Victoria Bergsman's songs seem to come from a place somewhere between a dream state and waking life. There's restraint to the way Taken by Trees' players approach this music, almost as if they're trying not to wake the baby in the other room.
Wainwright does the opposite of sugarcoating: She roughs up life's smooth spots, then digs her fingertips into the cracks that form. Watch her perform three songs from her new album, Come Home to Mama, in the NPR Music offices.
For this, the 250th Tiny Desk Concert, the Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service singer performs solo and unadorned, with just an acoustic guitar to back him up. Hear Gibbard perform a new song, a little-heard track from 2011, and "St. Peter's Cathedral" from Death Cab's Codes and Keys.
Lytle's deeply affecting story-songs offer listeners moments of fantastical escape or quiet reflection, while examining the mundane hopes and failed dreams of oddball characters. Watch him perform solo acoustic versions of songs from his latest record, plus one classic Grandaddy tune.
A keyboardist and singer who started out working solo on his laptop, Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos makes Technicolor electro-pop with monster hooks. But his songs are sturdy, versatile things, as this performance indicates.
Like any great blues singer, Cray makes heartache and dysfunction sound engaging and relatable. The three new songs here execute the deftest possible blend of emotional misery and instrumental majesty — just the way the blues ought to be.
One of the loudest performances ever captured in the NPR Music offices, Dirty Three's set alternately seethes and rages in a flurry of high kicks, shambolic rumbling, prolific hairiness and dramatic yelling.
The group plays fiddle, banjo, guitar and washboard, all gathered around a single microphone in an old-style tradition. The result is what Spirit Family Reunion's members call "open-door gospel" — gospel music that's not tied to any particular religious denomination.
It's one thing for 11 musicians to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players.
Hearing Edmonson makes it virtually impossible to do anything but stop and listen. On her latest record, and now at the Tiny Desk, the 29-year-old is no longer simply inspired by days gone by; with her fragile voice, she gives new life to classic sounds.
The New York street performer's songs feel like deep primal screams, each accompanied by a traditional Venezuelan cuatro — a small stringed instrument similar to a ukulele. At the NPR Music offices, Las Vegass weaves magic with her presence, her playing and especially her voice.
Avital has the long, slender fingers of a concert pianist. Yet instead of stretching chords out wide on a Steinway, he squeezes those lengthy digits onto the tiny fretted fingerboard of a mandolin. The instrument today is associated with bluegrass and western swing, but in Avital's hands, the mandolin sings with the sounds of J.S. Bach, Ernest Bloch and contemporary composers.