Stephen Thompson

When singer Norah Jones dropped her much-beloved debut album Come Away With Me in 2002, she won over legions of fans with her soul-soothing croon and blend of jazzy pop and bluesy folk. In more recent years she's explored a much deeper and sometimes darker sonic landscape. You can hear this remarkable range on her latest album, Begin Again, an inspired and often moody collection of songs she wrote and recorded with a number of collaborators, including Jeff Tweedy and Thomas Bartlett.

We open this week's New Music Friday with a quick spin of Love Keeps Kicking from the self-described queer, straight edge, vegan, anarchist punk band Martha. One of the week's best guitar rock albums, it's bursting with hooky melodies and memorable meditations on (among other things) the end of times.

These days, a six-year gap between albums practically qualifies as a hiatus. In the case of Vampire Weekend, it's been enough time to experience a 2014 Grammy win, a significant departure (Rostam Batmanglij left in 2016), a major-label deal, years of touring and a long, deliberately paced lead-up to Father of the Bride, out May 3.

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

"Afterthought," by the Saskatoon pop-rock band Close Talker, has a way of burrowing deep under the skin. The most slitheringly infectious, achingly plaintive plea this side of Rhye, the track — the lead single from 2017's Lens — is a great, glorious ball of yearning, carried over by guitar lines as sleek and slippery as a greased water balloon.

Billie Eilish is already a veteran pop artist at the age of 17, with a clear vision for her sound and image, even if that sound is sinister and the image a bit demented. (Have you seen her videos?) Her brilliant debut full-length, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

It's a packed release week with a whole bunch of notable albums to highlight, including the rock guitar heroics on Ex Hex's It's Real, the wistful wisdom of Jenny Lewis, Andrew Bird's "finest work yet," mind-blowing sonics from the genre-bending composers Emily Wells and Lafawndah, the German electronic artist Apparat and much more. Hosts Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson share their top picks for the best albums out on March 22 on this episode of New Music Friday.

Featured Albums:

The setting: Austin's Central Presbyterian Church, last week, during SXSW. The mood: somber, stately, reverent. The moment: just seconds before a performance by Fragile Rock, a rowdy local indie-rock band that performs emo songs, fronted by bickering puppets.

We've returned from our weeklong grind through the South by Southwest music festival happy, though a little dazed, with ringing ears, and a whole bunch of incredible discoveries. On this All Songs Considered we run through some of the most memorable music and performances, from the shredded noise rock of Rev Rev Rev and thundering soul of Yola Carter to the Afro-Cuban grooves of Cimafunk and the remarkable voice of Tamino. Bob Boilen, Stephen Thompson and I each saw around 100 different shows in just a few short days, way more than we could ever share in a single episode.

At this point in his life and career, Wyclef Jean can do just about whatever he wants. He's sold millions in many configurations: as a leader of The Fugees, as a solo artist, as a featured guest on Shakira's eternal "Hips Don't Lie," as a producer and collaborator on Santana's Grammy-winning 1999 blockbuster Supernatural and more.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He's performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour, a nearly four-hour marathon of concerts in miniature, held at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night. The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting.

This week's somewhat abbreviated edition of New Music Friday includes an ambitious collaboration between Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O and producer Danger Mouse; the British electronic duo The Cinematic Orchestra returns with its first new album in more than a decade, featuring singer Moses Sumney, rapper Roots Manuva and other guests; and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus injects his woozy rock with a strange jolt of electronica. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the best new albums out on March 15.

Each year at SXSW, a few emerging artists become the talk of the festival. This year, Cautious Clay — the far-reaching and breezily soulful project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Karpeh — appears to be one of the names on attendees' lips. As luck would have it, Karpeh appeared at NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour on Tuesday night, and this was the way to witness the band do its work: before a reverent crowd, in a reverent setting, with impeccable sound to bring out the richness and depth in Karpeh's voice.

Each year, The Austin 100 compiles six or seven hours of highlights from the SXSW Music Festival. It's a feast of music discovery, but it never quite captures the best any given year has to offer, in part because so many acts come back to SXSW for return engagements. In other words, the best SXSW discoveries of 2017 might also rank among the best SXSW discoveries of 2018, 2019 and beyond.

Each year, the buzz in Austin, Texas, at the South By Southwest music festival can reach a deafening pitch. Our NPR Music team is here to help you cut through the noise. Every evening, we'll gather to roundup and recap the best discoveries of the day.

SXSW Music Preview

Mar 10, 2019

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Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya / Minneapolis, Minnesota

Genre: Folk

Hometown: Cincinatti, Ohio

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Bergen, Norway

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: Ida Knoph-Solholm and Alexander Breidvik make music for 4 a.m. drives and headphones worn surreptitiously under blankets. But really, there's no bad setting for music this spare, haunting and gorgeous. The central ingredients in "Far From Home" couldn't be simpler: Knopf-Solholm sets her huge, radiant voice against crystalline guitar lines that hang heavy in the air. Though other instruments make their way into the mix, there's not a superfluous sound to be found.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Sometimes a rock band exudes such swirly, Goth-tinged intensity, you'd swear you can actually hear the smoke machines and foreboding lighting. Partway through "Slenderman," Russian Baths' Jess Rees and Luke Koz pivot from mysterious and ethereal scene-setting to a bit of cataclysmic shredding that must lead to no end of strobe-lit sweat-flinging onstage.

Hometown: Porto Novo, Benin / New York, New York

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: Benin-born Afropop singer Shirazee has written songs for everyone from Ty Dolla $ign to Sting, and his own recordings throb and shimmy with winning fervor. After moving halfway around the world and overcoming homelessness, he's got plenty of hard-won perspective to work with. But in "Make Wild," Shirazee focuses on something far simpler: dispensing pure, unabashed, infectious joy.

Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Genre: Americana

Hometown: Valencia, Spain

Genre: Global

Hometown: Limerick, Ireland

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Genre: Electronic

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Your Smith is the invention — reinvention, really — of the former Caroline Smith, a singer-songwriter who changed her name and recast herself as a more freewheeling, laid-back, risk-taking version of the performer she once was. The new identity gives her music a fresh sense of play, as evidenced by "The Spot," a breezy jam that morphs from Sheryl Crow-style summer pop to a kinetic chorus with agreeable echoes of Luscious Jackson.

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Genre: Pop

Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: R&B

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Oakland, California

Genre: Rock