Bob Boilen

I can't think of another album that sounds quite like The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea. Not in title, not in sound. Oh, there are familiar song structures and vocal harmonies. But hearing this record brought me back to the night I learned of the accident: a crashed van, strewn and broken gear, and how lucky they were to all be alive. That's when it all clicked.

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.

All this year, NPR Music and its partner stations will be following a group of outstanding new and emerging artists from local music scenes across the country for a series we're calling Slingshot. On this week's All Songs Considered, we talk to some of our partner stations about the artists they chose for this year's list. Some are hometown favorites, and others are rising stars from abroad.

I know it seems absurd and headline-grabbing, but honestly this song is going to be the high bar to hit for guitar-driven, brokenhearted love songs in the coming year.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The first time I saw Christopher Paul Stelling his face was red and his eyes were wide, singing as if he were about to burst apart, as if he had so much to tell us and too little time, as if his mind was racing faster than his tongue could keep up with. He's a singer with the spirit of Woody Guthrie both deep within and showing on his sleeve. Stelling has a new collection of songs he has titled Itinerant Arias, which he says "sounds a lot better than 'travelin' songs,'" but that's exactly what they are. Songs which have in common no single origin, or sense of place.

I didn't know much about Gracie and Rachel on first hearing "Only A Child." There's a terrific tension in the sound, an underpinning of mystery set against a baroque, but modern, pop foreground. Then I discovered that Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles seemingly embody the schism I heard in their song — Rachel's dark, classic violin is set against Gracie's more upbeat pop piano.

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.


It's somewhat rare to find three singers so in sync as The Wild Reeds' Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe. Rarer still is the trio's songwriting skills; think Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Red Baraat's fusion of bhangra, go-go, hip-hop and jazz is driven by frontman Sunny Jain's percolating playing of the dhol, a double-sided drum which forms the rhythmic lattice of support for their boisterous horns and guitar. And though Red Baraat graced the Tiny Desk five years ago, we had to have Jain's band back to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of color, of good over evil, and the coming of spring.

Here's a story of how a sentiment, the kernel of a piece, can blossom when the right person comes along. The songwriter is Minneapolis-by-way-of-Wisconsin's J.E. Sunde, but the key transformer was Monica Martin, of the band Phox.

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

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.

It's basically three chords banged out on a piano for 4 minutes. No drums, no guitars, no samples. But then: there's her voice. Haunting.

"Here is your princess / here is your horizon" — Aldous Harding repeats the line as a mantra, as a truth, as a reality. It's as if the gift of life is right here, with all its beauty and its limitations. At least that's how I see it.

We've officially closed the books on 2016 (finally), and we're ready to fall in love with some new music, from the big and hopeful to the crushingly sad.

The three women in The Wild Reeds love a good crescendo. They have three powerful upfront voices in Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe and they all write songs to honor and embrace their soaring voices. Since their Tiny Desk Concert a little more than a year ago, over a half of a million people have seen it on our YouTube Channel.

Julien Baker never imagined her sad songs would be loved beyond a small circle of friends.

Bob Boilen and I, along with the rest of the NPR Music team, have been prepping for our year-end coverage by listening to hundreds of songs and albums in one big shared playlist. Along the way, we've all discovered stuff we hadn't heard before — and even fallen in love with some of it.

Imagine being a singer — in this case, a singer of traditional British folk songs and murder ballads, songs of love, hate, revenge, redemption and tragedy. And as the singer of these songs, you get pretty well known in the circles of folk music in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now, imagine a broken heart robs you of your ability to sing. For 38 years, your voice — once beautiful — falls silent.

This is the story of the great Shirley Collins.

Patrick Jarenwattananon has been the backbone of our jazz coverage almost since NPR Music started in 2007. Patrick came to us as a 22-year-old intern and shortly after began covering legendary and rising jazz luminaries like a veteran journalist. His writing for A Blog Supreme captured the spirit of the jazz community and was a rich resource for thoughtful coverage on this living American musical culture.

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