For indie bands on the rise, it’s become a rite of passage to perform a live set in Bob Boilen’s office as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, which has been ongoing since 2008. But since 2014, the inception of an annual contest to discover new talent has allowed unsigned acts to get a piece of the action, too. Not only does the winning band get a chance to play for the esteemed All Songs Considered host, NPR also sponsors a national tour, often with life-changing results. Past winners have included Grammy-winner Fantastic Negrito (2015), Gaelynn Lea (2016), Tank and the Bangas (2017), and Naia Izumi (2018). With thousands of submissions, the contest seemingly pulls talent out of the woodwork, attracting artists from all different backgrounds and styles. Here are six artists based in Detroit that threw their hats in the ring this year. The winner will be announced this month. Good luck!
Detroit folk mainstay Audra Kubat breaks hearts with her chilling rendition of “Oh Mother.” Her graceful delivery and wise lyrics recall sitting alone in a deserted dive bar or falling asleep to the sound of rustling leaves.
Singer-songwriter Allye Gaietto showcases her earnest writing style and crystal clear vocals on “Soon,” an unreleased song she performed for her Tiny Desk submission. The lyrics here are just devastating and Gaietto delivers them with a range of emotion, gliding from a shimmering falsetto into a strong belt that could move mountains. It’s a genuine, beautiful performance.
Up-and-coming seven-piece funk/alt-jazz group Strictly Fine go through a full range of emotions in their performance of “In My Life.” All seven of them squished into a room to perform their unique genre of music, which includes a full horn section, jazz croons and a whole lot of funk.
Greater Alexander’s soothing folk music is perfect for this stripped-down setting, with just his vocals and acoustic guitar. “Smoke” sounds like a gentle hymn that starts on the ground and drifts into the clouds.
Carmel Liburdi shares her brand of folk music in her eccentric song “One Too Many.” The song showcases her knack for storytelling and almost circus-like performance style that combines theatrics, timeless rhythms, and mouth trumpet.
Handgrenades strip things down for their submission, opting for acoustic guitar, muted drums, and a xylophone. As always, the harmonies are on point and the band is super tight. The video is filmed in what looks like the band’s practice space, full of different synths, concert posters and somebody’s cat, making it feel like you snuck up on them for an intimate glimpse into an everyday rehearsal.
If you haven’t noticed, the past couple of months have seen Eminem emerge from his private life – one I imagine as a healthy balance of dysfunctional family time and sitting in dark corners thinking of puns – to voice his contempt for our country’s governing body via a trail of singles, ending with his first studio album in four years, Revival. Despite the 45-year-old rapper’s most well-meaning(?) attempts at woke-ness and personal reflection, it’s pretty much a general consensus that the album is an over-commercialized political piece at best and a bloated shitshow at worst. However, as a (metro) Detroit-native who grew up on Slim Shady, it’s pretty much a requirement for me to hold an allegiance to him, even in his darkest hour. Which is why, instead of sharing my personal thoughts on the album, I decided to highlight some of the sickest burns from music journalists across the internet, aimed at the diss-master himself.
It should come as no surprise that the most scathingly brutal, yet not untrue, review came from Pitchfork. The cool kids who crown themselves “the most trusted voices in music” really know how to hit a guy where it hurts – and make everyone agree with them. Rap contributor Matthew Ismael Ruiz gave the record a stinging 5.0, unimpressed by what he deems “overwhelmingly bland hooks” and “cringe-worthy humor.” Ouch, Matthew! What hurts even more is… he’s not wrong. The clever wordplay that Mathers is known for crosses into really distasteful dad-joke territory with lines like, “I’m swimming in that Egyptian river, ’cause I’m in denial” on “Need Me.” Why, Marshall? Why?
Ruiz closes with a dig at the record’s recurring theme of self-doubt: “Though it’s easy to empathize with his creeping self-doubt, it’s tougher to swallow in the context of an album that ultimately proves that those doubts are correct.” So much for not listening to the voices inside your head.
The New York Times, who I would normally expect to be a bit more subtle with its abhorrence of a subject, was not shy about loathing Revival. The second writer to describe Mathers’ try at a heart-wrenching patriotic ballad “Like Home” as “toothless,” Jon Carmanica also unleashes his wrath on Eminem’s dry puns. “What has long felt like extreme facility with language is beginning to feel like an uncontrolled fire hose,” writes Carmanica, who continues to elaborate on Mathers’ degenerating lyricism with the song “Framed.” “The song is both excellent and reprehensible,a reminder of how sui generis Eminem felt at the beginning of his career, and how poorly he has aged.” Not everyone can be a fine wine.
While Ruiz and Carmanica slay Shady with intellectual insight and polished rhetoric, I really have to give the creativity crown to Brian Josephs of Spin. The common thread that binds the three writers is a shared disapproval for Mathers’ tired pun-game. Josephs asserts that “nearly every punchline winds up feeling as forced as a stranger sparking a conversation at a urinal.” I could say that, as a woman, I don’t know what that feels like, but I’d be lying. Anyway, Josephs further solidifies his descriptive genius by coining “Need Me” a “vomitous sonic Crayola mess,” thereby raising the bar of shit-talking as I know it.
However, probably the cringiest display of public slander is Eminem’s own description of his songwriting process, given to NPR’s Michael Martin.
“When I’m writing, sometimes an idea or a line will pop in my head, and I’ll be like, ‘Yo, that thought is messed up.’ And I either laugh to myself or I say, ‘You know what? That might be just going too far.’ So, have I ever took it too far? I probably have, who knows?”
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: George Martin, famed Beatles producer, has died at age 90. Martin spent seven years working with the Fab Four, helping them arrange and shape their sound. His closeness with the band earned him the nickname “the fifth Beatle,” though he also worked with other artists such as Peter Sellers, Shirley Bassey, America, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Celine Dion. Many of the Beatles songs wouldn’t be the same without him- For example, check out “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a track on which Martin humored the band’s request for backward tape loops:
Watch Mothers “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” Video
Feeling sad yet? Just wait until you learn the story behind the Mothers track “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t.” SingerKristine Leschper wrote the song about her missing cat. Footage of her cat is briefly featured in the video, and she describes it as “the only remaining video I have of my best friend, who was so often the only thing keeping me rooted in reality, feeding me optimism, helping me survive.” If you’ve ever had a lost cat, you’ll understand.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest Winner Announced
This year’s winner of the Tiny Desk Contest is Gaelynn Lea, from Duluth, Minnesota. Lea sings and plays the fiddle, though her brittle bone disease requires her to play a very small violin which she holds upright, like a double bass. Her song, “Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun,” has a haunting, heartbreaking melody that remains in your head long after the song ends, yet still manages to convey a sense of hope. Check out her winning performance:
Stream Post Pop Depression, The New Iggy Pop + Josh Homme Collaboration
Iggy Pop has described the album as a sort of sequel to Lust For Life, on which he collaborated with David Bowie. He recorded Post Pop Depression the Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, in some secluded desert location, as is Homme’s style (that information alone means it’s going to be pretty awesome).You can stream the nine tracks on NPR, here.
Vote For The Best ‘Tiny Desk Contest’ One-Person Band
Around this time last year, every social media feed you had was suddenly flooded with home-made videos featuring small desks, coffee tables, or some sort of writing surface. Every friend you had in a band made one, along with everyone who had a thirst for fame and knew a few chords (Obviously, most entries were seriously amazing, even if you found out the hard way your cousin wrote love songs on an out-of-tune ukulele). Well, the whole process was repeated this year, and while you wait for the final winner to be announced, NPR will be letting the public vote on their favorite performers in certain categories. This week, the focus is on one-person bands. You can check them all out here, but here’s one of our favorites:
Noisey Breaks Down (More Of) The Music Industry’s Diversity Problem
In this noisey.com article, writer Emma Garland discusses the Billboard Power 100 list. Released last week, it doesn’t feature musicians or performers, but “your chairmen, your CEOs, your executives; the people we don’t tend to think about but who spend most of their time influencing everything we hear.” The list is pretty much a bunch of white dudes; the 10 people at the top are white males, 96% of the top 50 are white and just 9% of the people on it are women. Statistics like these shed light on the fact that even in creative industries, there’s some sort of glass ceiling that cannot always be broken. You can check the actual list out here.
Courtney Barnett Performs On Stephen Colbert
The Australian singer/songwriter/bad-ass guitarist didn’t seem at all upset that her nomination for this year’s Best New Artist Grammy award didn’t pan out; on Wednesday, she gave a spirited performance of “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” from last year’s Somethings I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
That Little Thing Called The Grammys
Red Carpet! Crop tops! Swift/Kanye drama! Mic malfunctions, tributes, medleys, and Dave Grohl with…. a Solo cup? A lot of stuff happened that you probably already know about, but make sure you watch Kendrick Lamar’s goosebumps-inducing performance:
That Other Thing Called The NME Awards
NME readers voted 5 Seconds of Summer 2015’s worst band, and Bring Me The Horizon destroyed Coldplay’s table. You can read the full list of winners here. There are some interesting categories like “Best Fan Community,” “Villian of the Year” and the “Godlike Genius” award, which went to Coldplay.
Eartheater Releases “Homonyms” Video
The NYC based artist, whose name is actually Alexandra Drewchin, creates electronic music that is also folky and organic. The video for “Homonyms” features dancers in a beautiful, lush wilderness that seems more like a dream than reality. Her vocals oscillate between hushed whispers and angelic cries, which contribute to the effect. Check it out below:
Radio could easily be thrown under the bus as one of the least relevant media outlets these days – right above cable television and print journalism. It seems easy to dismiss the radio as a physical object considering that its top airing shows are often listened to via Internet streaming and podcasts. But as I sit stranded in my apartment with an absentee wi-fi signal, I’d do anything for a radio right now.
Long a beacon of information, entertainment, and more recently, nostalgia, radio has withstood the fickle curator of time for over 100 years. It was the first thing I heard every morning for two decades, my Dad flipping its switch at six am, seven days a week. During power outages and floods we’d pull out the wind-up radio, which only needs a few cranks of a rotating lever to sustain hours of energy. No iPhone can do that.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who gets all warm and fuzzy inside at the thought of straightening an antenna. I had the opportunity to attend BAM’sRadioLoveFest this weekend to see a theatrical interpretation of everybody’s favorite radio show, This American Life, featuring your host and my daydream husband, Ira Glass. But what exactly is a theatrical interpretation of a radio show? Well, it’s a bit like tasting color.
Organized in acts much like the original program, the live staging possessed qualities of a variety show. I suspected both of these approaches, but other than that, I had no idea what I was getting into. Act One recounted the tribulations of a professional audiobook narrator who found herself locked in a hotel room closet with no phone and limited Internet signal. Her entire hour-plus of closet captivity was fortunately recorded on the iPad she had with her, and her story was told through a combination of audio clips and Ira Glass’s narration. But the narrative took an especially comic turn when one-by-one, costumed opera singers trickled on to the minimally adorned stage to sing the tragedy of the girl locked in the linen cupboard.
The next segment, 21 Chump Street, was likewise a true story told through the medium of music, this time with the addition of dance. Composed and narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights, Bring It On) it recounted the experience of an undercover NARC sent to a Miami high school to weed out dealers. This act was enjoyable, but my least favorite bit of the evening given its Glee-like performances.
Writer Joshua Bearman narrated an autobiographical radio drama starring Josh Hamilton (as Bearman) and James Ransone as the author’s brother. It was the heaviest moment of the evening, dealing with the slow death of Bearman’s alcoholic mother in Florida. Yet the tale was told with a relatable comic lightness that didn’t dismiss the gravity of its subject matter, but rendered it as catharsis. It must have been an odd sensation for Mr. Bearman to narrate his own story and watch someone else play it out. Perhaps this was part of his coping process, and it was admirable that he could share it with a crowd of some 2,000 attendees.
Oddly enough, Bearman’s late mother had an extended presence in the show; as it turns out, she used to baby-sit Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt, also on the bill for the evening, and one of the main reasons I ended up in those red velvet seats to begin with. Unfortunately, Merritt only got two songs in the entire night: “How Do You Slow This Thing Down?” and “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing” off the seminal 69 Lovesongs. These performances were staggered between other acts, and added a stiff serving of delicious misery to an otherwise merry evening.
Sandwiched throughout the night were comedic tales told by SNL’s own Sasheer Zamata, and stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia, who had me in stitches with his tale of domestic arguments… over domesticated animals. At one point, an actor in a mouse suit and roller skates was chased across the stage by a man in a cat suit. That fine feline was none other than Ira Glass. At times like this, one must swoon.
The final act mirrored that of the first. Ira Glass narrated a story supplemented by audio clips from the original raconteur. This account was straight from the mouth of a professional River Dance performer, relaying the details of a lottery pool she and her team went into together. Feverishly convinced they would win, the dancers went into frenzy with the expectation, sometimes shouting “DO IT FOR THE LOTTO!” during their performances. As Ira told the story from his podium, the Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company pranced behind him. Glass said of the performance in a recent interview: “I tell stories, and they dance. It sounds terrible, but I swear it kills.” Kill it did, especially as the number ended with Ira dancing in unison with the two professionals, a big red rose in his slate-blue lapel. I’d out-swooned myself.
I went into RadioLoveFest a bit bewildered with what I was to expect. I left with a cramp in my dimples from smiling so hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the immense pleasure of seeing Ira Glass dance again, but I do know one thing: radio ‘aint dead yet.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
The remainder of the festival has no shortage of things to offer: there are curated screenings of Talking Heads tour doc Stop Making Sense and classic anti-fairy tale The Princess Bride, live broadcasts of RadioLab, Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me! and Soundcheck (featuring former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser, San Fermin, and comic Wyatt Cenac), free musical performances by Alicia Olatuja and “Battle of the Boroughs” winners Brown Rice Family (both hosted by Terrance McKnight), and lots of interactive series and talks that will have you experiencing radio like never before.