Bob Boilen

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."

Here is one of the seminal underground records of the late 1960s: The band is Pearls Before Swine, and the album is called One Nation Underground.

This is the most powerful music video I've seen in ages. Inspired by the death of a child, in the midst of a huge refugee crisis, "In Harms Way" takes on a question that songwriter and singer Amanda Palmer says is absent from current political conversations: "Have we forgotten how to be generous?"

We have, nearly five years after the debut release of Woman, new music from Rhye and word of a new album, due next year on Loma Vista. (Given the recent tour announcement that has them hitting the road in February, it's probably safe to say that the album will come not too long after the new year.)

Sego's music is frenetic, agitated and immediate. In a new video for the song, "Whatever Forever," the band speaks to the anesthetized frenzy of the-day-to-day.

Gaelynn Lea is a violinist, a public speaker and an advocate for people with disabilities. She was born with brittle bone disease and that shapes the way she plays the violin, holding it upright, more like a cello than the traditional method under the chin.

The heart of "Capable" from The Wild Reeds is spelled out in these lyrics by Sharon Silva: "You're capable of so much more/Than these people give you credit for/And you just need to show it."

MGMT, the psych-pop duo behind one of the decade's best earworms, is back with its first new music in four years. "Little Dark Age" is the title track to their 2018 album, a pulsing, synthesized meditation on the age of anxiety over a world coming apart.

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":

Billy Bragg has been writing and singing songs for justice — and against injustice — for more than 30 years; thankfully he is never going to stop. Bragg's continued passion is clear in "Saffiyah Smiles," his new song of solidarity inspired by recent racial tensions in America and an incident that happened closer to Bragg's home in Birmingham, England, at an anti-immigrant demonstration this past spring.

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.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

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.

The first time I saw the soulful singer Moses Sumney was in a church in Iceland. The Los Angeles-based singer was laying down loops with his guitar, and the sounds that day made and the songs that he sang had me eager to hear an entire album from this talented man.

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.

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.

Last week, All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and I took note of an article from The Guardian examining something within music that's uniquely byzantine: the practice of giving guest artists credits in song titles. You've no doubt seen some variation of it — "Song Title (feat. An Artist)." It's something that should be fairly straightforward, no? Well, no.

Guest DJ Week: Björk

Aug 16, 2017

Note: Our week of Guest DJs continues with Björk. The Icelandic singer recently announced she'll be releasing a new album, possibly before the end of the year.

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.

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