Five Albums You Should Be Listening To Right Now: Stephen Thompson of NPR Music

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This week’s curator: Stephen Thompson of NPR Music

Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson. 

Through some cosmic injustice, millions of people have horrible jobs, while mine features countless hours of sitting at a desk and listening to music. Every now and then, while others trudge to slaughterhouses and mines, I look up from my computer to see that a band is setting up to perform at the desk across from mine, as part of NPR Music‘s glorious Tiny Desk Concerts series. I do not deserve the life the fates have doled out to me, so I expect to receive only an icy blast of resentment in response to my selection of these five magnificent records. 

Jonsi, Go

For a band that sings in a made-up language and releases music videos in which children frolic in gas masks, Sigur Ros isn’t known for its whimsy. But that group’s glacial artiness is shed entirely on this wonderful side project led by singer Jon Thor Birgisson. Like a series of elfin motivational speeches, the big-hearted songs on Go burst with can-do spirit; Birgisson is all action and energy, whether he’s celebrating makeout sessions (in "Animal Arithmetic") or urging everyone to "surrender to summer" (in "Go Do"). 


Horse Feathers, Thistled Spring

Mocking the bearded is a time-honored pastime at NPR Music; every time I sing the praises of some soft-voiced crooner — using phrases like "sublime, string-swept majesty" — my coworkers savage me openly for being a hanky-wringing sensitivo pansy. But come on. This Horse Feathers record is all sublime, string-swept majesty, and singer Justin Ringle is one of the most agreeably soft-voiced crooners that ever crooned softly. More to the point, this exquisite record is a proven headache remedy, and you’ve got to love and appreciate any substance, narcotic or otherwise, that makes a headache go away. 


Brooklyn Rider, Dominant Curve

Back in March, we at NPR Music were charged with the task of curating a daylong lineup of bands we could webcast, broadcast, present to a live South by Southwest audience, and otherwise give our stamp of approval. We settled pretty quickly on acts like Local Natives, Sleigh Bells, and the Alabama hip-hop duo G-Side, but we needed more of a curveball. So we flew in an amazing string quartet called Brooklyn Rider and gave the group the unenviable task of warming up a chatty gaggle of music-industry professionals and indie-rock-loving young people. Watching that crowd stand silently in awe when it wasn’t roaring appreciatively between songs was truly inspirational, but it also made sense: Great music, after all, is great music. 


Hey Marseilles, To Travels & Trunks

This one’s a bit of a cheat: the Seattle band Hey Marseilles self-released To Travels & Trunks early last year, but the album won’t come out nationwide until late June. So it’s both too old and too new to qualify for listening "right now," but that shouldn’t stop you from marking your calendar — and, as an added bonus, you can still snag its best song for free on iTunes, thanks to the good people who pick the KEXP Song of the Day podcast. That’s where I first heard "Rio" more than a year ago, and the song has been inexorably worming its way into my brain and heart ever since. Buoyed by an irresistible mix of hand-claps, accordions and strings, not to mention a wonderfully hummable chorus, it’s one of the best songs of this year and last year. 


Wye Oak, My Neighbor/My Creator EP

I joked in a recent All Songs Considered podcast that I’ve been trying to figure out which of my children to love less, in order to make room in my heart for Wye Oak. Someday, when they grow to love the band as much as I do, the kids will understand. Singer-guitarist Jenn Wasner and multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack — who plays drums and keyboards simultaneously, and brilliantly, in Wye Oak’s live shows — make music that billows and broods with equal parts menace and grace. The Knot was one of my favorite albums of 2009, and Wye Oak has already followed it with a dynamite EP that’s no mere odds-and-ends assortment. The fact that its prettiest song is called "I Hope You Die" is a nice way to sum up Wye Oak’s ability to stroke you behind the ears and pummel your guts at the exact same time. 


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