Philadelphia is blowing up NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest and it’s amazing

Levee Drivers' Tiny Desk submission | photo by Bob Sweeney
Levee Drivers’ Tiny Desk submission | photo by Bob Sweeney

For those of you who don’t know about NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, you may want to head over to their site and root through their enormous and equally impressive archive. Their 15-minute videos feature live performances from artists of all genres held in the quaint offices of NPR at All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen’s desk.

Ranging from big names like Adele and Alt-J to up-and-coming artists such as Angel Olsen and Rubblebucket, viewers are able to watch the artists perform in the intimate setting, giving the performances a stripped-down, no B.S. vibe. While these videos are ultra fun to watch (perhaps continuously, one after another…), NPR kept things interesting this winter by kicking off a contest to feature a new artist in their series.

Based entirely off of video submissions from all over the United States, an artist will be chosen to perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. as well as snag a slot in the big Lagunitas Couchtrippin’ showcase in Austin, Texas. Philadelphia, brimming with the amazing musical talent that it is, seems to have jumped at this opportunity. Continue reading →


Hear JD McPherson’s Let The Good Times Roll a week early via NPR Music First Listen

JD McPherson | Photo by Cameron Pollack
JD McPherson | Photo by Cameron Pollack

Oklahoma rock and roller JD McPherson is featured on NPR’s First Listen this week. His sophomore album, Let The Good Times Roll, set to be released February 10th, has made waves in the music scene as of late, and NPR’s Ann Powers commends McPherson on his unmatched abilities of taking classic rock concepts and re-imagining them with small twists that make for engaging music without sounding like a knock-off. Continue reading →


Celebrating the legacy of futuristic jazz composer Sun Ra (and listening to his 1976 appearance on WXPN) for his 100th birthday

Baron Wolman/Courtesy of the artist
Baron Wolman/Courtesy of the artist

Today we celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of forward-thinking jazz icon Sun Ra. It’s likely you’ve heard his name, but if you don’t know much actually about him or his music, the folks at NPR Music put together a great profile today. Sun Ra was an experimental jazz composer who believed he came from the planet Saturn.  He was so convinced he did not come from Earth, he actually owned a Saturn passport that didn’t contain a birth dates.  Ra was eccentric in all ways, dressing in a style NPR’s Joel Rose described as  “elaborate costumes that were part ancient Egypt, part science fiction.”

He began his jazz career in Chicago where he worked for Fletcher Henderson.  It was in Chicago that he started leading a band known as the Arkestra. Some band members had a hard time understanding Ra’s complicated style of music.  Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore, recalled that he finally got it one night when they were playing one of their songs “Saturn.”

“‘My gosh, it’s unbelievable that anybody could write meaner intervals than Monk or Mingus. But he does.'”

After Chicago, Ra moved the Arkestra to New York.  He began to take his act to extreme levels through improvisation and new techniques such as using synthesizers.  Some people did not know how to interpret this new-age form of jazz.

In 1969 the band moved from New York to Philadelphia, where they were immediately embraced by the local jazz community and the music scene at large. On Christmas Day in 1976, Sun Ra appeared live on WXPN to read poetry with music playing underneath on the program Blue Genesis. A quote from John Szwed’s book Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra:

The choice of poems and their sequencing offers what Sun Ra thought was most important in his writing. Here are key words like “cosmos,” “truth,” “bad,” “myth,” and “the impossible,”; attention to phonetic equivalence; the universality of the music and its metaphysical status; allusions to black fraternal orders and secret societies; biblical passages and their interpretation; and even a few autobiographical glimpses. The poems were read softly, with little expressions, the music punctuating the words, with the heavy echo and delay in the studio sometimes reducing the words to pure sound without meaning.

Ra died in 1993 after suffering a number of strokes. But since their arrival to the city of Brotherly Love, the Arkestra has continued to make music together, locally as well as all over the world.  They appeared on stage at the XPoNential Music Festival during Yo La Tengo’s set in 2010, and are currently on tour and will play the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona on May 29th. Today, the Sun Ra Arkestra will play a show in Zurich, Switzerland in honor of Sun Ra’s centennial.

Read or listen to the full story about Sun Ra here, via NPR. Below, download Sun Ra’s 1976 appearance on WXPN.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Midlake at Johnny Brenda’s, Yo Gotti at The Troc, Modern Baseball at The Fire

MidlakeFollowing the release of their fourth album Antiphon, Denton rock outfit Midlake is playing on the Johnny Brenda’s stage tonight. “Midlake does grand the way Pink Floyd did,” NPR Music’s Bob Boilen writes in a First Listen review Antiphon. After a daunting departure of singer Tim Smith back in August, the band rose to the challenge and found a truly resounding sound, thick with carefully orchestrated guitars and stimulating keys. Check out details for tonight’s show here. Get ready by watching their new video for titled track “Antiphon” below.

Continue reading →


XPN Artist to Watch Daughn Gibson plays “You Don’t Fade” for KCRW

DaughnIt’s not hard to understand how XPN artist to watch Daughn Gibson caught the ear of so many people; once you hear his voice, it makes sense. His transcendent well-deep baritone blends strikingly with his unique mashup of electronic music, 70s rock and contemporary country. Gibson and his band recently visited NPR affiliate KCRW to play “You Don’t Fade” off of his recent sophomore release of Me Moan. Now, the Carlisle, Pa. singer/songwriter is going on a short tour around the UK, finishing up in London on September 5th. Check out Gibson’s Morning Becomes Eclectic studio performance below.


Download a song from Speedy Ortiz, stream their new Major Arcana (playing Golden Tea House 8/13)

New England-based indie-rock outfit Speedy Ortiz‘s debut full-length, an album called Major Arcana, is set to be released next week, via Carpark. The band has already released some material from the forthcoming LP, including the tracks “Tiger Tank” and “No Below”, and now the group has made the entire album available to stream via NPR. Speedy Ortiz are gearing up for a string of summer tour dates in support of Major Arcana, which includes a stop in Philly next month. They’ll be playing the Golden Tea House on August 13th. Tickets and info can be found here. Stream the track “Tiger Tank” below, and check out the rest of the album at NPR’s First Listen.