NPR Music

Pendejo is one of my favorite words. In the Spanish-speaking world, it's usually used in the context of pointing out someone's challenges to grasp the obvious or is used to just express supreme knucklehead tendencies. The somewhat vulgar word been largely claimed by Mexicans, some of whom can make high art out of applying it to any number of circumstances.

Phoebe Bridgers has one of those voices that can make a rowdy arena crowd go silent and then leap to its feet. I saw it happen when she joined Conor Oberst on stage this past summer at the WXPN XPoNential Music Festival. I can't imagine many people in the crowd knew who she was before they heard Conor invite her on stage for a duet. By the time she was done — standing ovation.

It's always a little irritating when women in rock bands are dubbed "vulnerable." The word is often meant as a compliment, but one given without consideration to the fact that music always opens up its makers to a wide range of emotions. And as if women, in particular, bear some magical burden of openness, lacking the ability to rage and strut and cause trouble like guys do.

What does vulnerability sound like, anyway? Maybe it's just the willingness to occasionally sound awkward. To hit a bum note. To say the thing that makes you look a little dumb.

The video for "Sorry" by San Francisco's The She's is the stuff dreams are made of. A beautiful duo frolics on the beach, the sun is shining, the sparks are flying, a sweet series of kisses are shared in the surf, and, as in so many dreams, the whole thing is tinged with a creeping sense of existential dread.

Haley Fohr meditates on existence with telescopic ears and eyes. In the decade since she began Circuit Des Yeux, Fohr has mapped herself onto a world alone, seeking connection through music that rumbles in tandem with her oaken baritone.

As the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant has one of the most recognizable, and some have said, best voices in rock and roll.

After a year of touring, New York City's Sunflower Bean are back with "I Was a Fool," a glistening and gloomy love song that makes you feel a little bit happy, a little bit sad, and a little bit like you want to dance. Singer and bassist Julia Cumming, who plays in the trio with guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber, tells NPR they wanted to capture the heart-sickening dizziness of all-consuming love. "It's confusing," she says, "that's the point."

The Thistle & Shamrock: Real Hallowe'en

Nov 2, 2017

Host Fiona Ritchie takes you back to the mystical ancient times as she uncovers folklore, legends and eerie tales in ballads old and new. She features original music with her award winning narration of Robert Burns' "Tam o' Shanter" and James Hogg's "The Brownie of the Black Haggs."

Watching my guest Josh Ritter stand on stage and perform, you would swear that his feet aren't touching the ground. It looks like he's been lifted straight up by the music he's playing, somewhere between standing on his tip toes and actual levitation. His smile is huge. And you get this overwhelming sense of joy.

Pinegrove's Cardinal was a messy and charming debut that felt with exacting detail. There's a sense of restlessness in it, run through the twinkly pangs of emo-twang. Go to any live show, or just watch the band's Tiny Desk Concert, and the crowd's sing-alongs are more than just mouthing to their favorite songs — it's living them.

Guest DJ: Weaves

Nov 1, 2017

Andrew Combs On Mountain Stage

Nov 1, 2017

A Dallas native now based in Nashville, songwriter Andrew Combs released his debut All These Dreams in 2015. It drew comparisons to the likes of Harry Nilsson and Leonard Cohen, and as host Larry Groce mentions in his introduction: "He does not disappoint."

The Afghan Whigs' latest album, In Spades, explores memory and time, and lead singer Greg Dulli visited World Cafe to reflect on both. That included a conversation about losing his longtime collaborator and bandmate Dave Rosser, who died in June after recording the album.

Listen to the entire interview, as well as three songs performed live in our studio, in the player above.

Glen Hansard's seen it all: decades of cult fame with the Irish rock band The Frames, movie appearances in Once and The Commitments, and even an Academy Award for "Falling Slowly," the signature ballad he recorded with his Swell Season partner, Marketa Irglova.

Marisa Anderson doesn't just play guitar — she sinks into bends and lingers over melodies, knowing when to light a fire under her fingers and when to wind like a creek. In 2013, she caught my ear for the first time with a pair of records — the raw and dusty Mercury, and the functionally-titled Traditional And Public Domain Songs.

"Speedruns" are a weirdly enthralling piece of video game culture, wherein a gamer takes on titles, often older ones like Super Metroid or Sonic The Hedgehog, using every trick in the book to beat their chosen game as fast as possible.

When we last left Godflesh, the mecha-mutants of industrial metal had returned after more than a decade with 2014's devastatingly nasty A World Lit Only By Fire. It was one of those reunion albums that wasn't only better than it should've been, but a reclamation and reinvention for Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green.

Becca Mancari likes to take the long way around. The Nashville singer-songwriter was born in Staten Island, grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed her love of American roots music during her student days in Virginia. She's traveled the country and the world; some of the spaciousness in her hypnotic, subtle songs comes from lessons she learned while on a walkabout in India.

With his signature top hat and star sunglasses, Bootsy Collins is considered by many to be amongst the godfathers of funk.

Some of us are verbal processors, who feel like certain vexing issues just can't be solved until we've exhaustively enunciated every angle. The hope is that the act of explaining a problem aloud will draw out a perspective previously unseen; sometimes you just have to start a sentence to see where it will lead. On "Let Down," from the four-member Gingerlys, Jackie Mendoza and Colin O'Neill's call-and-response vocals feel like two sides of a conversation with the self, an attempt to sketch the contours of tangled relationship in search of a way out.

The music of The Lemon Twigs has a sound that channels decades long past.

Michael, 18, and Brian D'Addario, 20, the brothers who make up the band, have a look that matches: We're talking peak 1970s shag haircuts, oversized tinted aviator shades and high-waisted bell-bottom jeans.

Calling Fats Domino an architect of rock and roll almost sounds like faint praise. Indeed, the amiable country boy from the Lower Ninth Ward, with the help of bandleader impresario Dave Bartholomew and one of the world's truly legendary gangs of sidemen, dug the hole and laid the actual foundation.

The blues have traveled far and wide over the last century — exerting a vast cultural influence worldwide, yielding myriad offshoots, and generating fortunes for some of the biggest musical acts of our time. But it's also still the product of local conditions, and bound by hardscrabble local concerns.

On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll go to Clarksdale, Miss., to get a temperature reading at ground level, where struggling musicians are finally beginning to reap the benefits of a recent wave of blues tourism.

Grizzly Bear had only played a handful of shows behind its new album when the band arrived at Apogee Studio to tape this session for KCRW. Most of the band members now live here in Los Angeles, and seeing the group back together on stage after a notable hiatus was a real treat.

SET LIST

  • "Four Cypresses"

Photo: Dustin Downing/KCRW.

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