Bob Boilen

It's as if the pianos were haunted. Somewhere about midway through this Tiny Desk, as Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds performed on his electronic keyboard, two upright pianos were playing lilting melodies behind him, absent any performer at the keys. And yet these "ghosts," along with Ólafur's band of strings and percussion, put together some of the most beautiful music I've heard at the Tiny Desk, made all the more mysterious through its presentation.

The horns burst, the voices wail and, as if about to launch into a sermon, this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer introduces himself: "My name is Rev. Sekou and these are the Seal Breakers, now they from Brooklyn." He points to his band and continues, "but I was raised in in a little old place called Zent, Arkansas that's got about 11 houses and 35 people, and they'd work from can't-see morning to can't-see night and then they'd make their way to the juke joint.

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn't until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real.

It was Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day when this somewhat loud and sometimes frenetic band came to play at my desk. I couldn't help but wonder if The Messthetics would inspire some eight-year old child in the office to one day become a musician, one who'd go on tell the tale of seeing these D.C. legends at an office when they were a kid.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my "accidental concert experience," I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America's Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

It was daylight but the music was dark and moody. And despite having the office lights turned on high, it was Khruangbin's trance-inducing tone that set the mood and carried me away.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says "and just so you know, this is his fault." I won't spoil the video by telling you his response.

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.

This is as spare as music can be – songs stripped to their essence and just gorgeous. Azniv Korkejian is Bedouine, a singer and acoustic guitarist who echoes sounds from the 1960's North American folk songwriters, but with vocal inflections that feel closer to Leonard Cohen than to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez.

I went from really loving the music of Superorganism to being a transformed super-fan the moment they sent me an email ahead of their Tiny Desk performance asking, "is it okay if we [bring] inflatable whales when we play?" Now I feel like the kind of fan I was when I wore a yellow radiation suit to a Devo concert in 1978.

When you hear John Moreland's sweet voice, it's hard to believe he spent years singing in punk, metal-core and hardcore bands. You can still hear that passion in his music, only now it's punctuated by his acoustic guitar.

Rhye: Tiny Desk Concert

Apr 9, 2018

It seemed only fitting that when Rhye performed the band's Tiny Desk Concert that it be at night, illuminated by flickering light. The music Mike Milosh sings and writes conjures the evening and a swaying, romantic vibe.

The last time Dan Auerbach came to the Tiny Desk he brought a mariachi band (we supplied confetti cannons). That was our 500th performance at the Tiny Desk, with Dan playing alongside his band The Arcs.

The three singers who perform together as I'm With Her sound like sisters. It's as if they've known each other all their lives and share common roots and musical memories.

There's an abundance of jubilation and glee in the strums, trills, double stops and drones from the Swedish instrumental band Väsen. The trio came to the Tiny Desk with just three instruments, but all together it was a 30-string sonic blast of 12-string guitar, viola and nyckelharpa (a fiddle with keys — think 15th century keytar).

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including "Sam Stone," "Angel From Montgomery," "Hello In There" and countless others.

Every year for the past four years we've had a Tiny Desk Contest (there's one going on right now), and though only one band can officially win the competition, thousands enter. I inevitably end up discovering so much wonderful music while going through the submissions.

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I've experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It's all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

Vagabon: Tiny Desk

Feb 23, 2018

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. I've seen her as a solo artist, with a band and, here at the Tiny Desk, both solo and with a bassist.

River Whyless is a band whose members push themselves toward perfection while holding each other up and allowing for some risk-taking. This is a band not only of strong players and singers but something a lot of bands rarely have: multiple, talented songwriters.

The music of Nick Hakim occupies a space and time that is faintly out of this world. The guitars and machinery that make up his music feel slightly askew, as though someone slowed down the tape machine every once in a while. His raspy voice feels drenched in a cavernous space. In fact, the first time I met Nick Hakim, he was literally draped in fiber optics, as if stars were surrounding him.

Marlon Williams is a handsome devil with a heart-stopping voice, who writes songs about vampires and horror films. This 27-year old, New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based singer is also a teller of tales.

Alynda Segarra's unamplifed voice in this Tiny Desk performance had no problem rising above the drums, congas, cello, violin, bass, keyboards, and an electric guitar. The passion for her Puerto Rican roots feels boundless. As Soul Captain for Hurray for the Riff Raff, she and her band weave tales of man's inhumanity to fellow humans, often from bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric. But I didn't see this coming – the brilliant guitarist arrived at NPR with one steel string acoustic guitar and without a warm-up or soundcheck. Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

The title and subject of Amadou & Mariam's latest album, La Confusion, would lead you to believe that the music this married, Malian couple make might be sad and troubled. But Amadou & Mariam, on the contrary, bring some of the most lyrical melodies and joyful sounds we've ever had at the Tiny Desk, and their performance comes while their country endures great turmoil, including a coup and insurgencies.

It's as if brothers Brian and Michael D'Addario fell from the sky, victims of a transporter beam gone awry in 1971, and landed here at my desk with guitars in hand, right next to a perfectly tuned Yamaha upright piano.

AHI: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 16, 2018

The first time I heard the music of AHI (pronounced "eye") was in the midst of listening to 120 other song submissions for the DIY Musicians Conference panel I was hosting in Nashville back in August. It simply rose above everything else I heard.

"Take Me To The River" is a 1974 song from the legendary Al Green and guitarist "Teenie" Hodges.

Pages