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The Musical Universe

 

Rambling along the sidewalk on the way to a party, body alight, something catches the eye. "Bugs in the streetlight," Ella O'Connor Williams sings. "Our time is over soon."

Conventional wisdom says that this is not the sort of maxim typically uttered by a 23-year-old; nevertheless, this acute pang of mortality anchors "Streetlight Blues" and I Was Born Swimming, Ella O'Connor Williams' debut record as Squirrel Flower.

If you ask Trixie Mattel — the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars in 2018 — her success as a drag queen isn't worth as much as you might think. "Being one of the most famous drag queens in the world is still only about as much fame as going home first in The Voice in like, 2010," she jokes.

Sooner or later, every child prodigy hits a fork in the road: Keep doing the crowd-pleasing, trained-seal tricks that brought fame? Or set out to develop a more individual sound?

From the moment 11-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander gained international attention in 2015, it was clear that he wasn't your average young phenom. He had seemingly limitless technique and a deep understanding of tunes written decades before he was born. Already a fixture in the jazz world with five albums under his belt at only the age of 16, Alexander is clearly charting his own path.

It can be a real bummer when your favorite band breaks up. But sometimes that means the group's members suddenly have some spare time on their hands to devote to new projects. That's the case for Jake Ewald. He was the co-frontman of the Philadelphia band Modern Baseball; these days, Jake sounds a little bit different.

Gonna keep it 100: I absolutely judge an album by its cover. Does it have a sick wizard? A most-pleasing font and color combination? An impossible and-or nightmarish fantasia?

When I scroll through Bandcamp, on the hunt for hidden corners of punk, metal and outer sounds, the first sense is always sight. Maybe a killer band name will catch my eye, or a trusted record label, but amid a bloated glut of music, image is queen.

Andy Gill, a guitarist renowned for his sharp, inverted approach to the instrument who founded the post-punk group Gang Of Four and later became a respected producer, died in a London hospital Feb. 1 from a respiratory illness, the group announced in a statement. He was 64.

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In the past year, we've had some pretty big names come perform at the Tiny Desk: Lizzo,

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the first month of 2020 in the books, we're excited to share a fresh spectrum of sonidos alternativos from all over Latin and South America, released early in the year as an invigorating jumpstart to 2020. These new songs and their visuals are especially exceptional, going beyond the mainstream milieu and immersing further in a traditional past for evolutionary inspiration. These are unique perspectives flourishing into rich musical storytelling.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

SiR, the R&B singer from Inglewood, CA, seemed lost in thought as he stood behind the Tiny Desk. While his bandmates curiously bounced around the desk, joking and even searching for Bob Boilen, SiR remained particularly focused. About halfway through the performance, he eventually revealed what had been weighing on his heart. He told the NPR crowd he'd lost his infant godson a few days prior and dedicated the performance to him. "We're doing this for him.

Although Grace Sewell is just 22-years-old, she is already moving into the second phase of her career. Sewell's first EP under the name SayGrace — The Defining Moments of SayGrace — is out this Friday, but audiences may already be familiar with the Australian singer's soulful voice from her 2015 hit, a cover of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me."

We've been starting this new year off arguing on the behalf of genres of music you might not listen to, like country, deep house and opera. Next on our list: hip-hop.

In 2001, X Alfonso produced one of those kinds of key moments n Cuban music that reverberate long after the fact.

His album Moré, a tribute to iconic Cuban vocalist Beny Moré, made a huge impact on how compatible hip-hop was to Cuban music.

This past September, Alfonso launched a series of monthly single releases that will culminate this coming September in his first album in 10 years.

Jessie Reyez On The Power Of Sad Songs

Feb 1, 2020

The 28-year-old Colombian-Canadian singer Jessie Reyez makes emotional music that has connected deeply with fans. She recently received her first Grammy nomination for best urban contemporary album for her EP, Being Human in Public. Hear the full profile -- 'How I Made It: Jessie Reyez' from NPR's Latino USA.

Drive-By Truckers' latest album, The Unraveling, is out this week, and it is the group's most political work to date, confronting some of America's most charged issues: church shootings, opioids, overdoses, racial violence and extremism.

A Code Switch Playlist For Black History Month

Feb 1, 2020

Black History Month is here, and it's the perfect time to listen to Code Switch! We've got episodes all about the hidden heroes and buried history of black America. To help you dive right in, check out our new playlist. It's got stories on everything from sports activism, to the Black Panther Party, to one woman's fight for respect that went all the way to the Supreme Court. So as you grind through the middle of winter, listen to our recommendations to be inspired, enlightened and moved.

If you want to learn about....

This month's installment of Heavy Rotation is full of some of January's most exciting releases and collaborations, hand-picked by NPR Public Radio Member Stations. Revive your playlists with this new mix of everything from effervescent, sticky-sweet pop to homegrown blends of soul and psych-funk.

The Lone Bellow makes music that feels like it's welcoming you in — like the band members are opening their arms wide and inviting you to join their family with sing-along choruses, the hand-clapping rhythms and melodies that somehow sound familiar even on a first listen.

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After first premiering the song exclusively at NPR Music during 2019's Tiny Desk Fest,

NPR Music's Top 20 Songs Of January

Jan 31, 2020

Stream this playlist via Spotify or Apple Music.

Rising Appalachia's Tiny Desk Concert is charged with the roots music that sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith learned in fiddle camps as kids. Growing up in urban Atlanta and beyond, they also heard rhythms from a wider world, and their music grew to reflect new sounds and their activism.

At the start of the 21st century, popular culture held up a persistent warning: Capitalism is peaking, and doom is just around the corner. You can see it in turn-of-the-millennium artifacts like Fight Club, The Matrix, Rage Against the Machine's The Battle of Los Angeles, Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile, Grant Morrison's comic series The Invisibles.

Last week, the New Orleans bands Tank and the Bangas and The Soul Rebels traveled to Havana to participate in a cultural exchange; it was meant to acknowledge the past by celebrating the present.

For today's session, The Milk Carton Kids plays songs from its latest release, The Only Ones, while standing around one microphone.

Peter Case On Mountain Stage

Jan 30, 2020

For the past three decades, American songwriting legend Peter Case has been stopping by Mountain Stage to share original stories and songs packed with his wry humor and Hunter S. Thompson-levels of attention to the oddly refreshing details.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The Thistle & Shamrock: Songs Of The Bard

Jan 29, 2020

Fiona Ritchie is not alone in her belief that the songs of Scotland's National Bard are as relevant and popular today as they were when they were first written.

About three years ago, Leif Vollebekk was set to release Twin Solitude, an album he thought might end up being his last. He felt like he wasn't having fun or finding an audience. But once the album came out, that all changed. Twin Solitude was critically lauded, and his shows started filling up. The record was shortlisted for his home country's prestigious Polaris Music Prize.

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