Highlights From 'Song Of The Day' NPR Music's Song of the Day features a new track every weekday, with analysis of the music, links to each artist's Web site and, of course, a chance to hear the song itself. Here, Song of the Day editor Stephen Thompson talks about recent selections by Hiromi, Frightened Rabbit, Sharon Van Etten and more.
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Highlights From 'Song Of The Day'

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Highlights From 'Song Of The Day'

Highlights From 'Song Of The Day'

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(Soundbite of "Swim Until You Can't See Land")

GUY RAZ, host:

You're listening to a new song by a Scottish band called Frightened Rabbit. The folks at NPR Music picked this one for its Song of the Day feature this past week. You can see those picks at nprmusic.org, by the way. And every now and then, the curator of the Song of the Day, Stephen Thompson, stops by to share some of that new music.

Stephen, good to have you back.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: It's always great to be here.

RAZ: So this track we're hearing, it's called "Swim Until You Can't See Land" by the band Frightened Rabbit, who are they?

THOMPSON: Well, they're part of a group of Scottish bands, The Twilight Sad and a group called We Were Promised Jetpacks, and a group called Glasvegas, and all of these bands, what they all have in common is this sort of obviously very Scottish surliness.

There's this sort of to hell with the whole lot of you, you know, that kind of comes out of these bands' music. And this particular record that's coming out later this month is called "The Winter of Mixed Drinks," and the whole album is very much about sort of the pursuit of solitude.

RAZ: If they're looking for solitude, they can certainly find it in Scotland.

(Soundbite of song, "Swim Until You Can't See Land")

FRIGHTENED RABBIT (Music Group): (Singing) And if I hadn't come down to the coast to disappear, I may have died in a land-slide of the rocks, the hopes and fears. So swim until you can't see land. Swim...

RAZ: That song's called "Swim Until You Can't See Land," and it's by the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit. So Stephen, who's up next?

THOMPSON: Okay, next, I have a band called The Heligoats with a song called "Fish Sticks."

(Soundbite of song, "Fish Sticks")

THE HELIGOATS (Music Group): (Singing) Well, I'm sorry I said anything. You sang a song and then learned to sing and said that you missed the song you sang before you learn anything. In the fish bowl on the beach...

RAZ: So I'm going to take some of the magic away from this conversation, Stephen, but I did listen to all of these songs before you came into the studio, and I'm looking at my notes here, and I've written, you know, basic, boilerplate indie rock.

THOMPSON: This was one of my choices (unintelligible) cutting me to the quick.

RAZ: I want you to explain why I'm totally wrong.

THOMPSON: You are totally wrong.

RAZ: Okay.

THOMPSON: The singer of The Heligoats is a guy named Chris Otepka. He used to be in a band called Troubled Hubble, who put out a bunch of amazing records. And basically, what I love about this guy as a songwriter is that all of his songs are sort of overstuffed with ideas, and so the longer you spend sort of unpacking his songs, the more you get out of them, and this particular song, which you hear a strumming acoustic guitar, you hear a song that's kind of barreling along insistently, but as you analyze it, you sort of pick apart the fact that it's about a guy who is moved to a biosphere. And as he's living in the biosphere, he's realizing that he's just as alienated from the world that he's created for himself as he was from the world he's trying to escape. See, escape is a recurring theme (unintelligible).

RAZ: So maybe I've got to give it another listen.

THOMPSON: You should give it multiple other listens. Amazing band called The Heligoats.

(Soundbite of song, "Fish Sticks")

THE HELIGOATS: (Singing) To me, every inch of the rain is a 50-foot (unintelligible). And once he was (unintelligible) there's no way out of there. So let's just turn back into amphibian. Let's just turn to our...

RAZ: You know what, Stephen? I think I'm turning a corner here. The band is The Heligoats, and the song is called "Fish Sticks."

All right, let's move on to a slower song now. This is by an artist that you brought in. Her name is Sharon Van Etten, and the song is called "Much More Than That."

(Soundbite of song, "Much More Than That")

Ms.�SHARON VAN ETTEN (Singer): (Singing) Please don't take me lightly. I mean every word. Whichever way you'd like to place them.

RAZ: I don't think anybody would hear this without saying this is beautiful, this delicate voice. Who is she?

THOMPSON: Okay, she's a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, and I actually kind of like the contrast between this and The Heligoats before, because The Heligoats are spraying you with this fire hose of big ideas, and this is taking these incredibly tiny and seemingly insignificant moments and using them as a way to express huge emotions, and I just love the way it does that. And I love the way she, in the choruses, will layer on sort of layer upon layer of these ghostly kind of ethereal oohs. You know, it's so beautiful, and it gets prettier and prettier as it goes along.

(Soundbite of song, "Much More than That")

Ms.�VAN ETTEN: (Singing) Ooh, and I don't think I need much more than that.

RAZ: Once again, that song is called "Much More than That." It's by the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten. I'm talking with Stephen Thompson from nprmusic.org. And Stephen, let's hit the next one.

(Soundbite of song, "Colon Colon")

RAZ: Now, the Song of the Day feature on the Web site is usually a spotlight for new music.

THOMPSON: Correct.

RAZ: This is not a new song. This is something that was recorded back in 1971 by a Panamanian singer named Lord Cobra. I love this track. Where did you find this?

THOMPSON: Well, it is on a brand-new complication called I'll try to give you the whole title. It's "Panama!", with an exclamation point, "3 - Calypso Panameno, Guajira Jazz & Cumbia Tipica On The Isthmus 1960-75."

RAZ: Oh, that's a good title.

THOMPSON: Probably mangled some of that, but it's a wonderful collection of sort of lost Panamanian calypso cumbia jazz. And this particular song is just this wonderful tribute to Lord Cobra's hometown of Colon. And so you listen to it as it goes along, it's if you really want to have some fun, just come to Colon.

But it's got this wonderful, breezy, calypso vibe. It's very sly and understated. I love it.

RAZ: Is he still alive, do you know?

THOMPSON: No, he died in 2000.

(Soundbite of song, "Colon Colon")

LORD COBRA (Singer): (Singing) (Singing foreign language).

RAZ: I'm going to buy this record, Steve.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it's a terrific compilation, wonderful archival recordings. There's lost recordings unearthed for the first time.

RAZ: The song is called "Colon Colon" by the Panamanian singer Lord Cobra. And Stephen, we have time for just one more track, and this is this one just blew me away. It's by a Japanese pianist named Hiromi.

(Soundbite of song, "Pachelbel's Canon")

RAZ: And of course, it's her version of "Pachelbel's Canon." What's the story behind this song?

THOMPSON: Well, Hiromi is a 30-year-old pianist, and she's obviously taking a very, very, very familiar song, and sort of as you hear, she's sort of twisting it. Right now, what she's doing is she's playing treated strings. She's taken a metal ruler to the strings of the piano as she's playing it. So you already hear this kind of weird, robotic, metallic, almost a squeak to each note. And as the song progresses, she's sort of using the initial melody as kind of a jumping-off point to make "Pachelbel's Canon" kind of swing almost.

(Soundbite of song, "Pachelbel's Canon")

THOMPSON: And it's a really neat effect because obviously, we've all heard this song about a trillion times. But hearing it in a different way is just very refreshing.

RAZ: That's Japanese pianist Hiromi and her recording of "Pachelbel's Canon." It appeared on NPR's Song of the Day feature at our Web site, nprmusic.org. Stephen Thompson's the curator of Song of the Day.

Stephen, thanks for walking us through some of these tunes.

THOMPSON: Thanks so much for having me.

(Soundbite of song, "Pachelbel's Canon")

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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