artists who are pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, and lots of songs that reflect on the need to be better, do better and make the world a better place. This includes the buoyant, joyful pop of English singer Frank Turner, the inspired rock of Shakey Graves, soul singer Leon Bridges, the incredibly ambitious narratives of Damien Jurado and much more.

Featured Albums:

  1. Frank Turner: Be More Kind

When Liz Phair's debut album, Exile in Guyville, broke onto the indie rock scene in 1993, it was at a time when the music industry was very into shock value.

"My way of doing that was to sort of take agency of my sexuality and just say, like, shocking things in this little girl voice to see if anyone would notice," says Phair.

People did notice. Her graphic, feminist lyrics rattled rock and roll, and her double LP became one of the most well-loved albums of its time.

British singer-songwriter Tracey Thorn writes music that chronicles themes in women's lives that aren't often addressed in pop lyrics. Take, for instance, the single "Babies," off her new solo album Record. The song is meant to be a humorous ode to birth control, but there's also a deeper feeling to it.

In 2011, Alejando Rose-Garcia burst onto the scene armed with a guitar and suitcase kick drum and released his first album as Shakey Graves. Seven years later, he's about to release his latest studio album, Can't Wake Up, out on May 4. It's a record that explores themes of death and dying, sleep and sleeplessness, and it has the most interesting sonic landscape to match the lyrical content.

Jade Bird is a whirlwind of talent, energy and spunk. Her raw and robust voice is a prominent feature on most of her songs. It's here, in this solo piano ballad "If I Die" where you can hear the 20-year-old's voice and musical talent shine.

SET LIST

  • "If I Die"

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


From the beginning of his career as a recording artist, Ry Cooder has treated the music of the past as a resource, turning to old (and very, very old) songs for guidance, mentorship, life lessons, spiritual advice.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


For as long as humans have roamed the earth, forests have captivated a special slice of our collective human imagination. From hot, wet jungles to dry, snowy taigas, forests are sites of refuge, mystery and abundance.

To twist a meme normally reserved for Drake, get you a Rosali Middleman because she can do both. The Philly-based musician leads Long Hots, the chooglin' psych-rock trio featuring members of Spacin' and Hothead. Grab a tallboy; this is music that boogies your brain into heavy hypnosis.

From the sounds of blues guitarist and singer Lead Belly to recordings of Southwestern Woodhouse Toads, Smithsonian Folkways has been capturing the sounds of global history for the past 70 years. These recordings are among 60,000 treasured tracks the label has in its library — and it promises they'll never go out of print — from the labor songs of Woody Guthrie and children's songs of Ella Jenkins to New Orleans hot jazz, songs of the civil rights movement, the Honk Horn music of Ghana and so much more.

Sometimes at a concert, an artist's encore can feel more like a premeditated given than an earned celebration. But if you've ever seen the captivating Anderson East live (high jumps, sheer vocal prowess and all), you might agree that he earns every single encore he plays. And so, it feels just fine that East has called his latest album Encore.

Over the past 20 years, Souad Massi has sung provocative songs challenging authority and weaving stories in Arabic, French, and Kabyle, languages from her native Algeria. She's never been afraid to take risks through her music. "You want to know all my secrets?" Massi asks. The Algerian artist laughs and says she has only the best.

After the 2016 election, how did you feel? What did you want to do? Mac McCaughan asked himself these questions, and pounded out the lyrics to 11 new Superchunk songs in a matter of months. The result? The band's most focused and aggressive albums in years, entitled What a Time to Be Alive.

On this week's New Music Friday, All Songs Considered's Robin Hilton runs through some of the best albums out on April 27 with NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael, Felix Contreras, Lars Gotrich, Marissa Lorusso, and Ann Powers. Featured albums include the potent and political rock of Speedy Ortiz, the ethereal sounds of Grouper, Janelle Monae's highly anticipated Dirty Computer, Post Malone and more.

Patience is tricky: there's power in being slow to anger until you're perceived as a pushover. Illuminati Hotties, the self-described "tenderpunk" project of L.A. producer-engineer Sarah Tudzin, recognizes the predicament. "Often I have wished that I was a little less patient and a little more aggressive about being heard," Tudzin tells NPR Music.

Doubt comes out from under the woodwork at the most inconvenient times. When you're Lindsey Jordan — the 19-year-old guitarist and songwriter whose second album as Snail Mail, Lush, comes out June 8 — that worry manifests as four burly hockey players.

With three solo albums to her credit, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Lera Lynn is returning with a new release that more than speaks to the power of collaboration. She's collaborated before on songwriting with T-Bone Burnett and Rosanne Cash, and on her new album, Plays Well With Others, Lynn has taken the collaboration to the nth degree.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


So many 1990s alt-rock hit-makers have reunited over the years, it's hard to keep track of who's coming back, who's never left, and who's already returned to the shadows. Most have attempted a comeback at least once — Jesus Jones released an album just last week — so it's rarely a surprise to encounter a press announcement from a reconstituted Deep Blue Something or Crash Test Dummies.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

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