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.

I can't think of another album that sounds quite like The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea. Not in title, not in sound. Oh, there are familiar song structures and vocal harmonies. But hearing this record brought me back to the night I learned of the accident: a crashed van, strewn and broken gear, and how lucky they were to all be alive. That's when it all clicked.

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.

Has anyone ever watched the Grammy's and concluded that the Recording Academy really nailed it? (No one has ever concluded they nailed it). So we begin this episode of All Songs Considered with a simple question: Why keep watching?! It's like being addicted to disappointment and outrage.

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.

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