NPR Music

Music features, reviews and "first listens" from NPR.  For WUNC's music programs,  Back Porch Music.

The first time I saw Haley Bonar in concert, she and her band were performing at the base of a 54-foot Doritos vending machine — a dehumanizing corporate venue of the variety that occasionally surfaces at SXSW. Somehow, though, her wry, spiky spark found a way to shine through.

Brian Eno. David Bowie. Kraftwerk. Radiohead. Aphex Twin. The National. These are just some of the contemporary artists and bands who have looked up to American composer Steve Reich.

The Thistle & Shamrock: More New Sounds

Oct 5, 2016

Host Fiona Ritchie handpicks highlights from an impressive crop of new releases by rising and well-established artists. Hear new music by Socks In The Frying Pan, Hamish Napier, Gillian Frame and more.

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Fan fervor is one of the basic building blocks of rock and roll, but it's difficult to recall a rock star as tenderly beloved as is Bruce Springsteen in 2016. There are bigger legends who've evinced louder screams, like the baby boomer Boss's own early inspirations, Elvis and The Beatles.

We've never done a Tiny Desk Concert that wasn't behind my desk at NPR. But when the White House called and said they were putting on an event called South by South Lawn, a day-long festival filled with innovators and creators from the worlds of technology and art, including music, we jumped at the chance to get involved. We chose Common as the performer and the White House library as the space.

Fourteen hours ago, Jenny Hval was mashing watermelon and confetti into the compact stage at the Oslo club Vulkan. Now the Norwegian artist is struggling to transition into a more rarified mode. The 36-year-old is hiding from the sticky mid-September sun in her studio in gentrifying Grünerløkka, rehearsing — this weekend she'll form part of a choir backing homegrown superstar Susanne Sundfør at the 8,700-capacity Spektrum arena. "I'm bad at singing in choirs," Hval says, sitting on an old wooden chair and clutching each foot to the opposite hip, knees pointing forward like an arrow.

Neville Marriner, the conductor and violinist who was something of an entrepreneur as well as the guiding spirit behind one of the most successful classical recordings of all time — the soundtrack to the 1984 smash movie Amadeus — died overnight at age 92 at his home in London. His death was announced by the chamber orchestra he founded, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Sounds

Sep 28, 2016

The flow of new music continues through the end of summer into the fall. Sample some recent releases from favorite artists and rising names. Selections include new songs from Iona Fyfe Band, The Bills and Celtic Fiddle Festival.

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I met Isaiah Rashad late this summer, during a stop on the manic press run that comes with the release of a new album. Like most of his fans, I wanted to know where he had been and what to expect from his latest work, The Sun's Tirade. His debut album, Cilvia Demo, dropped in January 2014, and back then I heard an urgent young man from Chattanooga, Tenn., on the hunt for validation through his art.

They came, they measured, and they returned to perform a show like no other. It was the great NPR Tiny Desk Takeover by Blue Man Group.

If you've not seen this performance ensemble and their production in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago or Berlin, then you've missed a night of magical fun. These Blue Men may never say a word, but the performances make for poignant looks at who we are as humans. They also make unusual music on instruments of their own design.

The political endorsement song is a strange beast. It's something more than just a campaign anthem — the kind of track that pumps up rally audiences before a candidate's entrance onstage. Instead, this kind of tune is an odd hybrid: part commercial jingle, part aspirational anthem and, with nearly no exceptions, a soon-forgotten novelty. (One outlier: the sturdy Whig song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" from the 1840 presidential campaign, which was most recently resurrected by They Might Be Giants in 2004.)

In 2009, musician and historian Elijah Wald published an overview of American pop from the 1890s to the 1960s he called How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll. The title was a bomb-throwing feint — as Wald told me in an interview, he knew that title would get much more attention than a drier one such as "American Pop From Sousa to Soul" — and as if on cue, one reviewer after another lined up to wave away its thesis.

To the people that knew and played with him, the late guitarist Jack Rose was a towering example of virtuosity and dedication, interweaving ragtime, pre-war blues, raga and American primitivism. When he died of a heart attack in 2009, he left a huge gap in communities worldwide that almost seven years later no other player has been able to fill — as evidenced by a new wave of reissues that cement Rose's visionary status: On Sept.

It's been six years since Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae released her second album, The Sea, so this Tiny Desk concert feels like both a re-introduction and a welcome back.

Don Buchla believed in the humanity of wires. The modular synth pioneer created an instrument like none other, one that relied on intuition, learning and, most importantly, human touch. He died September 14 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 79.

In terms of sheer intensity, Saul Williams' Tiny Desk concert may be the most potent in our eight-year history. Only Kate Tempest comes to mind as its equal, which makes sense given that both mix music with bracing, truthful poetry. In Williams' opening song — "Burundi," from his album MartyrLoserKing — the main character is a computer hacker who lives in Burundi and fights for democracy:

"Everything's cyclical" has become a common refrain in the country music industry of late, a way of acknowledging that country radio's domination by R&B-juiced, summery jams this decade is neither the format's first swing toward popular sounds and sensibilities nor a permanent state. What would follow, some predicted, was a race to the opposite extreme: a hardcore country resurgence.

Just this afternoon, it looked like David Bowie was a shoo-in for this year's Mercury Prize. Even though the prestigious U.K. award had never before been given to an artist posthumously, Blackstar was the final and widely adored album from a British rock god. Even bookies were betting on Bowie as a 4/7 favorite.

When you think of an orchestra, you're probably picturing refined woodwoods, brass, and strings. But one ensemble I recently met is made up mostly of kids who play instruments made out of literal trash. This is the Recycled Orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay, and their group is the subject of a new documentary film.

The On-The-Road Education Of Lucy Dacus

Sep 13, 2016

Lucy Dacus needs another suitcase.

The Secret Sisters: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 12, 2016

Lydia and Laura Rogers are recognizable as sisters the minute they open their mouths. They float, twist and trade harmonies in ways only siblings can. Hailing from small-town Alabama, the pair started practicing parts as girls in church, and two decades later, their music can be hymn-like: plain but powerful, heartsick and hopeful.

I remember the first time I heard Ramones. It was the first Saturday after its April 23, 1976 release date, back when I was 14 and working weekends at the House of Guitars, Rochester, N.Y.'s greatest and still thriving record store/musical instrument shop/freak magnet.

And so, it ended with, very appropriately, a deathly quiet. "Fabric is closed. That's it. Heartwrenching silence around the room." So read a Tweet by Jeremy Abbott, the digital editor of Mixmag, who was in the room on Tuesday night when the Islington council licensing committee's met to determine whether the London neighborhood would permanently revoke the operating license of fabric, one of the city's longest-running and most iconic clubs.

Nels Cline is unabashed about his love for sound. "I get a kind of fundamental, if not moronic, pleasure from sound as soon as it starts," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Even in sound checks, once we start playing, I'm in the zone. I'm happy, because I like playing."