Tiny Desk Concerts

Rhythm is the foundation for many a musical experience. Its driving pulse yields a power that quite often demands movement - a toe to tap, a body to sway. But drummer Nate Smith provides more than just a beat. He intentionally weaves nuanced rhythmic counterpoint in and out of his catchy melodies and dulcet harmonies.

Just try to discern the multiple time signatures in the first tune, "Skip Step" Syncopated yet steady, its rhythmic motifs bolster Jon Cowherd's keyboard riff and the song's melodic statement, played in unison by saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Jeremy Most.

On first hearing the Gracie And Rachel song "Only a Child," I was struck by the tension and the mystery, both musically and lyrically: "I'm moving my mouth but I don't say a word/My ears are open but nothing is heard/I'm only a child, only a child."

The Roots Feat. Bilal: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 30, 2017

Can you believe it? Yes, those are The Roots packed behind the Tiny Desk. Black Thought, Questlove and the crew carved out a few hours in their hectic Tonight Show schedule to visit NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. Why travel four hours for a 12-minute concert when you own the late-night airwaves? The answer can be found in the lyrics to The Roots' new song, "It Ain't Fair."

Natalia LaFourcade is a successful singer-songwriter whose voice and music live on the edge of pop, but maintain a distinct independence.

A few years ago, while Lafourcade was traveling Brazil, she felt a great nostalgia for her native Mexico and its folk music. When she finally returned home, she immediately called some friends for the kind of party that is ubiquitous in Latin America: lots of social drinking, lots of food and lots of guitars and singing. Classic folk songs were on the playlist and a good time was had by all.

As Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner writes sparkling, opulent dream pop about grief and love (and, occasionally, robots). After releasing its debut album, Psychopomp last year, the band returned with this year's stunning Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Where Psychopomp, written in the immediate aftermath of the death of Zauner's mother, zeroed in on the experience of Zauner's grief, Soft Sounds widens her aperture, featuring paeans to her coping mechanisms, ruminations on crooked relationship dynamics and said sci-fi robot fantasy.

"... Only the exalted come in and rock with us."

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces' Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group's metaphysical headspace.

The Perceptionists: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 20, 2017

Mr. Lif and Akrobatik are two emcees whose names rock bells among true hip-hop heads. The duo of Boston natives first teamed up as The Perceptionists in the early aughts to release Black Dialogue on El-P's Def Jux label in 2005. Their side project went into indefinite hiatus soon afterward, but now Lif and Akrobatik are reunited on their new LP, Resolution.

Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, is willing and able to shape-shift to fit into just about any box you show him — he just won't stay in there for long. Whether fusing his talent for jazz while a bassist with punk legacy act Suicidal Tendencies or as a member of Snoop Dogg's band — maybe running a little too far with a solo here and there — the focus seems to eventually drift his way.

The audience for Hanson's first Tiny Desk concert could be cleanly sorted into two distinct camps: the curious and the committed.

I think Randy Newman is a national treasure. If he was just a funny guy making music, I'd be OK with that, but his wit is sardonic, satirical and politically on point. Mixing politics and humor with music is usually about the punchline, and his punchlines even make the singer smile.

Randy Newman paints lasting portraits of places and people, all the while poking fun and highlighting injustice, stupidity, power and humanity and he's been doing it for half a century. Here are the opening lines to his recently released song "Putin":

Landlady's music is more than sonic exploration, it's an adventure. The Brooklyn-based band's songs are the initial creation of leader Adam Schatz, who observes the world with fresh, almost alien eyes. The songs can feel a bit drugged-out – a bit high and full of curiosity – but never overly intoxicated or out-of-touch.

Paramore's After Laughter captures the moment between rapture and its comedown, the glitter wiped away, left with skin rubbed raw. It's a record, more than a decade into the band's career, that not only exposes the sparkling pop that's always lit Paramore's songs, but also deals with the ache of growing up and growing apart.

A man in a black cape holds a sitar like a guitar all while singing a dreamy tale about wanting to be a dog. Well actually a "dawg."

Welcome the world of Dawg Yawp, the musical concoction of Rob Keenan and Tyler Randall, where drones and toy pianos are likely to collide with heavy metal electronics and a well-placed melody.

Chronixx: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 27, 2017

Reggae has long been the most vivid musical escape for me. Its soul-cleansing rhythms always feel familiar and cozy, like rushing into your lover's arms after a significant time away. This is especially true for roots reggae, whose staccato guitar licks, billowing bass, and sonic splashes on a canvas of negative space, are like salve for the soul. The mid-tempo pulse conjures up relaxed days on the beach, living amid nature's unrestricted beauty.

It's hard to think of an artist who's brought more joy to more people, across more generations — and in more ways — than Steve Martin. In the 1970s, he won the hearts of young children for his playful appearances with The Muppets while simultaneously charming legions of older fans with his subversive standup routines. Later, as an actor, he wrote and starred in some of the most memorable comedies (and a few dramas) of all time, while writing books, plays and even a Broadway musical.

If the Tiny Desk offers one lesson, it's that greatness doesn't diminish with less volume. The lesson doubly applies here.

During their performance, Bomba Estereo's Simon Mejia (bass and keyboards) observed that it was the quietist the band has ever played; they rose to the occasion with an intense performance that reflects their earliest days working smaller venues in Colombia.

One look at (and listen to) the cross-dressing, Asian rock band SsingSsing and you would hardly think they're singing music inspired by traditional Korean folk. But SsingSsing isn't like any other band I've ever seen or heard.

Lookman Adekunle Salami, who writes and records as L.A. Salami, is a storyteller and a poet. His songs are deliberate meanderings on the mundane and the poignancy in everyday life. And in the way Bob Dylan took his guitar and harmonica to accompany his rarely repeating ramblings, L.A Salami embraces a similar aesthetic, albeit as a black Englishman instead of a white Minnesotan.

Two songs into his Tiny Desk concert, Jack Antonoff revealed a bit of stagecraft behind his performances with Bleachers.

When I listened blindly to nearly a thousand songs while attempting to make my schedule of bands to see at this year's SXSW music festival, one of the few tracks that leapt to the top was "Arizona" by Frances Cone. I wasn't alone. NPR Music's Stephen Thompson also singled out this now Brooklyn-based band for the way it wraps its storytelling in a catchy, pop parcel.

"Classic Man," the 2015 debut single from Nigerian-American MC Jidenna, caught everyone off guard. The song found him teetering between rapping and singing about elegance, politeness and Nat "King" Cole, and the melody felt irresistible. Then there's the look: He rocks thrift-wear tailored to a T. The song eventually went double platinum and earned a Grammy nomination. Jidenna followed it with a few more club bangers before releasing his debut album, The Chief, earlier this year. A tribute to his father, a Nigerian chief, the record is peppered with African rhythms and themes.

Like many singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell writes music that mirrors developments in his own life. In recent years, that's thankfully included the hard-won contentment he's experienced on his path to 40: sobriety, marriage and on from there.

Three-time Grammy winner DJ Premier, one of the definitive architects of New York hip-hop, brought a new type of life to NPR's Tiny Desk: our first concert helmed by a DJ.

The moment you get a look at ALA.NI behind the Tiny Desk, you'll notice it in the foreground: The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It's a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI's voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

Maggie Rogers became a viral star on the strength of a video in which Pharrell Williams raves about a demo of what's become her signature song, "Alaska." Since then, Rogers has signed a label deal, toured extensively and released a sweetly approachable, inventively arranged EP called Now That The Light Is Fading.

The high-energy blast that musicians often reserve for their finale is the starting point for Diet Cig.

Intensity in songs often expresses itself as volume – a loud guitar, a scream, a piercing synth line. But in the case of Aldous Harding it's in the spaces, the pauses, and her unique delivery. Watch her Tiny Desk Concert and you can see this in her facial expressions and body posture.

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.

Few singers can command an audience's attention quite like Albin Lee Meldau. When I first saw him perform, at a church in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest last March, it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Dominated by drive and momentum, heavy on percussion and bass, go-go music is all about the beat. Live, "songs" can continue on for half an hour, as the percussion continues to simmer and punctuate between and across different pieces. "That's why we call it go-go, because it goes on and goes on and goes on," as guitarist Andre Johnson put it in a documentary film.

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