Tag Archives: NPR First Listen

Friday News and Notes

HyperFocal: 0

Late-breaking Friday News and Notes!

  • Happy reissue day to Lucy Dacus, and happy release day to The Head and the Heart! Also to Wilco, though I grabbed a copy of Schmilco at BK Music’s listening party on Tuesday. It’s excellent. It sounded more understated and mellow when I was listening at BK, but listening at home was a whole other story. Very tense, like bottled up emotions slipping out a little at a time, with more fun weirdness and ornamentation than I heard at first.
  • Speaking of BK, while I was there on Tuesday, I flipped through their amazing new bluegrass/country section and found a copy of Tony Rice’s Manzanita. I’ve been looking for his stuff since I learned that the cover of Daniel Bachman’s Miscellaneous Ephemera and Other Bullshit album was an homage to one of Rice’s. Is Manzanita a good Rice starting point? They had a couple of others, but I kept seeing Manzanita described as a landmark/watershed album when I looked it up, so it seemed like a good bet.
  • Enjoying Amanda Shires’ new album — check out the First Listen over at NPR.
  • Another First Listen worth a… listen… Blake Mills produced Dawes’ new album. I’ve only heard a few songs, but they’re wildly interesting so far. Mills is a brilliant dude.
  • Insane run of shows coming up. Car Seat Headrest at the National on Monday, The Lumineers at RIR on Friday, then The Mountain Goats at the National the Monday after. There’s even a Willie Nelson show somewhere in the middle, though that one’s sold out. Someone please hold me to this promise: I will see him next time he comes to town.

1 Comment

Filed under #features

Pops Staples

Pops Staples

The Grammys were weird, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not here to whine about the Beck/Beyoncé thing. I’m pretty sure I’d achieve more asking my computer printer for a car loan than I would blog-complaining about who won the Album of the Year Grammy. It’s the ceremony in general I can’t stop thinking about today. Parts were OK — I liked the heartfelt tributes to victims of police violence, and I thought Sia’s Kristen Wiig assist was imaginative and fun  — but so much of the show felt like it was devised and executed by people who’d been orbiting the planet for the last year. Like organizers had been observing the music made on Earth from a distance. The awkward pairings. The myopic focus in the major categories (seemed worse than usual). The relentless and often stilted use of the word “friend” when celebrities were introducing each other. Just really, really strange.

You know what else is strange? Life. I’m not being facetious — it is.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Asaf Avidan

Asaf Avidan

This album is a many-splendored thing, but good lord. What a voice.

Hearing Asaf Avidan’s voice for the first time is a jolt. Halfway through Gold Shadow, it sounded as natural as could be — versatile and expressive, too — but it seemed almost improbable at first. The combination of flexibility and gritty texture. He’s a reminder of something that’s easy to take for granted — that even though voices are like fingerprints, getting to hear something wholly distinct is rare and valuable.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

PHOX

PHOX

I’m keeping a list of all the new (released in 2014) albums I listen to this year. I started keeping track to make the process of picking my year-end top 10 easier, but it’s turned into this great motivator — how many can I get to by December 31? It’s shallow to view someone else’s art as an opportunity to drive up a personal statistic, but I’d guess (this is the first time I’ve kept track like this, so I can’t be sure) that I’ve already surpassed the number of new albums I listened to last year, so this whole list-keeping thing can’t be all bad.

My biggest ally in this effort has been NPR’s First Listen series. A fresh handful of albums becomes available for streaming each Sunday night/Monday morning, which tends to make the transition out of the weekend a little more pleasant. And NPR’s been on a roll — First Aid Kit, Hamilton Leithauser, Conor Oberst, Sylvan Esso, Sturgill Simpson… it’s been a gold mine lately. It’s grown into a vital wellspring, and the fact that I’ve never made it all the way through a week’s offerings gives it a bottomless feel (as does the stylistic diversity).

I was excited to see that NPR posted PHOX’s self-titled debut this week. I heard a little about the band during a recent episode of Sound Opinions, but not much, and I dove into the First Listen without reading the accompanying write-up, which makes what happened next so remarkable.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis

I’m hunkering down to get a bunch of non-bloggy writing done this week, but I wanted to tell you about the A+ album I’ll be listening to while I’m working — Lights From the Chemical Plant by Robert Ellis. NPR’s doing a First Listen right now, which is how I heard about it, and I’d recommend checking it out.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Villagers

Villagers

I’ve said it before, but it’s been a while, so I’ll say it again… I love listening instructions. Having someone tell you what music to try is great, but even better is being told the how, where and when, as well. That’s just what Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien has done with his latest album, {Awayland}. On the Villagers website, he lists the following instructions…

Maybe try it on headphones first, without interruption. I hope you enjoy.

Truth be told, by the time I saw his note, I was already 3/4 of the way through the album, and I was indeed listening through headphones. This barely qualifies as coincidental, given that new music is almost always debuted this way, for me and, I’d guess, for a lot of other people. But the second part — the “without interruption” corollary — that’s a bit more interesting, because I’d had the very same thought mere moments after I clicked play on NPR’s First Listen of the album. Almost immediately, I felt the need to hunker down for the full-album experience, despite being 30 or so minutes away from reading O’Brien’s instructions. Now that’s a coincidence worth digging our teeth into.

So why’d that happen? Why did I instinctively know that {Awayland} would be a great cover-to-cover read?

[cue Carrie Bradshaw voiceover]

Why would one album be better suited for uninterrupted listening than another?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

Until now, I’ve associated Youth Lagoon with time.

One of the first things I learned about Trevor Powers was that he was young — 22 when I started listening to him in September of 2011. There was also his debut album’s title — The Year of Hibernation. And then there was the fact that, despite his youngness (sorry, I can’t type “youth” and let you all think I’m the kind of person who would make that pun), it was clear that Powers’ songs looked backward in time, with nostalgic glances toward “fireworks on the 4th of July” and his ’96 Buick. In fact, “nostalgia” became something of a buzzword for the album. A sticky descriptor. A consensus adjective. Here was this 22-year-old pining for the past, while so many of us sit around pining for our early 20’s. (The idea certainly drew me in.)

I don’t mean to suggest that this analysis wasn’t/isn’t apt. Powers himself has said that the name of his project is based on feelings of nostalgia. But I wonder if his years, or relative lack of them, caused this one quality to loom overly large in people’s minds. There was more to The Year of Hibernation than longing for the past. There were brilliant dynamic relationships… memorable melodies… uplifting builds… Besides, nostalgia, by nature, isn’t totally positive. It’s unavoidable — enjoyable on some levels — but it’s also passive. It’s ineffectual. You can’t travel back in time, and there’s nothing sadder than people who are incapable of coming to terms with that reality.

That’s why I was so thrilled when I started making my way through the NPR First Listen of Powers’ follow-up, Wondrous Bughouse. Whereas everything to date has felt like it was related to time, these songs, to me, are all about space.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

If you caught my musical away message on Friday, you know I was up in Baltimore this weekend. Charm City. Home of the playoff-bound Orioles and the recently victorious Ravens. (Hey, 9-6 may not be pretty, but a win’s a win). Mrs. YHT and I made the trip to see two of our good friends get married almost exactly 3 years after our own wedding day, which I’ll always remember as one of the best days of my life. In many ways, it feels like it happened just yesterday. I can vividly remember the food, the conversations, the quirks that made the ceremony one-of-a-kind, and maybe more than anything else, the way my usual social anxiety was replaced by a joyful, floating feeling, as if a spell had been cast on me.

As time goes on, and I’m given the opportunity to watch friends and family members have their own special days, it gets harder and harder to celebrate without feeling pangs of guilt, knowing that the state I live in is preventing some of my very best friends from getting married because the person they love is the same sex as them. I was born in Virginia, and am proud to have lived here all my life, but sometimes it can be a huge asshole. Everyone deserves the chance to have that joyful spell cast on them. Period. End of story. Well… unfortunately, it’s not the end of the story, because the misguided selfishness of so many people has turned marriage equality into a protracted battle/wedge issue/lobbying money pit. All the same, I believe with all my heart that it’s a battle that will be won, and I have the utmost respect for artists who stand up to do their part in pushing our country toward a more equal future.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under #nowplaying

Miguel

Kaleidoscope Dream

I love NPR music’s First Listen series, but their media player is an unholy nightmare. When you click to listen to a song or podcast, a godforsaken, commercial-laden new window pops up. No matter what. You can’t even right click and tell it to open in a new tab. I mean, c’mon. I know we’re dealing with a certified first-world problem here, but the whole exercise makes listening to individual songs way less attractive than if they were simply embedded in the page you started on.

My griping ends there though, because there’s a fantastic side effect at work — you actually listen to entire albums. Like, all the way through. I dunno about you, but I’m terrible about skipping around when I’m excited to hear a new album. I try the first song for a bit, then invariably skip to the songs that have already made their way on the Internet, forming a first impression that the band totally didn’t intend when they set the track order. NPR First Listen gives me the chance to hear albums early and unknowingly encourages me to listen the right way. How great is that? Just one of a zillion reasons to contribute to your local public media station, no matter how excruciatingly boring and awkward its pledge drive may be.

NPR’s preview of Kaleidoscope Dream, the new album from R&B singer Miguel, is a great example.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Delicate Steve

Positive Force

I love me some good marketing. I loved the promotion for Delicate Steve’s last album (which involved a hilariously fictional press release from the desk of Chuck Klosterman), and I love the way Steve Marion introduced the world to the songs that make up his upcoming release, Positive Force. On June 26, he had a committee of 11 musician friends (musiciends?) tweet links to individual tracks from the new album that had been uploaded to YouTube. Through this “Positive Force Friendship Stream,” each song got its own “premiere,” with YHT-beloved groups like Yeasayer, Ra Ra Riot, Yellow OstrichtUnE-yArDs, and Akron/Family joining in on the fun.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under #nowplaying