Bob Boilen

The music of Nick Hakim occupies a space and time that is faintly out of this world. The guitars and machinery that make up his music feel slightly askew, as though someone slowed down the tape machine every once in a while. His raspy voice feels drenched in a cavernous space. In fact, the first time I met Nick Hakim, he was literally draped in fiber optics, as if stars were surrounding him.

It's time to crank up the amps, warm up the drum machines, dust off the sax (or whatever your instrument of choice is) and enter the Tiny Desk Contest.

Marlon Williams is a handsome devil with a heart-stopping voice, who writes songs about vampires and horror films. This 27-year old, New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based singer is also a teller of tales.

Alynda Segarra's unamplifed voice in this Tiny Desk performance had no problem rising above the drums, congas, cello, violin, bass, keyboards, and an electric guitar. The passion for her Puerto Rican roots feels boundless. As Soul Captain for Hurray for the Riff Raff, she and her band weave tales of man's inhumanity to fellow humans, often from bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.

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

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric. But I didn't see this coming – the brilliant guitarist arrived at NPR with one steel string acoustic guitar and without a warm-up or soundcheck. Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

The title and subject of Amadou & Mariam's latest album, La Confusion, would lead you to believe that the music this married, Malian couple make might be sad and troubled. But Amadou & Mariam, on the contrary, bring some of the most lyrical melodies and joyful sounds we've ever had at the Tiny Desk, and their performance comes while their country endures great turmoil, including a coup and insurgencies.

It's as if brothers Brian and Michael D'Addario fell from the sky, victims of a transporter beam gone awry in 1971, and landed here at my desk with guitars in hand, right next to a perfectly tuned Yamaha upright piano.

AHI: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 16, 2018

The first time I heard the music of AHI (pronounced "eye") was in the midst of listening to 120 other song submissions for the DIY Musicians Conference panel I was hosting in Nashville back in August. It simply rose above everything else I heard.

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