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All Songs Considered

After 10 years of gleefully dismantling genres and challenging audiences to submit to its avant-prog-jazz-drone-noise-whatever hypnosis, the New York City band Zs promptly dismantled itself last summer. Only founding member and saxophonist Sam Hillmer remains, joined now by guitarist Patrick Higgins and drummer Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, ex-Liturgy). So it's only fitting that Grain, the first taste of new Zs material, features unreleased leftovers of previous line-ups completely dismantled.

In "Escape Artist," the new video from Canadian pop duo The Zolas, the band plays around with audience expectations about race, culture and sexuality. As frontman Zach Gray sings about his mysterious alter ego, a group of kids kick around their neighborhood, playing basketball, chatting up girls and passing the hours. One of them clearly feels like an outsider.

On this edition of All Songs Considered, we've got a brand new song from David Bowie, from his first album of new songs in a decade.

There's another new song from David Bowie and it's called "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)." This is the second Bowie song in the past few months after a dry spell that lasted ten years. You can hear the song and watch the video, which contains some nudity.

I knew I had a rare gem of a song when even Bob Boilen couldn't place it, especially since it was by The Kinks, one of his favorite bands. The cut was "Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl" and I'd discovered it in the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies, Rushmore.

At some point, a long string of colorful adjectives doesn't accomplish much for any band. "Hypnogogic math-pop," "blackened uber-popadelica," "avant seapunk-rap" — it all gets a little silly. Metal, or at least the folks who describe it, often falls into this trap, present company included. Exhibit A: the second album from Richmond's Inter Arma. Sky Burial ingests several forms of metal, but the goal is demonstrable heft. Maybe you should just listen to its opening track first; it's called "The Survival Fires."

[This story originally ran on Feb. 22, 2013, but still applies today.]

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Valentine's Day cards that got returned with no forwarding address is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how music fans could and should approach SXSW, the gigantic music festival held every March in Austin, Texas.

I first saw Cat Martino at the best concert of my life. It was the summer of 2011 and Sufjan Stevens was performing at Celebrate Brooklyn. But within the spectacle -– a troupe of maybe a dozen performers on stage — was a singer and dancer named Cat Martino. I know that because a number of my friends at the show knew Cat and were screaming her name at the top of their lungs.

Every year around this time, all four members of the All Songs Considered roundtable gang (Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me) each dredge through more than 1,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We base our coverage and festival schedules on the music we've researched in advance — and have found some of our favorite artists, like Kishi Bashi in 2012, as part of these blind pre-fest taste tests — and this year, we want to be sure we're considering yours.

Guitarist and singer Chris Porterfield has done a lot of soul searching since his previous band, DeYarmond Edison, broke up in 2006. Other guys in the group went on to start their own projects — Justin Vernon formed Bon Iver, while some of the other members formed Megafaun. Porterfield, meanwhile, hung back in his native Milwaukee and took a job as a student union administrator at Marquette Univeristy.

NPR Music will present and webcast a "First Listen Live" concert from Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band on Monday, March 4, beginning at 8 p.m. ET in the intimate New York City venue (Le) Poisson Rouge. Josh Ritter and his band will play most of his new album, The Beast in Its Tracks.

Kishi Bashi (who's real name is K Ishibashi) is known for his thrilling live performances, looping and layering his violin and voice to create a symphony of sound. But when he decided to cover "A Sunday Smile," one of his favorite songs by the band Beirut, K went for "real" musicians, captured in this live-in-studio video.

This week All Songs Considered is brought to you in part by the letter "B." Robin Hilton starts it off with Louisiana natives Brass Bed and the song "Cold Chicory." Then Bob Boilen shares a new cut from the artist Bombino from Niger.

In its quest to become the world's most brutal, ugly and offensive death-metal act, a young band should ask itself three questions: "How fast can the drummer blast-beat?" "How many unspeakable acts can we cram into three minutes, lyrically speaking?" "Are the riffs-per-second an accurate measure of how brutal we truly are?" I'm only sort of kidding. These exercises in ridiculousness are par for the course, though their excess is not unrewarded. Enter Wormed.

The English rock group Depeche Mode owned a chunk of the '80s and '90s with glossy electro-rock hits like "People Are People" and "Personal Jesus." These days the band doesn't have much to prove, and its members, who appear in this new video for the song "Heaven," seem to find themselves at peace, bathed in the radiant glow of light and love.

The first thing to jump out about the dreamy music of Rhye, besides all that sleekly sweet yearning, is the way the duo incorporates a broad instrumental arsenal — strings, horns, synths, guitars — but finds a way to employ each element sparingly. Rhye's debut album Woman, out March 5, will surely launch a thousand dance remixes, but its beats are restrained to the point of unobtrusiveness. Like many of the '80s hits it vaguely recalls, from Spandau Ballet onward, Rhye's music is instead propelled by hooks that aren't infectious so much as innate.

We're thrilled to announce that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been added to the bill for our official South by Southwest showcase on March 13. The band joins Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for the concert, which will be broadcast on NPR stations across the country and streamed live as a video webcast here from Stubb's in Austin, Texas. The concert will also appear in the NPR Music apps.

The deeply disturbed character who appears in the latest Maps & Atlases video, for the song "Fever," may not live to see tomorrow. As the Chicago-based band sings about holding on in our darkest hours, "The Man" slowly wastes away, addicted to a mysterious drug.

In concerts, The Heligoats' Chris Otepka spends a good deal of time explaining his songs, often introducing them with strange, funny, byzantine stories that somehow serve as functional explanations for the words he's about to sing.

The Grammy Awards are fun to complain about. That's fair. If you watched the telecast Sunday night, you probably care about music. People who care about music tend to have strong opinions about what's good and what's not. Strong opinions often lead to disappointment, especially since the pop-music sphere is increasingly consensus-free.

It's been two years since the debut self-titled album from James Blake dropped from the sky. The vocal-driven, song-based LP was a surprise to those who followed Blake's earlier work, especially the largely sample-based CMYK EP. Eight months after releasing that full-length debut, Blake put out the Enough Thunder EP, featuring a Bon Iver collaboration that continued down the path laid out by his album, highlighting the Londoner's tender side.

Well, this was a surprise. The boundaries between indie rock and electronic music have been dissolving for a while now, but who could have foreseen Ducktails' Matt Mondanile — also a guitarist in the straightforward indie-pop band Real Estate — seeking out cult icon DJ Sprinkles for a deep house remix of his new single "Letter of Intent"?

What is endless? The Universe (theoretically). Summer. Swimming pools. Shrimp. These are all well and good, but what of riffs? Is there is a band for which the riff cannot be confined to a single hook? A band for which three-minute songs are an insult to said riff? A band with riffs so repetitively, knuckle-draggingly dumb that it has to be some kind of genius? Yes, that band is Endless Boogie.

James Hunter has spent his life learning how to tell soul's stories in fresh and personal ways. Born in 1962 in Essex, England and mentored early on by Van Morrison, he embarked on a career with many ups and downs before breaking through in America in his forties. Now the Grammy-nominated Hunter has made his first album in the States, where the music he loves was born.

Veteran producer Joe Boyd says he'd long resisted putting together some sort of tribute album for his late friend, the legendary folksinger Nick Drake. But he finally decided to make one when Boyd realized that the recordings could be captured in a live concert. "In my opinion, the only way to make a tribute record work is to get everyone together in the same place so there's a unity of sound and spirit," he tells us in an email.

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