Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

My rule when booking Tiny Desk Concerts is to see artists live before they come to the office. I've heard many a great record only to be disappointed by a live show. But when I heard Andra Day sing "Forever Mine" from her album Cheers To The Fall, I decided to break my rule, sight unseen.

Deqn Sue rose above a crowd of close to 7,000 entries and almost won our Tiny Desk Concert Contest earlier this year. I so loved her song and her performance of "Magenta" that I invited Deqn Sue — along with her producer, Kelvin Wooten — to my desk to perform that song and more.

As technology rules the sound of the day, it's good to be reminded how powerfully a single voice can transmit deep emotion. Joan Shelley made one of the most beautiful records of the year with just her voice and two guitars.

The Watkins Family Hour began a dozen or so years ago as a way for a group of friends to get together and play old and new tunes. For Sean and Sara Watkins, it served as a monthly bit of magic: a musical variety show filled with extraordinary talent in the world of folk, bluegrass and beyond at L.A.'s famous Largo.

We probably should have shot this Tiny Desk Concert in black-and-white. Listening to Leon Bridges, I hear a sound with its heart and soul rooted in 1962. There's purity in his soulful voice that's unadorned, untouched and unaffected by 21st-century pop.

If you're a fan of dark, incredibly dry, wry humor, you've just found Happyness. In 2014, I first heard the band sing these words on a stage in New York City, from the song "Montreal Rock Band Somewhere":

I'm wearing Win Butler's hair

There's a scalpless singer

With a Montreal rock band somewhere

And he's all right

Watching Mitski perform at my desk, there are moments when I was worried for her. In her opening song, "Townie," the boys "are driving and they'll be drinking" — and a verse later, Mitski sings of love in ways that feel vengeful, not fruitful.

And I want a love that falls as fast

As a body from the balcony, and

I want a kiss like my heart is hitting the ground

I'm holding my breath with a baseball bat

Though I don't know what I'm waiting for

Eskimeaux's OK is easily my most played album of the year, next to the Courtney Barnett record. There's lighthearted, almost childlike beauty in the way Gabrielle Smith puts words to song. Here are OK's first lines:

In my dreams you're a bathtub running

You are warm and tender

And bubbling

Oh, you are cold and bristling and struggling

Caroline Rose plays music as if she's just met her new best friend: It's fresh, fun and performed with contagious enthusiasm. The title of the first song she played at the Tiny Desk — "Yip Yip Yow" — hints at the fun to come in this brief, blazing set.

Mackenzie Scott's quiet early music gave hints that she could get loud, but I still wasn't prepared for the ferocity of her new work. Recording as Torres, she spends her new album Sprinter unleashing as-yet-unheard intensity and power, all while performing with incredible prowess.

Sprinter is the album that taught me to love Torres' music: It channels clear influences like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, while still hinting at further growth. (She's only 24.)

The opening line of SOAK's debut album — "A teenage heart is an unguided dart" — contains the first words I heard from 19-year-old singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson. Now, she's bringing that fragile, pure, thickly Irish-accented voice to the Tiny Desk.

When I first saw Shamir at NPR Music's SXSW showcase, the 20-year-old singer popped on stage with a Yo Gabba Gabba T-shirt and proceeded to light up the night with his disco-infused funk and joyful energy.

There's a reason Paul Weller is so respected by his fans despite his shifts in musical styles over the years. Weller follows his heart and his tunes stay true to the times and his age. I first heard him in 1977, when I bought a British import of a 45 and later an album, each called In The City, by The Jam. Inspired by The Who, the music of The Jam was infused with urgency and melody. Then Weller wanted more from music and began The Style Council with a bit of R&B, ballads and even jazz.

Sufjan Stevens told the Newport Folk Festival crowd that this was his dream come true. What he never would have imagined in his wildest of dreams was that his performance was to follow a surprise performance from James Taylor. He was humbled to play after "Sweet Baby James," but honestly, his songs carry a power similar to that of Taylor's for a new generation of folk music fans.

The most puzzling musician on the lineup at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival was easily Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. For me, Pink Floyd represents the antithesis of folk music, with the band's psychedelic pulsating landscapes and big rock drums and guitars. Out there and psychedelic, yeah — down home and folky, nope.

Warning: Kate Tempest will connect you with your emotions and the cold, callous world around you. You may cry.

The music I feel most connected to beyond rock is from Mali. The melodies are so fluid, so elegant and most of all so trance-inducing. It often sits on one chord and notes played revolve around that chord. It can feel like a drone at times, and in the case of Songhoy Blues it rocks, lulls and the percussion grooves are not only trance-inducing but dance-inducing.

Girlpool's Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad perform in unison: They play their guitars that way — Tucker on lead, Tividad on bass — and they sing the same angsty, funny words simultaneously, or as if emulating a nursery-rhyme-style round, a la "Row Row Row Your Boat."

After spending time with Christopher Paul Stelling's third album, Labor Against Waste, I expected a certain intensity to his performance. But I didn't expect him to nearly implode behind my desk, as the fierceness of his heartfelt songs was set against deft fingerpicking on his beat-to-hell '64 Gibson gut-string classical guitar. That guitar, bought in Asheville, looks like a well-worn friend, with its dark bruised wood and his initials hand-carved into its body.

The fun, colorful Massachusetts trio And The Kids plays music that's full of life, with singalong songs and sometimes dissonant sounds. You'll get a sense of the band in this Tiny Desk Concert, as Hannah Mohan, Rebecca Lasaponaro and Taliana Katz perform songs from their effervescent 2015 debut, Turn To Each Other — including my own favorite, "All Day All Night."

Mohan and Lasaponaro have been making music since they were in seventh grade, a long friendship that helps make the mix of happy and sad songs all the more poignant.

Set List

Strand Of Oaks' music is filled with bite and sometimes regret, but also a good deal of warmth. Neil Young is an obvious touchstone when the loud guitar solos kick in, but so is Jason Molina.

The Prettiots' songs are winsome and clever, but most of all they're honest and funny. Goodness knows pop music needs some clever fun.

The three women in The Prettiots — Kay Kasparhauser on ukulele and lead vocals, Rachel Trachtenburg from the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players on drums, and bassist Lulu Prat — share their love of everything from Law & Order to old-school girl groups like the Shangri-Las. Their song "Stabler," performed here, is based on Kasparhauser's infatuation with the Law & Order character Elliot Stabler.

Anna & Elizabeth are almost single-handedly resurrecting the "crankie." If, like me, you didn't know what a "crankie" was, it's like a mural on a spool — each drawn and crafted to be hand-cranked and unfurled at the pace of a song. The effect, as experienced here in "Lella Todd Crankie," is breathtaking.

Ben Folds music has taken another turn, firmly embracing strings and chamber music yet still maintaining a passion for his love of pop. So There, his next album, will consist of eight chamber pop songs with the very talented yMusic Ensemble and one piano concerto performed with the Nashville Symphony. Today we premiere a little pocket symphony of sorts, a bit of pop perfection called "Capable of Anything."

It's often true that the songs we wind up loving most are the ones that surprise us. I'm not a pop music lover, not a lover of songs with obvious hooks, so when I heard the big fat chorus that starts off Genevieve's "Colors," I thought, "uh-oh." What wound up drawing me in first was her voice — powerful with a tiny bit of rasp and a sweet smile in her phrasing. And then that perfectly positive message, worded in a way that gave me chills:

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