Bob Boilen

NOTE: Each day this week we'll be rolling out a series of videos from Sylvan Esso that comprise the duo's upcoming visual EP, Echo Mountain Sessions. Today's installment is a performance of the song "Die Young." You can see other videos in the series here.

The Shins have been a constant part of NPR's musical DNA for much of the 21st century. The group's poetic pop has shown up in something like 25 stories on our website, not just because many of us are longtime fans, but also because our listeners love them.

NOTE: Each day this week we'll be rolling out a series of videos from Sylvan Esso that comprise the duo's upcoming visual EP, Echo Mountain Sessions.

When Josh Ritter began to write new songs, he felt an absolute impending storm. And this singer, songwriter, painter and author, with almost twenty years of songwriting behind him, began looking for a new way to approach his muse.

On this edition of All Songs Considered, hear Josh Ritter talk about the creative process for his soon-to-be-released album Gathering, along with a premiere of his new song "Showboat," or read his essay below. — Bob Boilen

For just 15 minutes on a glorious spring day in Washington, D.C. — the town that birthed "emocore" three decades ago — National Public Radio became National Puppet Radio. Rarely has a news organization had this much fun.

Jay Som is the project of 23-year-old Melina Duterte, who has been creating music for the past 10 years or so on a multitude of instruments, from guitar to trumpet. Though she played every instrument on her newest record Everybody Works, her touring band here at the Tiny Desk gave a rougher edge to some of the more premeditated sounds on her wonderful album.

Of the three songs they chose to bring to the Tiny Desk, one was a personal favorite from Everybody Works: "The Bus Song," which is a perfect swirl of stream-of-consciousness:

Guest DJ: alt-J

Jun 6, 2017

The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Laron's classical training.

Tim Darcy has a gifted voice, with a delivery that triggers the Lou Reed and Roy Orbison pleasure centers of my brain. The words he delivers are mysterious and mellifluous, playing in my mind's ear long after his newest album, Saturday Night — so named because it was mostly recorded on the weekends in the midst of making his other band's second album — comes to its close.

"This song is called 'You Never Loved Me' — it's another cheery, optimistic number," says Aimee Mann, introducing the second of four songs in this Tiny Desk Concert. She has been writing songs on the human condition — more often than not with a strong sense of humor to underpin the inevitable melancholy — as far back as the '80s, when she was the singer and bassist in Boston's The Young Snakes. Mann's newest solo record, the first in five years, is baldly called Mental Illness — clearly, there's a deep honesty within these songs.

This is likely the quietest Tiny Desk Concert ever.

As the primary booker of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I have this self-imposed rule: No artist can come back for a second visit unless there's something wholly different about what they're doing. The first time alt-J played the Tiny Desk, in 2012, they came as a four-piece; electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. They were a pretty new band, their album had been out a few months and they were playing in clubs for a couple hundred people, not much more.

Sinkane opened its Tiny Desk Concert with a song that has been a bit of an anthem for me lately. "U'Huh" contains the Arabic phrase "kulu shi tamaam," which translates to "everything's great — it's all going to be all right."

Last May, Tash Sultana posted a self-made video, just her in her living room with guitar, laptop and a great song called "Jungle." Within five days it had drawn a million views.

Overcoats' music has been undeniable for me from the first time I saw the duo perform. The deep friendship between Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell comes across in their vibrant harmonies and the bountiful dance parties that pop up as they go.

You need only watch Steve Marion's face. This fierce and lyrical guitar player, who performs as Delicate Steve, writes playful instrumental music led by hooky vocals — but there is no voice. His electric guitar is often played with a glass slide, mimicking a human being and bringing a palpable personality to his songs. The music swings from gospel to cartoon, melancholy to funny.

Ninet rocked the Tiny Desk in ways rarely seen.

As I watched one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today here at NPR, I flashed back to a 1976 concert I saw by a not-yet-famous Joan Jett. Ninet has that same fierce and honest conviction, is walking that same path that Jett did and poised to find notoriety in this country, which she recently began to call home.

They're simply an abundance of euphoria. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band blasted the Tiny Desk with a Sousaphone, trumpets, saxophones, guitar and drums, at stunning volume, for a joyful celebration.

This band has been mixing be-bop and funk for 40 years. Around this time of year, when Mardi Gras revelry is fueled by New Orleans jazz, it was so good to feel their sounds in the office. Since today is Fat Tuesday — just before Lent and its fasts begin for some — we are sharing the party we hosted, filled with brass and sass from this fixture of great American music. Enjoy.

We watched more than 6,000 videos. Ten judges weighed in. Now, the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest has a winner.

Agnes Obel, a Danish singer and writer of deeply alluring music, brought her work into what you could call its opposite — an office in the daylight. While the setting is a bit contrary to her carefully plotted, vocally dense songs, she mapped out a strategy which included her own reverb and monitor mix in the (successful, I think) hope of giving the Tiny Desk an aesthetic more suitable to these focused and powerful songs.

There's a vibrance to the current music of Esmé Patterson that I wasn't expecting, having listened to her previous band Paper Bird. Gone are the banjos and remnants of folk music, and in their place are electric guitars — sometimes fierce and, here at the Tiny Desk, somewhat understated. She's a relative newcomer to the guitar, making it part of her songwriting only since leaving Paper Bird. But all of this instrumentation is meant to be supportive, not center-stage. At the heart of these songs, from her album We Were Wild, is a reach for independence:

Sincerity, community and beauty is how I think of Lowland Hum; the sounds of Lauren and Daniel Goans. Thin is the husband and wife duo's third album since their 2013 debut, further refining their hushed harmonies and aural paintings. It's a sound that makes them a quiet Sunday-morning favorite. Some of the imagery comes from the beauty they see in the landscapes and locales they traverse and visit all over this country; art centers, cafes, nightclubs, house shows, racking up something like 45,000 miles in a Toyota Sienna between 2014 and 2015.

David Bowie had long wanted to make a record with a jazz band, and on Jan. 8 of last year, he realized his dream with the release of Blackstar. Two days later, he was gone. Donny McCaslin's band helped him make that record, and now, a year later, we pay tribute to Bowie and Blackstar by bringing McCaslin's band to the Tiny Desk.

It'd be easy to look and listen to this young English singer and think he's just another sensitive songwriter with a guitar, singing about his troubles. But Declan McKenna writes about a much bigger world than you or I might expect from a singer who only recently turned 18. He came to NPR this past summer, a bit nervous but passionate. He stripped down three of his songs to their musical essence, and the power of their words eclipsed the hooks for which they're equally known.

I could call this list "The Songs I Love To Drive Around With." More often than not, these 2016 songs set you up for a brilliant climax, often an unforgettable chorus. And I found a wide variety of artists that made songs with that memorable character, artists ranging from barely 20 years old to a reflective 82, from Niger to Nashville, from British hip-hop to yearning falsetto. I'd be thrilled to turn on a radio and hear this broad world of sound represent the Top 40.

Bob Boilen's Top 40 Songs Of 2016

It seemed only fitting for us to have a nine-piece, family-centered band come back to the Tiny Desk to help us celebrate the holidays in 2016. Maggie and Tyler Heath head up The Oh Hellos vocally, but this band — which played a non-holiday show at the desk just a year ago — feels very much like an extended family, in terms of both camaraderie and harmonies.

There's a confessional quality to the songs of Pinegrove that feels reassuring. The problems that swirl around Evan Stephens Hall's head feel universal, so it's comforting in "Old Friends" when he sings, "I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them."

Pages