Mary Halvorson performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 12, 2012. Ryan Smith/NPR hide caption

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Mary Halvorson Quintet

A guitarist with a decidedly non-standard approach to jazz's standard practices, Halvorson balances golden-era hard-bop order and free improvising entropy. At the NPR Music offices, her band strikes comforting tones, but also morphs, rephrases and implodes those ideas.

Night Beds' members perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 6, 2013. Marie McGrory/for NPR hide caption

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Night Beds

We thought Night Beds' Winston Yellen might perform this set solo — all the better to show off his amazing voice, with maybe just his own guitar as backup. But he opted to go all-in with his full touring band, including lap steel and keys. The result is both lighthearted and deeply affecting.

The xx performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 29, 2013. Gabriella Demczuk/NPR hide caption

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The xx

Beneath The xx's tightly controlled image-making lays music that's raw and vulnerable; shy, worried tentativeness is wired into a sound that shimmers powerfully, but remains as fragile and delicate as a soap bubble.

Cantus performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 3, 2012. Ryan Smith/for NPR hide caption

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Cantus

What is it about choral music that hits on such a basic human level? The answer may be found in this performance by Cantus, the male a cappella ensemble from Minnesota, which sings three widely divergent songs from the heart.

Of Montreal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 14, 2012. Christopher Parks/NPR hide caption

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Of Montreal

Frontman Kevin Barnes has been working on quiet material, and decided to try it out in the intimate confines of the NPR Music offices. The result is a rarely heard side of a band for whom theatricality has long been a means of expression rather than an end unto itself.

Black Prairie performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Nov. 9, 2012. Ryan Smith/NPR hide caption

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Black Prairie

With three members of The Decemberists, the band lends a snappy, lilting quality to songs of alienation. Hear Black Prairie perform richly layered versions of songs from last year's A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart.

Lucius Tiny Desk Concert Lauren Rock/NPR hide caption

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Lucius

The charisma and charm Lucius center, transform good pop songwriting into an endearing performance.

Miguel performs a Tiny Desk Concert. Denise DeBelius/NPR hide caption

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Miguel

Miguel turned up in the NPR Music offices early one morning, after playing a show late the night before. Calm and good-natured, he betrayed no hint that he was nervous about stripping his highly produced hits down to their bones.

The Polyphonic Spree performs a Tiny Desk Concert. Lauren Rock/NPR hide caption

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The Polyphonic Spree

The sprawling assortment of singers, horn players, guitarists and percussionists is the largest band we've ever hosted at the Tiny Desk. But Tim DeLaughter and his group say they're used to playing a game of "human Tetris," and had no problem squeezing behind Bob Boilen's desk for this special holiday performance.

Alt-J Tiny Desk Performance NPR 2012 Lauren Rock/NPR hide caption

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Alt-J

The Mercury Prize-winning band plays angular, poetic music that takes unexpected turns, shifting gears when you least expect it. Seeing Alt-J live in the NPR Music offices reveals a few of its mysteries, making a group that can be difficult on first listen a bit easier to digest.