Music

Music

Alejandro Escovedo On World Cafe

Aug 9, 2012

Alejandro Escovedo has played virtually every kind of rock 'n' roll there is to play, from punk to orchestral to country, during a career dating back to the 1970s.

For the L.A. band Lord Huron, there's far more to music than merely playing sweetly summery, rhythmically inventive pop. There's also an air of mystery: a desire to tell stories, play with identities and craft visuals to complement its sounds. The bouncy "Time to Run" is a tremendously ingratiating song, but the band's video piles on new dimensions to make it that much richer.

We started this series of polls, like so many of the things we write and think about, with a simple water cooler conversation. After learning that the entire NPR music team loved Paul Simon's Graceland, we began to wonder whether it's possible to make a top ten list of albums everyone can agree on.

KCRW Presents: Delta Rae

Aug 8, 2012

The North Carolina sextet Delta Rae first caught my attention with its swampy track "Bottom of the River." The group came to our studios with a setup unlike any other band we've hosted at KCRW: a metal trashcan, a large chain and many pairs of drumsticks. Four members of Delta Rae sing lead, while everyone in the band joins in to create a cacophony of bluesy, gospel-tinged pop music, complete with stomping feet.

Wolf Larsen's life is a complicated mix of mysterious and nearly debilitating health issues and desire to dig deep in art for meaning and hope. Wolf Larsen is the stage name (and pen name) of the singer and writer Sarah Ramey. In 2008, Ramey served as the personal blogger for Obama's presidential campaign and is currently writing a book — The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness — due out in 2013 under her own name. Her new record as Wolf Larsen, Quiet at the Kitchen Door, is a bedroom recording, a project that began as a way to deal with her illness and solitude.

Lisa Marie Presley On World Cafe

Aug 8, 2012

Being the only child of rock 'n' roll's king has kept Lisa Marie Presley under a long shadow, but she's found ways to make her music stand out that don't involve her lineage or occasionally stormy personal life.

Now, Now At Graffiti Park

Aug 8, 2012

The "Graffiti Park" in Austin, Texas, is stunning from any angle: Essentially a giant public canvas, the staggered façade on Baylor Street is constantly refreshed with new eye-popping murals by aerosol artists. When the members of Now, Now met us there, they were good enough sports to haul their guitars and amplifiers all the way to the top.

In its 21-year career, Enslaved has stayed ahead of the curve. While defenders of the orthodox black-metal sound have a field day hating modern-day mold-breakers like Wolves in the Throne Room and Deafheaven, Enslaved was tearing down Valhalla with Pink Floyd-ian psychedelia and '70s prog-rock back around 2000's Mardraum.

Nothing about the wounded confessionalism of Sharon Van Etten's early work even begins to portend rock stardom: All raw nerves and whispered coos, 2009's Because I Was in Love explores tiny, tentative moments with a sort of graceful vulnerability. Ever since, Van Etten has kept adding layers of sinew to her sound, to the point where she's become a bona fide blood-and-guts rock 'n' roll frontwoman.

In 282 Songs, Blur Comes Into Focus

Aug 7, 2012

Blur was never huge in the U.S. Even the British group's best-known song (the two-minute explosion "Song 2") failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. So the moment the group is having right now might be confusing for casual listeners. Blur has reunited in recent years to play live (it'll headline the closing ceremony of the Olympics this weekend) and release a few new songs (last month's "Under the Westway" is lovely). Last week, the band put out a career-spanning box set.

Predicting the sound of any given Stars song takes some doing: The Montreal band traffics in everything from joyfully guitar-driven power-pop to synth-based dance music to string-swept ballads that detail the heartbreaking minutiae of doomed romance. Even the lead voices shift from song to song, with Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell singing to, over and about each other, occasionally swapping verses.

Let's start with the familiar. Three fifths of the band Black Prairie are members of The Decemberists. The band's new album is produced by one of music's finest producers, Tucker Martine. And it gets better. In addition to The Decemberists' Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee and Nate Query, Black Prairie also includes Annalisa Tornfelt (violin and voice) and John Neufeld (guitar), both very talented players.

Dan Auerbach, one of two founders of The Black Keys, also maintains an active side business as a producer for other bands that share his love for blues- and country-influenced rock. Auerbach's production work can be heard on two new records: Hacienda's third album, Shakedown, and the major-label debut of JEFF The Brotherhood, titled Hypnotic Nights.

Keane On World Cafe

Aug 3, 2012

The English piano-rock band Keane formed back in 1997, but it wasn't until 2004 that the group's album Hopes and Fears took off on the strength of the smash single "Somewhere Only We Know." A Best New Artist Grammy nomination followed, and in the years since, the group has released three more albums: 2006's Under the Iron Sea, 2008's Perfect Symmetry and this year's Strangeland.

New Jersey has a proud heritage in rock music, from punk legends like Misfits to the Boss himself. The sonic imprint of the Garden State is unmistakable in the music of The Gaslight Anthem, which carries on in Jersey's proud rock 'n' roll tradition.

Like many artists performing under the broad umbrella of "folk music" at this year's Newport Folk Festival, Gary Clark Jr. isn't settling inside any genre, let alone folk. Working off a template of bluesy rock, he infuses the gritty songs on his Bright Lights EP with elements of soul, pop and even reggae. Above all, he's a positively ferocious young guitarist, with a reputation as an up-and-comer poised for one of those 30-, 40-, even 50-year careers.

With Michael Kiwanuka, it’s all about the voice. A voice that he describes as “hitting straight through to the core” with direct, emotional songs about love, yearning, comfort and belonging. It’s a voice that built him a following via MySpace and small London gigs, and led Paul Butler from The Bees to invite him to the band’s Isle of Wight studio to lay down these introductory tracks from what promises to be a major new British singer/songwriter.

Justin Currie On Mountain Stage

Aug 2, 2012

Singer-songwriter Justin Currie appears on this archival episode of Mountain Stage, recorded live in West Virginia in December 2007. Currie was a teenager when he founded the Scottish rock band Del Amitri in Glasgow in 1983. Soon eclipsing its DIY beginnings, Del Amitri went on to score several international hits in the '90s — including "Kiss This Thing Goodbye," "Roll to Me" and "The Last to Know" — and its videos became a mainstay on MTV and VH1.

Blasphemy didn't always belong to dudes in corpse paint and spiked armbands. At one point in history, rock and blues were the devil's music, existing mainly for hip-shaking and corrupting the youth. Blues has a sinister past — the most obvious example being Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" — but there's also Brownie McGhee's "Dealing With the Devil," Charley Patton's "Devil Sent the Rain Blues" and a long list of others.

Yesterday my husband and I had the same thought at the same time. It's not an uncommon occurrence for two writers who've spent decades arguing and enthusing about pop music. I mention it, in part, to stave off accusations that I'm plagiarizing from a nearby source, but also because I think what we reflected upon in light of the writer Jonah Lehrer's fatal mistake was probably in the minds of many music obsessives.

Everything I've ever written about Sam Phillips has been a cheat.

Sometimes there's just no room for subtlety. Sometimes you hate everyone and everything because that's the only way the world makes sense. Sometimes you wonder what the musical equivalent of a panther rattling a barbed-wire cage is. Well, maybe only Gaza has thought of that last one.

Liars: Laying Down An Ominous Groove

Jul 31, 2012

The career of the experimental rock trio Liars has been defined by nomadic wanderings, both geographically and sonically. Formed in L.A., the trio relocated to Brooklyn, then to rural New Jersey, and eventually to Berlin, before returning to L.A.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. That old expression came to mind when I read the headline of a recent press release:

'Grand Funk Railroad, Boston, Kansas at Aberdeen Proving Ground, August 11'

Matt Nathanson On Mountain Stage

Jul 31, 2012

Matt Nathanson performed this set for Mountain Stage, recorded live in West Virginia, back in December 2007. The singer, who was born in Massachusetts but now lives in San Francisco, began writing songs in high school, and made his first record while attending college in 1993. He's recorded seven studio albums since — the latest of which, Modern Love, came out last year.

Apart from Rubber Soul by The Beatles, there weren't any big winners in last week's poll, the latest in our summer-long attempt to identify the albums we can all agree on.

There's no hiding that the Newport Folk Festival has become a more musically diverse experience.

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