Originally published on Mon February 10, 2014 10:13 am
16 min 18 sec
Truth be told, I was scared. We've stuffed a lot of musicians behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw Fanfare Ciocarlia (pronounced "fan-FAR-eh cho-car-LEE-ah") at Globalfest the week before the band arrived at NPR, I couldn't fathom how we'd corral these 12 musicians and their various assorted horns and drums into that truly tiny space.
Don't let Cahalen Morrison and Eli West's simple two-man sound fool you. The music itself isn't simple so much as an exercise in artful restraint. The Seattle duo's new album, I'll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, is packed with exquisite instrumentation and close country harmonies. But the stories they tell and the melodies they employ are complex and wrought with nuanced emotion.
"Down in the Lonesome Draw" is about searching for work and opportunity — an old American story with nearly as much relevance now as when the Western states were still a frontier.
With the fate of Sonic Youth up in the air, founding guitarist Lee Ranaldo has found steady ground with his group The Dust, featuring fellow SY orphan Steve Shelley on drums, along with guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Lüntzel.
Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 2:48 pm
13 min 34 sec
The windowsills were lined with people standing, as every nook between every office desk filled to capacity with NPR employees and their assorted guests. Pixies, after getting misplaced for a time in our parking garage during a moment worthy of This Is Spinal Tap, showed up in time to encounter the largest crowd we've ever assembled for a Tiny Desk Concert. (Our new office space allows for more guests than the old one did, but it's still a mark of this band's significance for so many youthful grownups.)
The Crystal Method has been instrumental in the evolution of dance music for more than 20 years now — and, on the occasion of its return to Morning Becomes Eclectic, the duo took another step by bringing along a full band. Having only played with this setup one other time (and never before on stage), Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland played new songs from their latest album in unexpected ways. Here, they work their way through "Over It," featuring Dia Frampton on vocals.
Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 9:40 am
22 min 39 sec
Angel Olsen came to the Tiny Desk on an odd autumn day, as an impending storm loomed outside our office windows. It all seemed just right for occasion: Watch her and you'll see calm in her eyes; listen to her and you'll sense torment in her heart. Olsen gave us a preview of her third record on that October day; she wouldn't tell us the title, but she did say the word "Burn" with a hint of the title in the words to a song she'd sing.
Not sure if it's a compliment to be called a "thinking man's metal band" — if nothing else, it's not so nice to the other metal bands — but Helmet has always made smart music that never loses its punch. Singer and guitarist Page Hamilton founded the group back in 1989, and since then it's gone through the usual motions of a successful band: early attention leading to a label signing, a series of albums that grow more critically acclaimed but sell less than expected, band dissolution and breakup, subsequent solo work and collaborations, and an eventual reboot.
"If you're meaning to seduce anybody, you don't announce your intention," L.A. singer-songwriter Joe Henry joked when introducing his new song "Swayed." Nevertheless, he hooked us by the heart during a recent in-studio appearance.
Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 8:37 pm
24 min 49 sec
The third song in this Tiny Desk Concert, explains the jocose pianist Robert Glasper, first appeared on one of his trio's albums of acoustic, instrumental jazz. It was called "F.T.B." then, though it later acquired words and a singer and was retitled "Gonna Be Alright" on the record which won the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album. That in itself provides a sense of the worlds to which Glasper has access; depending on your point of view, he either freely traverses or explodes those boundaries.