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All Songs Considered

Singer and violinist Emily Wells was one of our favorite discoveries at last year's South by Southwest music festival. Her 2012 album Mama was a surprising and beautiful mix of hip-hop beats and strings, with folk-flavored pop arrangements. Now Wells is back with a re-imagined, all-acoustic version of Mama, with the songs stripped bare and her voice more fragile than ever.

I love the crazy surprises you get when two or more artists get together and turn their creative ideas over to one another. When the band Junip wrote the song "Your Life, Your Call," frontman José González says, it was meant to be an unambiguous meditation on growing up, moving on and taking responsibility for your life. But in the hands of video director Mikel Cee Karlsson, the song, from Junip's new self-titled album, takes on a whole new (and disturbing) meaning.

We got a lot of great suggestions when we asked readers to tell us their picks for the perfect pair of headphones last week. We also learned a lot. For example, you all know way more about this than I do.

This week on All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton go on a haphazard musical journey across the globe to share their favorite new discoveries. Manchester's The 1975 start things off with the band's punchy song called "Sex." Then we head to Brooklyn for soul singer Charles Bradley, who keeps things heated with "You Put The Flame On It," a track from his upcoming album Victim Of Love.

The Keaton Henson who appears on the new album Birthdays is an avowed hermit with a profoundly broken heart. He also has one of the most beautiful voices I've heard. The 24 year-old singer from London, who says he rarely leaves his bedroom, bares his wrecked emotional remains in an arresting new video for the song "You."

I love live music. But figuring out who's coming to town and when and where isn't so easy. I could go to every club's website to compile a list of upcoming shows, but that'd be cumbersome. Newspaper listing are often incomplete, don't look ahead and certainly don't filter or highlight who's in town based on my musical tastes.

"The video has a puzzle structure: the whole story progressively makes sense to the viewer as minutes go by."

10 Great Album Art Fake-Outs

Mar 28, 2013

This week, the Strokes put out the new album Comedown Machine, the band's fifth collection of wiry, tightly-produced throwback rock.

Let's get this out of the way: VHÖL includes members of bands that have put out some of my favorite metal albums of the last few years. Guitarist John Cobbett and bassist Sigrid Sheie are in Hammers of Misfortune, Mike Scheidt fronts YOB, and Aesop Dekker drums for Agalloch (among many other bands).

Even in still moments, particles incite microscopic riots. Brooklyn-via-Boston composer and multi-instrumentalist Ashley Paul is used to making a huge racket, most regularly with her husband Eli Keszler. On her Line the Clouds, there's tension in patience as she navigates a singer-songwriter's reactions.

The brand new video for Phosphorescent's "Song For Zula," from the band's sixth album, Muchacho, forgoes a literal illustration of song's heartbroken story for something more allegorical. In a single slow-motion tracking shot, the camera approaches a distant figure dressed in rags, bashing at chains that hold her to the ground.

I've been buying headphones for 30 years now, have owned more they I can possibly remember and still haven't found the perfect pair. I must chew through one or two sets a year in a never-ending, desperate (and futile) search to find the right acoustics, feel and functionality. I've tried in-ear buds, over-the-ear hooks, full-sized cans and wireless. Some sound great but fit horribly. Or the fit is perfect but the sound too tinny, or the controls don't quite work. The truth is, I hate headphones, especially because I hate being tethered to my stereo. It's like wearing a leash.

On this edition of All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton share some final discoveries from this year's South by Southwest music festival, including the British noise-rock group Savages and Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, the Swiss-German pop pair that records and performs as Boy.

This is the most exciting new Sigur Rós song I've heard in a long time, and I love the band's music. "Brennisteinn" (sulfur) is a remarkably aggressive piece of music for musicians who can sound so ethereal: Dreamy elements remain, but they provide an underpinning rather than driving the pulse of the song.

Some songwriters are so adept at capturing the mess and miracle of everyday emotion that their work resonates as exceptionally truthful. John Grant is one of those. In recent years, the 44-year-old former frontman for Colorado rock band the Czars has produced two exceptional collections of funny, brutal, nuanced songs — 2010's collaboration with the band Midlake, Queen of Denmark, and now Pale Green Ghosts, which will be released in the U.S. on May 14.

The musicians in Paperhaus live in my hometown of Washington, D.C., so I've seen this dynamic band more than a few times. In fact, they put on some of the best house concerts in the city, over a hundred of them at their own venue, also called the Paperhaus, so I've seen them both in clubs and their intimate living room.

SXSW 2013: Day Five Highlights

Mar 18, 2013

As the 2013 South by Southwest festival was winding to a noisy end — sirens, car horns and even a helicopter passed could be heard on the streets of Austin, Texas — there were plenty of smaller, quieter moments worth singling out. On the festival's final night, the All Songs Considered gang gathered to talk about what they saw, heard and felt during their last few hours in Austin.

SXSW 2013: Day Five In Photos

Mar 17, 2013

It's the last day of SXSW and now it's time to go on that smoothie detox to cleanse five days worth of BBQ, beer and breakfast tacos.

SXSW 2013: Day Four In Photos

Mar 16, 2013

You can depend on Solange to be the best dressed anywhere — that pink suit! — but her commanding live presence at SXSW is a thing of wonder, even if her funky R&B can be quiet and unassuming. We also took in the crushing doom metal of Batillus, spazzed out to Metz, and got gloomy with Diamond Rings.

SXSW 2013: Day Four Highlights

Mar 16, 2013

"If you want to do something, just do it." Words of wisdom from Bob Boilen that sum up day four of South By Southwest for the All Songs Considered gang perfectly. Bob, along with Robin Hilton, Stephen Thompson and Ann Powers were joined by Mike Katzif and Will Butler, both former All Songs interns. Will's journey to Austin was inspired by Amanda Palmer's recent TED Talk.

SXSW 2013: Day Three In Photos

Mar 15, 2013

¡Viva! Alt.Latino presented a killer showcase from Auditorium Shores with Cafe Tacvba and Bajofondo on Thursday.

SXSW 2013: Day Three Highlights

Mar 15, 2013

The span of South by Southwest is so huge that sometimes the festival can be about the bands you miss as much as the ones you see. After the hectic Thursday on the streets, bars and venues of Austin, Texas, the All Songs Considered crew regrouped to recount the long walks, long lines, tough decisions, missed opportunities and happy accidents of day three.

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