NPR Music

If you've listened to the Cafe for a while, you know and hopefully love today's guests. Calexico is a band whose music is a jangly desert mashup of Western Americana, Latin influence and any other sounds, instruments or collaborators they've picked up along the trail. It's no wonder they're perfectly named after a border town between California and Mexico.

In addition to being widely recognized as one of the great American guitarists, Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo is also a published writer, poet and visual artist. His latest solo album, Electric Trim, features Sharon Van Etten, Nels Cline of Wilco, Kid Millions and more.

Giving Up sounds like a demolition derby crashed by a stolen school bus, a giddy smash of screw-eyed indie-pop and junk punk. Based out of Garner, Iowa, with members now spread out across the Midwest, Giving Up has been at this mix for over a decade now. Where its previous records touted lo-fi production and a wild abandon towards songwriting, Garner Cardinals gives the formula a bit of spit-polish, not only injecting some studio dynamics but also focusing the manic-pop into tuneful blasts.

Los Angeles rock band Mt. Joy released a few songs into the world in 2016 with modest expectations. To their surprise, their music started gaining traction on Spotify, racking up millions of streams. By 2017, they were on the road touring with bands like The Shins, The Head and the Heart and The Lone Bellow.

Charles Baudelaire's "L'invitation au voyage" was originally published in Les Fleurs du mal in 1857, a book accused of being une outrage aux bonnes mœurs (roughly, "an insult to good manners" or "morality"). The poem is laden with a sensuousness that speaks beyond our temporal concerns, imagining love as a destination outside this world, perhaps an infinite one. And yeah, it's pretty hot.

Tift Merritt On Mountain Stage

Feb 2, 2018

Grammy-nominated songwriter Tift Merritt made her first appearance on Mountain Stage in 2002, when her debut record Bramble Rose established her as a new voice in modern folk music.

Valentine's Day is coming up and whether you're single or coupled the day can bring on complicated mixture of memories, regrets and desires. The latest from Oakland-based dream-pop artist Jay Som depicts a specific kind of romantic encounter in a bright, meandering tune.

As a part of our Sense of Place, South Africa trip, we traveled to Cape Town and recorded the band Freshlyground on their home turf.

The group is led by the energetic and powerful singer Zolani Mahola, and includes members from Mozambique and Zimbabwe as well as South Africa, where Mahola grew up. Mahola talked about what it was like for her to realize how Apartheid impacted her father's life as well as her own, and shared the funny reason she got kicked out of a ska band before joining Freshlyground.

For this Sense Of Place session, we spent some time in South Africa with guitarist and songwriter Johnny Clegg. The visionary musician was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago, and spent the latter part of 2017 on a world tour he called "The Final Journey." It was a productive three months that also included a new solo album, King of Time. But rather than feature that new material, Clegg performed four of his most beloved songs from yesteryear.

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.


Philly art-rock group Palm might look like a normal band: two guitars, a bass, drums, a couple singers. But if you listen to Rock Island (or really anything else the group has released), it becomes clear that any passing resemblance to normality is purely accidental.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Songs Of The Bard

Jan 31, 2018

Discover and embrace the contemporary appeal of the verses and timeless music written more than 200 years ago by Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns.

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Slowdive On World Cafe

Jan 30, 2018

Sometimes fans of bands that initially missed or were too young for the first breakthrough are lucky enough to get a second chance. Interest builds and when a group reunites there is a new and old fan base waiting. That's the way the long tail of the internet works.

Has anyone ever watched the Grammy's and concluded that the Recording Academy really nailed it? (No one has ever concluded they nailed it). So we begin this episode of All Songs Considered with a simple question: Why keep watching?! It's like being addicted to disappointment and outrage.

With the title of their 2017 release, Dirty Pictures (Part 1), Philly rockers Low Cut Connie had already telegraphed what was on the way.

"What a schmuck I would be if I didn't have a part two, right?," frontman Adam Weiner tells NPR.

Carrie Brownstein is well known for the caricatures she paints — of her contemporaries and of herself.

"If you're into Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Dr. John or Louis Armstrong and play almost any instrument under the sun, let's jam!"

Mary Gauthier is no stranger to the gut punch. The lyrical precision on the folk singer's first eight studio albums is testament to her ability to transform her own trauma into a purposeful and communal narrative.

Ahead of Sunday night's 60th Grammy Awards ceremony, a new study published by University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees in the past six years have been male. Stacey Smith, co-author of the study — titled Inclusion in the Recording Studio? -- says there is an "epidemic of invisibility" in the music industry, particularly in songwriting and producing.

Matt Dorrien audibly shifts in his chair, his feet pushing onto the pedals of a piano, as the opening chords of "Baby I'm So Lost" ring out. It's a simplistic, purposefully plodding introduction that's unusual in its total disregard of modern pop convention. But like most interesting things, patience is rewarded here. A beautifully broken love song slowly unfurls, complete with sad sack vocals and dueling clarinets that could close any dive-y lounge down.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds On Mountain Stage

Jan 26, 2018

Instrumental music speaks. Like a look from a lover or the clench of a fist, there is sometimes more (e)motion in the flick of a riff or the hum of an organ than words can supply. The Texas-based trio Khruangbin got its start digging on '60s and '70s Thai funk, gospel, R&B, surf, psychedelic rock and dub, creating chill instrumentals seemingly tailor-made for groove-seeking beatmakers and blissful dancers at outdoor festivals.

The latest album from LA rocker Ty Segall is 19 songs strong. He premiered a handful of new tracks from Freedom's Goblin, as well as a cover of The Groundhog's "Cherry Red," during his live appearance on KCRW. The most surprising was the glam-disco number "Despoiler of Cadaver."

SET LIST

  • "Despoiler of Cadaver"

Photos: Davis Bell/KCRW.

Native Young began as a bedroom project for Cape Town-based musician Yannick Meyer. But after hours of recording, the white South African realized that to truly make the songs what he wanted them to be, he would need some help. Meeting the traditional Xhosa Marimba player Mark Sikele launched him into further collaborations and the resulting album Kings won a South African Music Award in 2017 for Best Alternative Album.

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