NPR Music

The middle of winter can feel like a bit of a dead zone — awards season sucks up much of the air while pointing our attention at commercial art we've already seen or decided to ignore. Putative songs of the summer are still being strategized in coastal corporate boardrooms, blockbusters are still bulking up for tank-top season. Everyone's suffering from one vitamin deficiency or another. Well, not today.

Last year, the Oscar for best original song was preordained: It was going to "Shallow," come hell or high water, in spite of the clear and obvious superiority of Kendrick Lamar's "All the Stars." That was an unusually strong year for movie songs — you could have put together a strong slate using only tracks that didn't get nominated — but the category didn't exactly hold the movie world in suspense.

Overcoats is a duo, but JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion's voices are so perfectly in sync that when you hear them sing together, you'd almost think it was one single voice. Their supernatural-sounding harmonies and minimalist songwriting got a lot of praise when Mitchell and Elion dropped their debut album, YOUNG, back in 2017.

Nina Simone was living alone in France, and feeling the weight of her isolation, when she recorded what would become Fodder on My Wings in 1982. But the album — which Verve/UMe will reissue on April 3, making it available for the first time on streaming services — hardly stays in a despondent key.

Here's a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It's true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales' virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

Updated Friday, Feb. 7 at 5:00 p.m. ET

One of Mali's most prominent musicians, Ballaké Sissoko, has alleged that the Transportation Security Administration [TSA] destroyed his specially designed instrument during a trip from New York to Paris that began on Monday evening. On Thursday afternoon, the TSA said that its agents did not open the instrument case or create the damage.

Dan Deacon's home studio is kind of a mix between a toy store and a science lab — for musicians. There are shelves of digital audio gadgets, multiple computers and monitors, synthesizers stacked on synthesizers and cables running between them all.

"I like how chaotic it is. I like to think about chaos in the way that a forest is chaotic," he says, describing the peace and uniformity of the trees from afar. But if "you get into it, there's piles of leaves, and you lift up the leaves and there's endless life crawling around in the muck."


After releasing the ambient "Santa Teresa" last October and "

Anna Tivel On Mountain Stage

Feb 6, 2020

Portland, Ore., singer and songwriter Anna Tivel made her Mountain Stage debut sharing songs off of her fourth record, The Question. The performance was recorded at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, with help from Mountain Stage partners at WOUB Public Media.

"Now get back to work!"