Lars Gotrich | WGLT

Lars Gotrich

UPDATE: The listening party has ended.

This Friday at 4 p.m. ET, join us for an online listening party for Bright Eyes' new album, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, hosted by All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen and featuring a live conversation with Bright Eyes members Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott.

Updated on July 20 at 1:47 p.m. ET.

The listening party has ended, but you can stream the album below via Spotify or Apple Music.

Updated on July 20 at 1:50 p.m. ET

The listening party has ended, but you can stream the album below via Bandcamp.

Updated on July 20 at 1:52 p.m. ET.

The listening party has ended, but you can stream the album below via Bandcamp.

Updated on May 18 at 9:47 a.m. ET.

The listening party has ended, but you can stream the album below via Spotify or Apple Music.

"Nothing to be done."

Estragon's opening line from Waiting for Godot has been spooling around like a tape loop, decaying yet cacophonous, in my head all week. Revisiting a dog-eared copy from high school, Samuel Beckett's play reads like the same piece of music played in two noise-canceled rooms — we the audience experience a melody waver in discord, briefly align, turn out of sorts, and on and on.

You know those scenes in horror movies when some creep (who, of course, turns out to be a skull-sucking monster from hell) opens its mouth wider than it should? With jaw unhinged, Code Orange's Underneath, out Friday, devours a body of extreme sounds — sludge, noise, metallic hardcore, doom, grunge, industrial and whatever else it takes to make the mosh pit swarm — to make uncompromisingly chaotic metal.

When I can't wrap my head around a piece of music — be it a monstrous orchestral work, twisted death metal or skittering electronics — I reframe the abstract in terms of visual art or dance. What is the movement of the music? How would the sonic shapes translate to a canvas or to the jumping, stretching and gyrating contours of the human body?

Elyse Weinberg, a late '60s singer-songwriter and guitarist once lost to time and later rediscovered by crate-diggers, died Feb. 20 in Ashland, Ore., after battling lung cancer. The news was confirmed to NPR through both her label, Numero Group, and close friend, Satya Alcorn. She was 74.

What better way to spend a beautifully sunny, long weekend than indoors on a liquid diet watching movies in a fever-induced haze? (Mashed potatoes and gravy count as liquid, right?) Between comfort viewings of Bob's Burgers and King of the Hill, I caught up on my queue.

It's not too late to make a musical resolution for 2020, right?

No, I'm not planning to spend any diaper money on rare 7-inches, or develop an unhealthy effects pedal habit. But I do need to get outside my musical comfort zone — and I want to get into calypso music.

Gonna keep it 100: I absolutely judge an album by its cover. Does it have a sick wizard? A most-pleasing font and color combination? An impossible and-or nightmarish fantasia?

When I scroll through Bandcamp, on the hunt for hidden corners of punk, metal and outer sounds, the first sense is always sight. Maybe a killer band name will catch my eye, or a trusted record label, but amid a bloated glut of music, image is queen.

"There will never be another one like him. Peace to his family and all of his fans around the world. Listen to Sean play his drums and hear his heart sing," Cynic's Paul Masvidal wrote in remembrance of his bandmate Sean Reinert, who died last Friday at the age of 48.

Polvo imagined a language as thick and viscous as cheese grits. Here was an indie-rock band of Southerners, messing with alternate guitar tunings based on Indian and Middle Eastern drones, noodlin' on aberrant grooves that simultaneously repelled and sucked in ears attuned to a long-winded, surprisingly catchy weirdness.

New year, new choices. Call your friends, drink more water, watch movies with subtitles, and listen to more drone and hardcore. I can't help you with the first two, but I can recommend Ana Lily Amirpour's feminist vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night towards the third. (If you're fresh from my year-end All Songs Considered episode — hi there, by the way — I'm here every week with music of both extreme and soothing flavors.)

Some of us keep our grits simple: butter, salt and pepper. Some add sugar, which is just chaos incarnate. Some keep it real Maryland with Old Bay and the internet goes mad. Viking's Choice, as ever, welcomes and encourages unexpected dashes of this and that to make the mix a little weirder, a little louder, a little homey-er.

As we take a bottle cap to the lava-spewing volcano that was 2019, we're about to make sense of all of the music that it contained — or at least the parts that hardened on our hearts like pyroclastic rocks. Be on the lookout for our year-end lists very soon, plus my annual Viking's Choice episode of All Songs Considered, which comes out Dec. 31.

Absence helps the heart forget, the hard times get blotted with better ones; misrecollections become tall tales later canonized in the backs of bars. It ain't right, but as we soak up worry, euphoria and normal everyday B.S., the details can get squeezed out like crusty pulp from old grapes.

I used to be able to say that there wasn't a week where a Jack Rose tune wasn't winding through my head — his ramblin' ragas, sun-drenched drones and hiccuping blues guitar, picked with a big dang heart and even bigger hands.

We are made of star-stuff. Carl Sagan was a poetic-ass dude, and, by many accounts, he was right. When a star dies, off shakes gas and dust like cosmic dandruff, sometimes creating new stars and planets. Some of that space dust becomes part of living organisms, like us.

Are y'all subscribed to the NPR Music newsletter? You get the week's music news, Tiny Desks and personal stories from behind the scenes. I work here and I can't even keep up with everything we do, so that Saturday morning reminder sets up my weekend listening and reading.

You suddenly find yourself in a white room with no windows or doors. What adjectives describe how you feel? It's a personality test deployed by friends and psychologists alike as a way to think about death or the afterlife, should you believe in it. For years, my answers have typically been the same (peace, stillness, understanding), but lately, "mystery" is my lead response. In that hypothetical space, I'm drawn not so much what's outside those walls, but the creation capable within.

Record labels can be generous, quiet friends. You trust their taste, argue (one-sidedly) about the stuff that sucks, spend hours with each other late at night without speaking, but sharing a language nonetheless. There are a handful of labels like this for me, where the disparate possibilities of music can align in unexpected geometries.

When I first started in public radio 13 years ago, there weren't too many peers playing "challenging" music. Here was a 20-something who, up until moving to D.C., spent nights vibrating to Japanese noise and weekends attempting to decode large-format Xenakis scores in the University of Georgia library. NPR Music wasn't even a proper entity yet, and here I was already planning to dismantle notions of what constitutes "public radio music" with brash zealousness. (Hey, I was 23.)

On my daily commute, I toggle between podcasts and music I want to consider for Viking's Choice (or, if I need a self-motivating wake-me-up before hitting the office, the first two albums by Rage Against the Machine).

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

Ain't nothing minimal about minimalism. It's mind-expanding music within a limited frame, its attention to repetition and variation happens to be a sympathetic conductor for rock and pop music hypnosis.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

Arizona's Gatecreeper has helpfully titled its new album, Deserted, for every music critic on deadline.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

The fastest route to obsolescence is telling y'all that it was better in ye olde days. The truth is that while the mechanisms for music change — rapidly nowadays, it seems — the motivations for discovery don't. You dig because ya dig, you know?

There's a new, unreleased song from R.E.M. out today, with all proceeds going to Mercy Corps, an organization helping those in the Bahamas impacted by Hurricane Dorian.

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