It's remarkable how quickly Kris Bowers has risen in the ranks of in-demand pianists. After winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 2011, the young musician and composer, 24, has gone on to work with Jose James, Marcus Miller, and the great Aretha Franklin -- not to mention Q-Tip, with whom he recorded piano tracks that found ended up on Kanye West and Jay Z's blockbuster Watch The Throne. And yet, Bowers' connection to the hip-hop world doesn't end with guest spots; threads of hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul inform the core of Bowers' sound and the songs on his genre-traversing debut, Heroes + Misfits.
Like pianist Robert Glasper before him, Bowers' compositions have their grounding in rich jazz harmony and fluid improvisational melody. And yet, the production textures and deep in-the-pocket grooves imply a love for hip hop and R&B. It's an intriguing and socio-politically-minded collection that demonstrates Kris Bowers is already at ease with his sound and great musical promise, no matter the setting.
Portland, Oregon, band Blouse plays driving indie rock laden with woozy, room-spinning effects atop singer Charlie Hilton’s airy vocals. Their second record, Imperium, does away with the ever-present synths and drum machines of their debut, with some impressive results. Listen to the band plow its way through the song “No Shelter”. The band is at Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight.
BONUS: Here's a full session from the band's recent appearance at KEXP Seattle:
In this episode: Soundcheck's week-long look back at various eras of music in New York continues with the 1960's. New York magazine editor Lane Brown talks about his nostalgia for the years of Bob Dylan’s meteoric rise.
Then, Gary Numan -- who helped pioneer electronic pop in the 1970's and '80s with songs like "Cars" and "Are Friends Electric?"-- talks about his new album, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind).
And: Pianist Kris Bowers has played with vocalist Jose James, bassist Marcus Miller, Aretha Franklin and Q-Tip. He worked on Kanye West and Jay Z’s mammoth 2011 album Watch the Throne. He won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition three years ago. And… brace yourself… he’s only 24 years old. Hear the young phenom play live.
All this week on Soundcheck, we're taking getting all nostalgic for New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which this week is presenting their annual "yesteryear" issue -- this year, focused on New York City music. And we've asking listeners which decade you're most nostalgic for. (Call us at 866 939 1612, or leave a comment below.)
Today, New York magazine's Jody Rosen looks back at one of his favorite eras in New York, the 1920's.
"The '20s was when New York pop music came into its own in a way that we recognize as modern," Rosen tells Soundcheck host John Schaefer. "In 1925, that was the advent of electrical recording. The microphone was invented in this decade. It was sort of when popular music -- full stop -- emerged from its early history, and became something modern."
"And then, there is the influence of black music that you really feel in the American popular song," Rosen continues. "And of course, there is the scene that was the incredible cultural apotheosis of Harlem in this period, which is known as the Harlem Renaissance."
Rosen talks about a few favorite songs of the era, including the Rodgers and Hart song "Manhattan," which was performed by Ruth Tester and Allan Gould in the short film Makers Of Melody.
Keren Ann Zeidel is something of a musical chameleon, changing her sound or her medium from project to project. A singer-songwriter, producer, composer, and sound designer, Keren Ann has not only put out six recordings under her own name, but has written music for a variety of other formats: She wrote the original film score for the feature Yossi; has had songs featured on TV series like Grey’s Anatomy, and Six Feet Under. And even more impressive, she co-wrote the opera Red Waters with Bardi Johansson, which was produced by The Opera de Rouen and performed in four different opera houses in France.
It's been almost exactly three years since she released her critically acclaimed 2011 album, 101, a record of pristine synth pop, ghostly melodies, and shadowy noir atmosphere. And while there is still no news of a new album, (Zeidel had a baby in 2012), the Israel-born musician is now resurfacing in New York to perform at City Winery, as part of the Newish Jewish Musical Festival -- and to play in the Soundcheck studio.
ARTIST: Freddy Fuego X-Tet
The Freddy Fuego X-Tet is a protean music group that can fluctuate in size from a quartet to ten musicians crowding a stage. One thing that doesn’t change: the tightness of the ensemble. The music is a flavorful blend of jazz, reggae, funk, r&b, hip hop, and pop. Listen to “Keep The Faith" for proof. The Freddy Fuego X-Tet plays tonight – as a five piece – at Drom in Alphabet City.
BONUS: Get an advance taste of the X-Tet's live chops...
In this episode: Soundcheck's week of nostalgia continues, with a fond look back at the 1920's -- a decade when duos like Rodgers and Hart and George and Ira Gershwin were cranking out the pop hits, and the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. New York magazine’s Jody Rosen gives a guided tour.
Then: Singer and guitarist Keren Ann wowed fans three years ago with a collection of smoky pop songs. Hear her perform live in the Soundcheck studio.
And: South African trumpeter and composer Hugh Masekela -- who, for three decades of his 50-plus year career, lived in exile from his native South Africa -- talks about returning to his home country 20 years ago. And he talks about the exercises that keep him looking so darn young on the eve of his 75th birthday.
Legendary horn player, songwriter, and South African musical ambassador Hugh Masekela turns 75 years old the first week of April. In his multi-decade career, Masekela scored a smash hit with 1968's "Grazing In The Grass," but also used his music to draw attention to the political climate of his home country during the apartheid regime.
This week on Soundcheck, we're asking our listeners to tell us about the decade of New York music that they're the most nostalgic for. Maybe it's the 1940s, because of New York performing legends like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Or the 1980s, when Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys changed the hip hop game. Or maybe you're nostalgic for a decade as recent as the 2000s -- when groups like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs heralded in a post-punk revival and declared New York the indie rock capital of the world.
We're talking about nostalgia and New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which this week is presenting their annual "yesteryear" issue -- this year, focused on New York City music. Tune in all week to hear from New York magazine editors, as well as Soundcheck guests and listeners talking about the decades of New York music that they fondly remember -- or wish they were a part of.
Tonight, we kick things off with New York magazine pop culture editor Lane Brown and pop music critic Jody Rosen -- with a look at why New York has been at the center of music history throughout the past 100 years.
It was shortlived, but the NBC drama Smash attempted to show audiences what “really” happens behind the scenes on Broadway. Obviously, the show didn’t live up to its title -- it was cancelled after just two seasons. But, Smash might have helped pave the way for a new show that could be coming soon to a screen near you. It’s called Mozart in the Jungle – based on a memoir of the same name – and it’s a pretty racy backstage look at the world of classical music.
NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas joins us to talk about Mozart in the Jungle, whose cast and creative team include some pretty big names -- from Bernadette Peters and Malcom McDowell to Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. The show was recently picked up by Amazon, and, according to Schwartzman, could be available for viewing by the fall.
We talk with Anastasia about why the idea of classical music paired with steamy sex scenes and recreational drug use is shocking for American audiences -- and what this show could do for classical music's hoity-toity reputation, if it takes off.
With its retro, rough-and-tumble rhythm and blues sound, The Strypes have earned a reputation for a thrilling live show, playing to packed crowds ready to rock. It's impressive for any young band to already be this good on stage, and especially so when you realize how young this Irish band actually is. The members of The Strypes -- singer Ross Farrelly, guitarist Josh McClorey, bassist Pete O’Hanlon, drummer Evan Walsh -- are all in the 16 to 18 age range, and McClorey, O'Hanlon and Walsh have known each other most of their lives. So sure, these guys are still kids -- younger than One Direction, in fact -- yet they carry themselves with swagger and strut of veteran rock stars.
Luckily, the band backs up up that confidence and vitality on its 2013 full-length, Snapshot. These short driving songs are crammed with ripping guitar riffs, howling harmonica, and raw, sneering vocals that add up to a sound that pulls from live-wire blues, early rock, and even a hint of punk. It's a sound that has won over fans: Snapshot sold more than 200K copies in just two weeks when it came out in the U.K. last year, earning them a spot opening for Arctic Monkeys and prominent shows at this year's South By Southwest -- and drawing the attention of Noel Gallagher, Jeff Beck, and even Elton John.
There’s a moment at the very end of “Baby,” the title track from
Baby (out April 1), Dienel's third album under the moniker White Hinterland, comes as the end result of a period of personal upheaval and reinvention: She moved back to her childhood home in Scituate, Mass., spent months assembling her own studio, The Glades, in her parents’ basement, and taught herself production and engineering techniques by watching YouTube tutorials. Dienel was drawn to the idea of being fully in command of her own music, and took time exploring, and really, exploding her sound. Inspired by ‘90s R&B and gospel, electronic dance music and slick radio pop, Dienel worked to refine this new extroverted and evocative pop identity.
Throughout Baby’s ten songs, and especially highlights “Ring The Bell” and “Metronome,” White Hinterland doubles down on the experimental electronic flourishes, and fizzy, dance-ready hooks. Yet at the heart, as always, is Dienel’s passionate, haunting voice, be it as a capella art pop like on “Wait Until Dark” or immersed in a sea of gorgeous neo-soul harmonies on “Sickle No Sword” or as a Tori Amos-esque piano ballad on “Live With You.”
But lyrically is where Dienel gives this music extra depth, digging into personal territory: heartbreak and frustrations, financial struggles of her and her friends, and abandonment -- while grappling with breaking that cycle. But she also sings of new love, and ultimately, finding strength in facing the unknown. It's an empowering message of overcoming and embracing change, and one that matches White Hinterland’s bold stylistic evolution.
ARTIST: Big Lazy
The instrumental trio Big Lazy creates hazy soundscapes derived straight from the mythical underbelly of New York. With just an electric guitar, acoustic bass, and drums, they conjure atmospheres fit for film noir soundtracks or late night strolls through dark alleys. Listen to the spaghetti western amble of Glitter Gulch.
BONUS: Watch the suitably lo-fi video released by the band of a live performance of "Skinless Boneless"...
In this episode: This week on Soundcheck, we're talking about nostalgia and the past 100 years of New York music in collaboration with New York Magazine, which this week presents their annual "yesteryear" issue. Tonight, we kick things off with writers Lane Brown and Jody Rosen -- and hear about the decades in New York City music that a few of our WNYC colleagues are nostalgic for.
Then: Hear the impossibly young and talented Irish rock 'n' roll band The Strypes play live.
And: After the success of its initial star-studded pilot, Amazon recently announced that it’s giving its series Mozart in the Jungle a full season. The show, based on a racy memoir of the same name, promises to be a steamy and fairly unbelievable behind-the-scenes look at the world of classical music, says NPR Music’s Anastasia Tsioulcas.
Try all you like, but it's practically impossible to resist pumping your fists in the air or pounding on the steering wheel to "I'm Not Part Of Me." While buried as the closer on Cloud Nothings' new album, Here And Nowhere Else, this is the kind of explosive, hair-raising song that you'll hit repeat as soon as it ends, just so you can shout along to the line "I'm not telling you all I'm going through" with satisfying defiance. And then there's that chorus -- "But I'm not, I'm not you / You're a part of me, you're a part of me" -- which is so emblematic of what makes Dylan Baldi, the Cleveland, Ohio band's primary force, such a potent frontman: He's exceptional at piling three song's worth of melodic pop hooks into one raucous punk banger.
Like so many songwriters, Baldi turned to music as a way of expressing his boredom, isolation and bottled-up anger. Soon his basement project grew into a full band, turning those melodic, hissy songs into throttling two-and-a-half minute bursts of youthful angst. With, Attack On Memory, its breakthrough second full-length album from 2012, the band turned to Steve Albini to help steer the ship away from jangling power pop and unleash a newfound pummeling noise. Crammed with scorching distortion (“Wasted Days”) and vocal cord-shattering, yet singable choruses (“Stay Useless”), those pop punk songs were loud and fun, but with a sneering, pissed-off tone that felt especially cathartic.
With Here And Nowhere Else (out April 1), the band maintains, even hones that gloriously abrasive fury. But it's gotta be exhausting carrying around that weight just so you can turn that pain into lyrics to be howled out on stage. Here, Baldi shows considerable growth in his song craft as he reflects on his life and relationships with a sense of nostalgia -- seemingly self-aware that without choices he’s made, he wouldn’t be where he is now. “I’m moving forward while I keep the past around me,” he sings on “Pattern Walks,” one of several songs in this new batch that come off as, if not fully upbeat, then positive. “I was feeling pretty good about everything so I just made stuff that made me happy,” he explains.
Pop star Jennifer Lopez has a new album on the way in June – and she recently dropped her first music video from the new record. It’s for a song called “I Luh Ya Papi,” and it’s the latest example of a video from a female artist that’s got a clear point to make about gender stereotypes.
"Why do men always objectify the women in every single video?" says one of J. Lo's friends, after a supposed film director has suggested that J. Lo shoot her newest music video at a water park or at the zoo. "Why can't we for once objectify the men?"
Writer Daisy Buchanan recently reviewed the video for the British publication The Telegraph, and she joins us from London to talk about why artists like Jennifer Lopez and Lily Allen have recently made videos in this vein. Plus, we talk about the impact that they could have on future music videos and gender imagery in the music business.
South By Southwest is now upon us, which means countless music fans, members of the music industry and 1000's of bands are about to descend upon Austin, Texas for the annual conference, festival, and insane street party. But if you're not making the trip, we've got you covered, with select video performances filmed live from NPR Music's annual showcase at Stubb's.
It was an impressive, genre-blending lineup of fan favorite bands -- like Damon Albarn, the leader of Blur and Gorillaz, and St. Vincent -- and new artists -- like Eagulls and Syracuse punk band Perfect Pussy.
The first is Kelis, the R&B star behind hits "Milkshake" and "Bossy," who made her first American appearance in more than three years. Kelis knocked out fans with a stunning opener of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," which she wove throughout her incredible SXSW set that showcased new songs from her upcoming album, Food, in addition to a few classic hits. Watch her perform the song "Breakfast":
Over the course of her career the late singer Nina Simone left audiences with many different impressions -- from difficult to lovable to out and out hostile. But her contributions to music, and to the struggle for civil rights, are indisputable. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we take a closer look an icon whose story is complex, and whose songs have become anthems. We take a look back at the voice behind songs like "Mississippi Goddam" with historian
This segment originally aired on Jan. 21, 2013.
ARTIST: Snarky Puppy
Brooklyn-based instrumental fusion band Snarky Puppy won their first Grammy a few weeks ago for Best R&B Performance for a song featuring Lalah Hathaway on fiery vocals. But it’s as a shape-shifting instrumental unit that Snarky Puppy really crackles. Check out the song "Shofukan" from their new album We Like It Here. Snarky Puppy is at Irving Plaza tomorrow night.
BONUS: Check out Snarky Puppy's Grammy-winning performance here:
In this episode: Jennifer Lopez has a new album on the way in June, and the pop star and actress recently dropped her first music video for her new song, “I Luh Ya Papi.” It’s the latest example of a music video that’s got a point to make about gender stereotypes in the music industry, says writer Daisy Buchanan, who recently wrote about the video for the British publication The Telegraph.
Then: With this year's South By Southwest in the rearview mirror, some may be still getting back into a normal rhythm, or fighting off that lingering South By cold. To help, hear selections from Kelis' fantastic set at NPR Music's showcase at Stubb's, where the R&B singer unveiled brand new songs from her eagerly-anticipated upcoming album, Food -- and even channeled the great Nina Simone
And, we revisit a favorite segment about the lasting legacy of Nina Simone herself, both in music and the Civil Rights Movement.