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First Listen

Alt-J: First Listen Live Presented By FUV On September 2

The British trio Alt-J is set to release its new album, This Is All Yours, in the U.S. on September 23, and they're coming to New York City to premiere the new material in an exclusive First Listen Live on FUV and NPR Music on September 2 at 9pm, EDT.

Since Alt-J released its 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, one thing has been made very clear: they are a unique band with a sound that is hard to pin down. It’s electronic but somewhat folky, and there are elements of dub, but it’s not exactly dance. At a time when it’s very difficult to set yourself apart from the pack, Alt-J has created a fresh, artistic sound that has done just that.

An Awesome Wave went on to a well-deserved Mercury Prize win, leading to appearances at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella and the Glastonbury festival in 2013. So how does the band face a potential sophomore slump? They've simply gone and made another great record that sounds like Alt-J and nobody else. Ahead of its release, they'll take the stage at Le Poisson Rouge for a First Listen Live performance of This Is All Yours, and you can hear it on Tuesday, September 2nd at 9pm, on 90.7FM WFUV, also streaming online.

Funding for WFUV's ongoing coverage of live concerts and festivals comes from The Agnes Varis Trust, supporting affordable access to the arts, education and healthcare.

First Listen: Interpol, 'El Pintor'

Listen to Interpol's El Pintor streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music prior to the album's release on September 9 on Matador. If you got shut out of the band's New York record release show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur on September 2, you can always check out NPR's First Listen Live webcast tonight, August 26, at 10p.m. EDT (7p.m. PDT) as Interpol plays songs from the forthcoming album.

Interpol once seemed like a candidate for a quick post-debut flameout. Its 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, broke through with seemingly instantaneous intensity, setting the band up for an equally ferocious second-album letdown. So many bands in its fickle New York scene were playing a variation on Interpol's sleek, stylish, darkly driving post-punk that success was bound to be difficult to sustain.

And yet here's the band, back a dozen years later, on the eve of a heavily anticipated fifth album. El Pintor follows a tumultuous four-year gap, during which Interpol toured with U2, went on hiatus, and saw bassist Carlos Dengler leave for good while singer Paul Banks released two solo records (one under the pseudonym Julian Plenti). Thankfully, the resulting album wears turmoil well: Interpol has aged into its polished sound nicely, maintaining its influences — Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, et al — while sounding more distinct from them than ever.

Interpol often tiptoes on the fine line separating consistency from sameness. El Pintor treads that same line, but keeps finding Interpol on its better side. Twelve years after its debut, it's a band that knows what it wants to be — and, just as importantly, knows how to get there every time.—Stephen Thompson

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First Listen: Blonde Redhead, 'Barragán'

Listen to Blonde Redhead's Barragán streaming now on WFUV and NPR Music before the album's release on September 2 via Kobalt.

You can't really apply just one catch-all adjective to the New York band Blonde Redhead, which just entered its third decade and will soon release its ninth album, Barragán. When it began, the group fit somewhere in the literal and figurative neighborhood of Sonic Youth, as its free-jazz-inflected noise-rock kept one foot neatly planted in art school. But the last decade or so has seen a marked softening in Blonde Redhead's sound, to the point where the quietest moments on Barragán don't sound like songs so much as vapors infused with tunes.

Within the framework of its gentlest album yet, Blonde Redhead still finds room to sprawl and play, and for all three members — singer Kazu Makino, guitarist Amadeo Pace and his twin brother, drummer Simone — to assert their individuality. Makino remains the band's strongest presence, but Blonde Redhead still lets the spotlight move around: "Mine to Be Had" putters and chugs amiably for more than three minutes before Simone Pace pops up with the song's first verse. It's as if Blonde Redhead wrote a more conventionally catchy pop-rock song and opted to stretch it as far as it would go — in this case, for nearly nine minutes.

Plenty of bands are weirder than Blonde Redhead 21 years into its career, but you'll have a tough time finding one that's subtler about it. As a result, on both Barragán and its 2010 predecessor Penny Sparkle, the band makes music that's both peaceful and endlessly adventurous — a rare combination worth emulating, both in music and in life.—Stephen Thompson

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


First Listen: The Wytches, 'Annabel Dream Reader'

Listen to The Wytches' Annabel Dream Reader streaming via WFUV and NPR Music prior to its release on August 26 on Partisan Records.

For every guitar band that goes down, two laptop acts seem to rise to take its place. What's a six-string fan to do in a MacBook Pro world? Try checking out The Wytches. The British trio internalizes 21st-century angst, letting it fester until it erupts in an outpouring of confused catharsis. You just might need AppleCare after listening to the group's debut album, Annabel Dream Reader.

The Wytches' members lay their whole mise en scene on thick, but in order to sell a performance, sometimes you need to take it all the way, and singer-guitarist Kristian Bell is ready to drive this one straight into the sanitarium. His band borrows from the best to contextualize a sound that's at once heavy, sinister, tuneful and theatrical, piling on the fuzz and reverb until the songs practically foam at the mouth. You'll recognize the dark corners of these songs instantly, but they're handled in a manner that favors bombast.

Seasoned listeners will recognize the sort of riffs on which The Jesus Lizard and The Birthday Party staked their careers, but they're deployed with a little bit of cheek when it's needed, as well as a keen sensibility about when to let the guitar detonate, to the point where you half-expect Bell to don a cardigan and smash his instrument to pieces. His voice snarls and snaps, quavers and hisses and twirls off into hiccuping falsetto. But his signature move seems to be a full-throated howl which, when coupled with the power moves applied by Dan Rumsey's pummeling basswork and Gianni Honey's no-nonsense drumming, really does call to mind no less than Nirvana.

Bell's lyrics don't hold the same poetic abstraction for which Kurt Cobain was known; he's too directly personal, the voice of a heartsick young man rather than a generation. But his focus on the agony of first loves and misunderstandings — the way his "dignity collapses" against a femme fatale in "Wire Frame Mattress" or, for a more blunt example, the entire song "Fragile Male For Sale" — will no doubt speak to a whole graduating class of freshly tortured young people. Bell's lyrical trials find surprisingly sensitive footing in Annabel Dream Reader's pair of ballads, "Weights and Ties" and "Summer Again," both of which waltz along from whisper to anguished scream. In these moments, The Wytches' music provides a reminder that while anyone can generate power and heat, few know how to harness it.—Doug Mosurock

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First Listen: J Mascis, 'Tied To A Star'

Listen to J Mascis' Tied to a Star streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music before its release on August 26 via Sub Pop.

As singer and guitarist for Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis presides over a sound that can be skull-splittingly loud and intense, especially onstage. It feels strange to describe Tied to a Star as a "quiet" record, even by simple comparison, but for the most part Mascis' new solo album feels downright delicate. Though not entirely unplugged, Tied to a Star showcases the soft intricacy of a veteran craftsman who knows when to hang back and decide to pulverize another day.

Mascis has shown this sort of versatility before, but rarely with such straight-ahead beauty in his arsenal. There's always been a gnarled quality to his voice that seems better aligned with his eardrum-obliterating electric side, but on Tied to a Star Mascis nicely nurtures the gentle fragility of his falsetto. With its light, intricate acoustic picking, "Wide Awake" sounds plenty gorgeous before Chan Marshall shows up to make listeners wish that she and Mascis would record an album of duets. (Let's be honest, though: Marshall should record an album of duets with everyone.)

In a messy, epic recording career that's about to enter its fourth decade, Mascis has never shed his capacity to travel in unexpected directions. On the sweet, shaggily swooning Tied to a Star, the jolts tend to come from the music's simple beauty — and from the occasional reminder, as in "Every Morning," that Mascis can still let an epic electric solo rip whenever the mood strikes. — Stephen Thompson

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


First Listen: Cymbals Eat Guitars, 'Lose'

Listen to Cymbals Eat Guitars' Lose streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music before its release on August 19 on Barsuk Records.

As you might expect from a band named after a truism among recording engineers, Cymbals Eat Guitars is hardly slavish in its devotion to a single sound. Since its inception in 2007, the Staten Island group has traipsed and stomped its way through countless puddles, from twinkling laments to ecstatic yawps, channeling a generation's worth of indie-rock touchpoints. If the band has a unifying philosophy, it's that rock music is a negotiable solid, one that should be assembled with great energy and not-inconsiderable exertion.

Lose, Cymbals Eat Guitars' third album, finds the band sticking to its old structural modus operandi — namely, stitching thunderous vamps together into rambling odysseys, then interspersing those numbers among marginally more focused songs — but also mining a rawer corner of the musical landscape. (At times, it recalls the clamor and squall of groups like Titus Andronicus and At The Drive-In.) That edge doesn't displace the pop sensibility that underpinned prior albums, nor the habit of flitting between moods with little warning; see the way the reckless, rootsy "XR" gives way to the spacey freakout "Place Names," which summarily cedes its ground to the keening balladry of "Child Bride." But the exploration has a more deliberate cast.

Lose was inspired by the death of a friend, and while it never feels explicitly elegiac, it's easy to hear Cymbals Eat Guitars' formal restlessness contending with deeper roots; a will to invest in the release of rock music without being so self-consciously agnostic about it. We're a ways off from a linear record, much less a predictable one, but this is a band gaining a stronger sense of how to wield momentum and infuse its songs with sustained drama and emotion. For an outfit that's often seemed a little too arch and noncommittal in its embrace of all available indie-rock approaches, it's not a bad look.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


First Listen: Shabazz Palaces, 'Lese Majesty'

Listen to Shabazz Palaces' Lese Majesty streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music before the album's release on July 29.

Broadcasting live from the land of legal weed and sliding into the frame like a giant Pacific octopus, here comes Lese Majesty, the third album from Seattle's Shabazz Palaces. It's definitely hip-hop, but... was that a drum? Human? Synthesizer? Sample of an old record? We may never know. MC and producer Ishmael Butler keeps his cards close.

As leader of Digable Planets, Butler had an accessible radio hit in 1992's "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," but he hasn't done anything straightforward since. He began his Shabazz Palaces project in 2008, and Lese Majesty is its most relentlessly noncommercial chapter yet. No hits, no singles; just raw, graceful tunes.

"Dawn in Luxor" opens the 45-minute document with a line about "throwing cocktails at the Führer," and the album's title comes from the French phrase for sacrilege against royalty. The sentiment can be interpreted in several ways, with Butler lyrically protecting what's precious to him — blackness, hip-hop, eccentricity — and going hard at oppressors.

"Luxor" morphs into "Forerunner Foray," which captures the buzz of the entire hip-hop era, with prototypical rapping spliced in from 1973 and fluid, controlled jazz singing from Catherine Harris-White. She's Butler's main co-star on the album — not Tendai Maraire and his mbira, like on the last two Shabazz records.

As melodic as much of Lese Majesty is, the words might be the album's most important element. Close listeners will find brilliant inventions ("plushtrous," "unstill") and plenty of quotable passages. From "They Come in Gold," a cool literary reference: "Ish dances with the white whale on the Pequod." From "Harem Aria," after a string of bizarrely simple similes: "I'm not messing with your mind / I don't have that kind of time."

If you're in Seattle before Sept. 5, Butler's crew Black Constellation has an exhibit at the Frye Art Museum called Your Feast Has Ended, with textiles, sculpture, paintings and video work from Nicholas Galanin, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes (Shabazz Palaces' video director and mask maker) and Nep Sidhu (Lese Majesty album designer). There's no better way to hear this album than while walking through the museum wearing headphones.—Andrew Matson

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


First Listen: Alvvays, 'Alvvays'

Listen to the eponymous debut from Alvvays (pronounced "always") streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music before its release on July 22.

Music is at its most potent when it expands, dissolves, changes and challenges borders. Separations of genre, geography, politics — none are a force more powerful than people getting together to make music in a room. That borderlessness is sewn into the fabric of the self-titled debut album by Alvvays, a Toronto band whose beach-pop seems to come straight from the California shore.

The quintet's closest sonic cousins are the dyed-in-the-wool Californians in Best Coast. Bethany Cosentino makes her physical roots more obvious than her Canadian counterparts do — naming her songs, albums and band after her native land — but the sun Cosentino's Californians find "in our teeth and in our hair" clearly found its way north, and coruscates from every surface of Alvvays.

Alvvays' Molly Rankin sings in the same deadpan as Cosentino, but the two part ways when it comes to their subject matter. The lyrics throughout Alvvays are direct; they're mostly sung to people rather than about them, lending immediate access to every story. They're also awkward — which is to say they're about awkwardness in a way that songs, particularly beach songs, rarely are. Millennial social anxiety, it turns out, is a wildcard genius pairing with breezy, effortlessly cool surf-rock, and the combination is irresistible. "Adult Diversion," for example, obsesses over whether a social interaction "is a good time / or is it highly inappropriate." No time for lying around in the sun after catching waves today, man — there are too many future conversations to hash out in great detail ("Archie, Marry Me").

Over-analyzing, easygoing; reverb-infused, direct; nonchalant, plaintive: These aren't unprecedented musical pairings, but Alvvays wields them particularly well, tapping into a widely mined and instantly recognizable genre to create their juxtapositions. Here's to a summer of jangly garage-pop guitars, windows rolled down, and constantly wondering if you've just made a fool of yourself in front of your friends.—Katie Presley

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


First Listen: Slow Club, 'Complete Surrender'

Listen to Slow Club's Complete Surrender streaming this week via WFUV and NPR Music before its release on July 15 on Wichita Recordings.

Sheffield, England — the setting for The Full Monty and part of the British equivalent of the Rust Belt — seems an unlikely spawning ground for the wistful pop of this duo with a deceptively static name. But from the youthful, acoustic-and-harmony-based pop of their early material to the more elaborate arrangements of 2011's Paradise, Slow Club's music has always had an upful sheen that's sometimes belied by melancholy lyrics and melodies.

For Complete Surrender, their third full-length, singers and multi-instrumentalists Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have moved on from their earlier releases, streamlining and refining their songwriting while hauling in a truckload of R&B influences from several different eras. Northern soul has been a strong tradition in the north of England since the 1960s, and here the duo has brought a crate-digger's expertise to their soulful sounds.

There's a heaping spoonful of Motown in "Suffering," some Supremes/Bacharach flourishes on the title track, Philly soul strings in "Not Mine to Love" and a giant Stax Records/Otis Redding influence and a bring-the-house-down vocal from Taylor on ... er ... yes, a song actually called "The Queen's Nose." (The title, which comes from a children's book and 1990s BBC TV series, will be baffling to anyone who isn't a Brit of a certain age; the song's lyrics address heartbreak, music and, apparently, pregnancy but not the book or show, at least not overtly).

While not a retro album, there's definitely a silky '60s groove to much of Complete Surrender.

"We wanted to make a straight record — drums, bass, organ, guitar, maybe strings," Watson says. "The idea behind it was to be a bit more reserved." Indeed, Taylor is a singer of rare subtlety and skill. She doesn't bowl you over with showboating and Aguilera-style pyrotechnics. You just suddenly realize, wow, she's killing it on that chorus.

The duo has already released a pair of videos from the album: the title track, which finds Taylor unexpectedly glammed up and dancing, and the Rocky-themed "Suffering You, Suffering Me," where she's anything but.

The group — which has toured with Mumford and Sons, KT Tunstall and Florence and the Machine, among others — did a quick Stateside run last month but will be back for a full tour in September. Slow Club expands to a quartet (and sometimes more) in a live setting, and while the group's show is dazzling for any number of reasons, the sight of Taylor playing the drums in a cocktail dress while belting out a soulful ballad is particularly not to be missed.—Jem Aswad

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