Lars Gotrich

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.

Jimmy Eat World showed up to the NPR Music office all smiles and no guitars, goofing off with toy instruments behind the Tiny Desk and cracking jokes. They borrowed a couple acoustics, a miniature gong and tambourine emblazoned with Bob Boilen's face, which set the tone for a slightly silly, but altogether gracious performance.

"There will never be another one like him. Peace to his family and all of his fans around the world. Listen to Sean play his drums and hear his heart sing," Cynic's Paul Masvidal wrote in remembrance of his bandmate Sean Reinert, who died last Friday at the age of 48.

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Hayley Williams has long been simultaneously open and guarded, someone who can write about pain, depression and yearning with diaristic specificity, but who still keeps the deepest hur

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When Miranda Lambert regularly sells out arenas, Kace

Polvo imagined a language as thick and viscous as cheese grits. Here was an indie-rock band of Southerners, messing with alternate guitar tunings based on Indian and Middle Eastern drones, noodlin' on aberrant grooves that simultaneously repelled and sucked in ears attuned to a long-winded, surprisingly catchy weirdness.

New year, new choices. Call your friends, drink more water, watch movies with subtitles, and listen to more drone and hardcore. I can't help you with the first two, but I can recommend Ana Lily Amirpour's feminist vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night towards the third. (If you're fresh from my year-end All Songs Considered episode — hi there, by the way — I'm here every week with music of both extreme and soothing flavors.)

Some of us keep our grits simple: butter, salt and pepper. Some add sugar, which is just chaos incarnate. Some keep it real Maryland with Old Bay and the internet goes mad. Viking's Choice, as ever, welcomes and encourages unexpected dashes of this and that to make the mix a little weirder, a little louder, a little homey-er.

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Kesha's introspective turn has yielded two career-redefining albums — 2012's Warrior and 2017's Rainbow — ce

As we take a bottle cap to the lava-spewing volcano that was 2019, we're about to make sense of all of the music that it contained — or at least the parts that hardened on our hearts like pyroclastic rocks. Be on the lookout for our year-end lists very soon, plus my annual Viking's Choice episode of All Songs Considered, which comes out Dec. 31.

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