NPR Music

Our shortlist of the best albums out this week includes a stirring call for social justice from soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, rapper YG's powerful remembrance of Nipsey Hussle and the first new release in six years from lo-fi rock veterans Sebadoh. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers, Sidney Madden and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the most essential albums dropping on May 24.

Featured Albums:

  1. Mavis Staples: We Get By
    Featured Song: "Sometime"

Watch White Denim Perform 'Shanalala'

May 23, 2019

Austin, Texas-based band White Denim absolutely tore through its live session on Morning Becomes Eclectic with an energy and swagger that bent KCRW's airwaves. Technically proficient and loud as hell, the new tracks from the group's album, Side Effects, are best played with the volume up.

K. Ishibashi has kept many instruments and techniques at his disposal — violins and loop pedals and layering effects that give his music a symphonic, hyper-multitracked sound — but the language he speaks is one of profound empathy. It's right there in the titles of albums like 2016's Sonderlust ("sonder" being the notion that others have complex lives of their own) and the new Omoiyari ("omoiyari" being the idea that thinking of others fosters compassion).

Some music is so ingrained in our collective minds that it's easy to forget how game-changing it was. In the late 1960s, a marriage of rock and folk took place and much of the popular music from that union was being made in a single place — Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles.

Eleven years ago, after a Metallica show, a gentleman named Warren told me "We have this band you have to hear." I jump into his car, he pops the CD in the player, and this blares out: "Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked / Money don't grow on trees / I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed / There ain't nothing in this world for free."

When Wilder Woods announced his debut musical project in early April of this year, two songs — "Someday Soon" and the R&B flavored "Sure Ain't" — had already piqued curiosity of fans. Shortly after the two songs emerged, the race was on to try to guess the identity of the artist. All of the press photos and glimpses of the singer in the videos were mostly hidden, making him difficult to see clearly. There were some very good, very close guesses about Wilder Woods' identity.

The four friends who make up the band Charly Bliss have grown a lot since they first met at summer camp as teenagers. The band's latest album, Young Enough, out now, was born out of growing pains.

Lead vocalist Eva Hendricks says the songs on this album were inspired by bad relationships — the kind that consume you and chip away at you until there's none of you left. The songs explore the crippling need to be liked — even if it means losing yourself in the process.

Saturday Night Live's 44th season ended over the weekend with the help of host Paul Rudd and musical guest DJ Khaled, who brought with him an all-star cast that included J Balvin, John Legend and SZA.

The Head and the Heart's latest album, Living Mirage, is warm, open and definitely leans hard on the "heart" part of the band's name. The band went to Joshua Tree in the desert to create the music. The trip was bassist Chris Zasche's idea — he thought the wide-open landscape would give the member's all a chance to start fresh and maybe see themselves differently.

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Bruce Springsteen has clearly spent the last few years with an eye toward the past; after all, he did just

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.

Karen O is a punk rock icon known for snarling, searing live shows as lead singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

When Warner Bros. heard George Benson's take on "This Masquerade," they didn't realize he was the vocalist. It's one of the many amazing tales Benson shares with us on World Cafe.

On this Guest DJ edition of All Songs Considered Joe Talbot, frontman for the British punk group IDLES, talks about the band's latest album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, how Van Morrison's Astral Weeks changed his life and his tips for how to make the long drive across Kansas while on tour.

IDLES is a band that's both fierce and compassionate. It's also one of the best live rock groups I've ever seen — the kind that creates mosh pits and community with noise and humanity.

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Upon the announcement of The National's I Am Easy to Find — due out this Friday on 4AD — the band promised a sh

For Mother's Day this year, indie rock star Lucy Dacus did better than sending flowers or a card.

Matt Nathanson On Mountain Stage

May 10, 2019

Songwriter Matt Nathanson remembers thinking "The world needs anthems" when he set out to make his latest album. "We need positive songs for un-empowered people," he says. "I'm going to be the U2 of man-folk."

But then, the songs that materialized seem to reflect heartache, loss and sadness, eventually becoming his 2018 release, Sings His Sad Heart. Nathanson quipped, "So the next records gonna be anthems."

How many times has Washington, D.C. endured a Fugazi cover from a touring band? Specifically, how many times has Washington, D.C. endured a cover of "Waiting Room"? Too many times. It's okay, we get it: "Waiting Room" is a jam.

David Bazan has been releasing solo records steadily for the past decade, but Phoenix marks his first album returning as Pedro the Lion in 15 years. The record was inspired by Phoenix, Ariz., where Bazan lived until he was 12 years old.

After nearly 50 years, KISS is saying goodbye to touring. The over-the-top purveyors of heavy metal have embarked on a year-long finale tour titled "One Last KISS: End of the Road World Tour." The 105-stop tour spans North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and will encapsulate KISS' larger-than-life show for the last time.

Our shortlist of the best new albums out this week includes a deeply moving celebration of African American culture and history from the singer Jamila Woods, the sparkling, soul-searching guitar rock of Charly Bliss, composer Holly Herndon's brilliant collaboration with the AI known as "Spawn" and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the best new albums out on May 10.

Featured Albums:

  1. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
    Featured Song: "Hard to Believe"

Snarky Puppy is an incredible ensemble of musicians, a loosely-knit collective of funk, jazz and rock players founded in Denton, Tx. by bandleader Michael League. They've been at it since 2003, with a rotating group of touring musicians. How many? As many as 25 will cycle in and out over the course of the tour.

J.S. Ondara's musical journey from Nairobi, Kenya to Minneapolis, Minn. is fascinating and impressive. With Bob Dylan having a profound influence, his songwriting is accomplished beyond his years. Check out his arresting performance of "Saying Goodbye."

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If you've spent time with Brandi Carlile's terrific 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You, you already know "T

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

Don't see the video above? Click here.

When Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart fired up their angular guitar sounds during soundcheck at the Tiny Desk, I was thrilled. The shrieking, rhythmic noise these two classically trained musicians make as Ohmme is what made their debut album, Parts, a musical highlight for me in 2018. But hearing them in the office, trading vocals with such ping-pong precision, sent me into euphoria. This is now one of my all-time favorite Tiny Desk concerts.

As you may guess from the title of her third solo album, Leyla McCalla tackles social and economic issues pretty directly on The Capitalist Blues. The multi-instrumentalist and Carolina Chocolate Drops alumna sings about everything from injustice and poverty to her daughter's experience with elevated levels of lead.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Editor's note: This story includes discussions of depression, addiction and suicide.

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