Ann Powers

The trash on the Venice boardwalk sparkles like Wet n Wild lip gloss. This is what people forget about Los Angeles beaches: They're part of the city, inundated with the city's grit. Half-melted Icees in Styrofoam cups, one flip-flop, taco foil, condoms, a dead vape pen. Needles. But also: a Swarovski crystal earring. A pinwheel unmoored from its handle. A streak of gooey glitter. Coins of many lands. A few miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, away from the skateboarders and homeless people, WASPs sun themselves at country clubs as employees sweep the sands.

Sleater-Kinney took a lot of chances on its latest album, The Center Won't Hold, upending its much beloved sound to experiment with strange sonics, dark textures and surprising forms. The result is one of the most adventurous, exciting – and best – albums the band has ever made. We open this week's New Music Friday with a look at how and why The Center Won't Hold works and what the recent departure of drummer Janet Weiss means for the band at this point in its quarter-century long career.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

The radio version of this story includes conversations with campers and counselors at girls' rock camps, where "Rebel Girl" has become essential listening. Hear the piece at the audio link .

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. When music historians talk about the pillars of American popular music, they sometimes neglect half the population. Women are too often excluded from this conversation. NPR Music has been trying to offer some balance through an ongoing series called Turning the Tables, and Season 3 begins today.

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By Ann Powers

Nearly 40 years into their career, The Flaming Lips remain remarkably ageless and endlessly creative. They return this week with another heady, psychedelic pop record inspired by a surreal art installation by frontman Wayne Coyne. On this week's New Music Friday, we climb inside the band's kaleidoscopic new record, The King's Mouth.

It's been eight years since Ed Sheeran released his 2011, career-launching EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project. Now his No. 6 Collaborations Project has arrived and it's a features-heavy flex that shows the singer can pretty much work with anyone, from the country rock of Chris Stapleton to Eminem, 50 Cent and Skrillex. We give a listen on this week's New Music Friday along with K.R.I.T. IZ HERE, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.'s followup to his 2010 mixtape K.R.I.T.

After giving us a series of baffling ads in the London Tube and the back pages of the Dallas Observer, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke finally released his third solo album, ANIMA, on Thursday — meaning you won't have to listen to "Not The News" on speakerphone anymore. On this week's New Music Friday, we dive into Yorke's vivid dreamscape and its accompanying film, as well as The Black Keys' electrifying Let's Rock (their first record in five years), Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's fresh collab Bandana and more.

In 1981, after reading the paraplegic veteran Ron Kovic's memoir Born on the Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen staged a concert to benefit the advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America. For the encore, he played a song he hadn't performed before and hasn't since.

Here's a thing you should know before watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese's new Netflix documentary about one of the most notorious rock tours in the genre's history: Bob Dylan is messing with you. Dylan has been messing with people since his first braggadocio days in Greenwich Village, when his made-up tales of wandering the Southwest with a circus helped convince his friends in the folk scene that he was the real proletarian deal.

Our shortlist of the best albums out this week includes a stirring call for social justice from soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, rapper YG's powerful remembrance of Nipsey Hussle and the first new release in six years from lo-fi rock veterans Sebadoh. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers, Sidney Madden and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the most essential albums dropping on May 24.

Featured Albums:

  1. Mavis Staples: We Get By
    Featured Song: "Sometime"

Before And After

May 11, 2019

Has anyone ever told you a secret that, in an instant, changed everything? It usually happens in a very private place — at the kitchen table, maybe, or in the close confines of a car. The teller was likely someone close to you. A lover. A family member. Your oldest friend. Telling you, I was raped. Or Our cousin Jason abused me. Saying something you might have wished, for one selfish moment, hadn't been said.

Our shortlist of the best new albums out this week includes a deeply moving celebration of African American culture and history from the singer Jamila Woods, the sparkling, soul-searching guitar rock of Charly Bliss, composer Holly Herndon's brilliant collaboration with the AI known as "Spawn" and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the best new albums out on May 10.

Featured Albums:

  1. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
    Featured Song: "Hard to Believe"

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In the early 1970s, the singer-songwriter Danny O'Keefe had a "very mellow, beautiful friend," as he told Rolling Stone magazine, who'd lived too hard and was paying the conse

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

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The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame X suggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60th year.

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.

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? is finally out and way more cryptic and complicated than the lead-up singles might have suggested.

From Joni Mitchell to k.d. lang, there's something about the flat, wind-tossed landscape of Midwestern Canada that produces great singer-songwriters. The 25-year-old Tenille Townes grew up on that chilly land, in the small city of Grande Prairie, on the migration path of the trumpeter swan.

What is the blues? To some, it's a feeling; to others, a beer-selling brand. Adia Victoria captures the spirits of the blues in a simple phrase: black genius.

Live music is my conduit to self-care. I love it all, from a piano concerto to a folksy singalong; but despite the ringing in my ears that complicates my lifelong pleasure, I like music best when it's a little loud. Live music awakens my senses and shelters me from everyday life's disorganized noise; I needed its clarifying energy more than ever this year. And the best thing about this form of self-care is that it takes place in community with others. It awakens connections, mind, body and soul — and that, I think, is what we need more than ever in 2018.

Sometimes one little letter can change a word, or a world. "Paint the city pink!" Janelle Monae raps in "Django Jane," the victory lap at the center of Dirty Computer, her third album, first "emotion picture" and winning bid to own the unstable zeitgeist of 2018. (She also says, "let the vagina have a monologue," but we'll get to that later.) Then she grabs the center of that loaded adjective and gently bends it.

Well, kids, it's been another year of holograms, headlines and big human messes here in Orbit City. At least music brought us together again and again in 2018, whether in the crowd to see Mitski, Janelle Monáe or Brandi Carlile, or surrounded by strangers in bed at Max Richter's SLEEP concert. This Year in Review edition of All Songs Considered is built like a little time machine to move us chronologically through 2018.

"I wouldn't have pursued music but for trouble," Joni Mitchell once said. Mitchell was referring to real problems — her childhood time spent bedridden with polio and the life-shaping loss she experienced after giving her daughter up for adoption in 1965. Those events solidified the drive that pushed Mitchell forward from small-potatoes rural Canada toward the American meccas where she would prove to be the magnet shifting the needle of pop. But trouble, in all its manifestations, is also Mitchell's muse.

"I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap," Nicki Minaj spat in her 2014 hit "Feelin' Myself," claiming her space within a rap patriarchy she altered simply by stepping a Manolo-clad toe into it. Beyoncé, her duet partner, expressed her power a different way. "Male or female, it make no difference," she declared. "I stop the world." These verses offer two different ways to think about artistic influence: one unfolds over time within a particular lineage; the other hits in the moment, altering the reality of everyone within earshot.

This week's batch of essential new albums includes Robyn's melancholy return to the dance floor, rock-and-roll madness from Ty Segall, the otherworldly voice of NAO, singer Julia Holter's mind-blowing masterpiece Aviary, and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they run through the best full-length releases out on Oct. 26.

Featured Albums:

  1. Oh Pep! I Wasn't Only Thinking of You
    Featured Song: "25"
  2. Robyn: Honey
    Featured Song: "Human Being"

Art needs to be preserved, but music thrives when it is replanted. Traditional styles grow differently depending on who cultivates them and where. For two decades, Old Crow Medicine Show has helped make old-timey American music vital for a generation raised on Nirvana and hip-hop by abandoning the rules that sometimes stifle folk revivalism and growing in whatever way appealed to it.

Some anniversaries are hard to celebrate. How should we greet the arrival of October, a year after the stories broke initiating the reckoning that soon became known as #MeToo? Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published their exposés — on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 of last year, respectively — of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's long career as an alleged serial rapist, a new nationwide discussion has formed about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Often, this ongoing reckoning feels like not a dialogue, but a war.

The story of how Tanya Blount and Michael Trotter met, wooed, married and became The War and Treaty says so much about our present moment. She began her music career as a teenage R&B ingenue, navigating the ups and downs of the music industry with resilience and sharp wits. He discovered his musical gifts as a soldier in Iraq and became a kind of spiritual advocate for fallen soldiers, composing songs about them for their memorial services.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

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