WCBE

Stephen Thompson

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In 20 years, Low's basic ingredients haven't changed much: Guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker swap and sometimes layer their vocals, with a third member joining the married couple on bass. The pace, for the most part, is kept deliberate, even glacial, with strategically deployed silence hanging between notes in order to enhance their power. Low songs don't often change tempo noticeably, instead achieving tension through variations in volume.

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

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It says a lot about SXSW's size and scope that this "sampler" of the annual music festival spans six and a half hours, but here we are: 100 songs by 100 artists worth discovering at this year's big event.

For a guy who gets tagged with a lot of limiting descriptors — "freak folk," "hippie" and so forth — Devendra Banhart doesn't like to let his music sit in any spot for long. His catalog, which now includes seven official albums, has taken him through warmly intimate ballads, raw and unselfconsciously strange home recordings, songs in several languages (Banhart spent much of his childhood in Venezuela), a lot of smoothly strummy folk-pop and the occasional low-key anthem about free-spiritedness.

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As one of the most thoughtful singer-songwriters around, Josh Ritter isn't one to write angry, over-the-top, knee-jerk breakup songs — even though his new album, The Beast in Its Tracks, was written entirely in response to his own recent divorce. Gentility and empathy are wired into Ritter's songwriting, so his idea of a breakup anthem is the gorgeous and glorious "Joy to You Baby," in which he closes the book on a relationship by wishing everyone well, himself included.

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Say what you will about some of the biggest songs of the 1980s — go ahead and badmouth electric pianos, and by all means bemoan the prevailing production quality — but the decade continues to cast a long shadow over popular music. Given its enduring popularity on dance floors and on radios, not to mention the rise of '80s-emulating singers like Gotye, you could do far worse than look to that decade for tips on connecting with audiences.

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With the conclusion of Sunday night's ceremony, Linda Holmes and I have now live-blogged fully one-eleventh of the Grammy Awards' 55 annual incarnations. Below is our original post and an archived live blog of the telecast:

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Widowspeak is a fount of familiar sounds, from early-'90s shoegazer rock to twangily portentous Western soundtracks to the languidly soft pop of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. But the Brooklyn-based duo of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas fuses them all into a hazy swirl and gives them a kick of buzzy energy — and, in the process, gives the music a dreamy pop sound of its own.

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The Danish singer and multi-instrumentalist who goes by the name Indians, a.k.a. Søren Løkke Juul, makes music that retains its intimacy even as it seems to sprawl out into space. On his first full-length album, Somewhere Else (out Jan. 29), he masters a kind of quiet adventurousness; it's remarkable headphone music that reaches both the heart and the loneliest reaches of the heavens.

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Holiday music is often the domain of musicians who do the bare minimum. Available shortcuts abound: So many standards reside in the public domain, the arrangements write themselves, and expectations for the work as a whole generally hover somewhere in the neighborhood of "This could be nice, I suppose."

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For a band with a firm grasp on pristine, precise production and immaculate vocal

harmonies, Grizzly Bear can be inscrutable at times: Its members have been known to use their formidable studio chops in the pursuit of what can sound like puzzles waiting to be solved.

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