Tag Archives: NPR First Listen

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.

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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.

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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.

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Brooklyn Rider

Seven Steps

Last week turned out to be a cover song celebration, with one post about a monster collection of repurposed Bob Dylan tunes and another about Punch Brothers’ out-of-this-world takes on Radiohead. And while I didn’t really set out to double down on the covers, I couldn’t be happier that theme emerged, because it got me thinking differently about Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that has just released a new recording entitled Seven Steps.

Before going any further, I am obligated by the International Code of Music Blogging Ethics to point out that classical music is usually “not my cup of tea.” But it’s not “not my cup of tea” in the same way that, say, olives are “not my cup of tea.” Olives I hate with a passion. The word “tapenade” is an iron-clad deal-breaker when scanning the menu at fancy restaurants. Classical music, on the other hand, is something that I have a great deal of interest in learning about, but I have a long way to go, both in terms of appreciation and understanding.

So how did Brooklyn Rider manage to make connection with their 2011 effort, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass? I think Glass’ minimalist style deserves some of the credit. As with any learning endeavor, repetition is helpful, and the repetitive structures in Glass’ music engage without feeling overwhelming, despite the fact that a great deal of complexity is hidden within those patterns. But I think the lion’s share of the credit belongs to the group’s 4 musicians, who themselves are refreshingly relatable.

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Air

Le voyage dans la lune

Who here likes scary movies? OK, people who raised your hands — have you ever thought about why? I like ’em too, so I’m not trying to get all judgy on you. I’m just wondering if we like them for the same reason. OK, I’ll go first. I think my favorite part of watching scary movies is the catharsis. You get all wrapped up in a terrifying scenario for a few hours, all the while knowing that, with the push of a button (or a stroll down the isle, if you actually went to a movie theater — people still do that, right?), it can all disappear. But in order to get a quality cathartic experience going, you need to be scared. You need to be challenged. You need to have your buttons pressed. I didn’t expect any such button pressing when I pressed play on NPR’s First Listen of French electronic duo Air’s new album, Le Voyage Dans La Lune, but I certainly found it. The album was commissioned as a soundtrack to the newly restored, color version of Georges Méliès’s 1902 silent masterpiece of the same name — a groundbreaking film that’s famous for being the very first science fiction flick. As hokey as the images seem today, its innovative narrative and techniques proved that film could be a playground for our collective imagination, and Air’s soundtrack taps into that sense of imagination beautifully. And whether they meant it to or not, it totally taps into my ever-expanding fear of flight. You know that stereotypical movie scene in which the astronauts are all strapped in,  just moments from taking off, and there’s always a distant, vaguely international-sounding voice counting down the seconds until the launch? This scene always terrifies me. Can you imagine that? Like, actually being in the cockpit of a shuttle, just chatting with your colleagues before HURTLING AWAY FROM THE PLANET AT A BAZILLION MILES AN HOUR? What do you talk about? Tell you what I’d be talking about — getting the hell out of there. I feel panicky just typing about it. Well “Seven Stars,” which features Victoria Legrand of Beach House, captures this scene perfectly, right down to the pounding heartbeat that follows the conclusion of the countdown. “Cosmic Trip” does the same trick, with the added personal irony of the announcement from a disembodied female voice that, “All of you will be back home safely, so join us with no fear on our fantastic trip to the moon.” No fear? Very funny, disembodied voice. A real ROTFLMAO-er. But that’s the great thing about movies and music that tap into our fears. I get to freak myself out by imagining what it’s like to take off into space, all with the luxury of staying at my beloved sea level. Preview these two tracks below, buy the album here and click here to watch Méliès’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune on YouTube.

Air — “Seven Stars” (feat. Victoria Legrand)

Air — “Cosmic Trip

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Sharon Van Etten

Tramp

“You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.”

[drops voice an octave] Hey there, blog reader. Can I ask you a question? Are those space pants you’re wearing? ‘Cause your ass is out of this world! [voice returns to normal octave] Hey hey hey, where are you going?!? Come back! I’m totally kidding! This here blog is spoken for. And besides, everyone knows those one-liners never actually work. It takes a lot more than a pickup line to start a meaningful relationship with another human being. Songs on the other hand… songs are different. One well-written lyric can bring a song together in a way that immediately endears you to the person who wrote it, a fact I had the pleasure of rediscovering when I was just a song and a half into the NPR First Listen of Sharon Van Etten’s upcoming (February 7) album, Tramp. The line that got me can be found in “Give Out,” a gorgeous song with sparse instrumentation, hand percussion and steady rhythm acoustic guitar playing, all of which make it feel like Van Etten and a few others could be playing the song right there in your living room. But as intimate as the arrangement feels, the song’s lyrics wrestle with the notion of intimacy and build up to a chorus that stopped me in my tracks — “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Such a potent mixture of trepidation, self-confidence, vulnerability and hope in so few words — I couldn’t believe it. It was one of those rare moments when you instantly fall in love with a lyric and know that you need to hear it again and again and again. And nothing’s better in those moments than when the artist does the repeating for you, like the two of you are on the same page about the words’ importance. Like you understand and are understood. And while that’s a whole lot to ascribe to a single song lyric, the feeling is unmistakable and impossible to forget — much like those space pants you got on, blog reader. Oh snap! Preview “Give Out” below, click here to stream Tramp over at NPR and click here to pre-order the album from iTunes.

Sharon Van Etten — “Give Out

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Pokey LaFarge

MIddle of Everywhere

Note to songwriters everywhere: if you want me to lose all objectivity and immediately love a song, just mention Richmond, VA. As of August, I will have been living in Richmond for 10 years, and I’m a sucker for songs that shout it out. Justin Townes Earle’s “Ghost of Virginia“? Yes, please. Old Crow Medicine Show’s “James River Blues“? A sacred hymn. I even give an ironic “Woohoo!” every time Levon gets to the part about Richmond falling in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (Is that bad? I really can’t tell, at this point). The latest song to win my heart by mentioning my beloved River City is Pokey LaFarge’sShenandoah River.” I came across the tune thanks to the fine people at NPR music — and not just because they’re currently streaming his upcoming album, Middle of Everywhere. I first heard about Pokey thanks to a Tiny Desk Concert he performed with his band, the South City Three, at Bob Boilen’s desk back in April. Of all the things I liked about that performance, his personality and (please forgive me for using this word) panache stood out the most, and it’s remarkable to hear how he managed to bottle that same charisma in the studio. Though his musical style reaches back to the Dust Bowl, his showmanship is timeless. His whimsical lyrics and delivery make you forget what year it really is, along with anything that may have been worrying you. After all, the Shenandoah River doesn’t actually flow through Richmond, but as the song explains, “It doesn’t matter now, for we could float forever.” Have a listen to a live performance of “Shenandoah River” below, and click here to listen to the album version, along with the rest of Middle of Everywhere.

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