Ann Powers

Nearly 40 years into their career, The Flaming Lips remain remarkably ageless and endlessly creative. They return this week with another heady, psychedelic pop record inspired by a surreal art installation by frontman Wayne Coyne. On this week's New Music Friday, we climb inside the band's kaleidoscopic new record, The King's Mouth.

It's been eight years since Ed Sheeran released his 2011, career-launching EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project. Now his No. 6 Collaborations Project has arrived and it's a features-heavy flex that shows the singer can pretty much work with anyone, from the country rock of Chris Stapleton to Eminem, 50 Cent and Skrillex. We give a listen on this week's New Music Friday along with K.R.I.T. IZ HERE, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.'s followup to his 2010 mixtape K.R.I.T.

After giving us a series of baffling ads in the London Tube and the back pages of the Dallas Observer, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke finally released his third solo album, ANIMA, on Thursday — meaning you won't have to listen to "Not The News" on speakerphone anymore. On this week's New Music Friday, we dive into Yorke's vivid dreamscape and its accompanying film, as well as The Black Keys' electrifying Let's Rock (their first record in five years), Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's fresh collab Bandana and more.

Here's a thing you should know before watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese's new Netflix documentary about one of the most notorious rock tours in the genre's history: Bob Dylan is messing with you. Dylan has been messing with people since his first braggadocio days in Greenwich Village, when his made-up tales of wandering the Southwest with a circus helped convince his friends in the folk scene that he was the real proletarian deal.

Our shortlist of the best albums out this week includes a stirring call for social justice from soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, rapper YG's powerful remembrance of Nipsey Hussle and the first new release in six years from lo-fi rock veterans Sebadoh. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers, Sidney Madden and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the most essential albums dropping on May 24.

Featured Albums:

  1. Mavis Staples: We Get By
    Featured Song: "Sometime"

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The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame X suggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60th year.

Billie Eilish is already a veteran pop artist at the age of 17, with a clear vision for her sound and image, even if that sound is sinister and the image a bit demented. (Have you seen her videos?) Her brilliant debut full-length, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is finally out and way more cryptic and complicated than the lead-up singles might have suggested.

Live music is my conduit to self-care. I love it all, from a piano concerto to a folksy singalong; but despite the ringing in my ears that complicates my lifelong pleasure, I like music best when it's a little loud. Live music awakens my senses and shelters me from everyday life's disorganized noise; I needed its clarifying energy more than ever this year. And the best thing about this form of self-care is that it takes place in community with others. It awakens connections, mind, body and soul — and that, I think, is what we need more than ever in 2018.

"I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap," Nicki Minaj spat in her 2014 hit "Feelin' Myself," claiming her space within a rap patriarchy she altered simply by stepping a Manolo-clad toe into it. Beyoncé, her duet partner, expressed her power a different way. "Male or female, it make no difference," she declared. "I stop the world." These verses offer two different ways to think about artistic influence: one unfolds over time within a particular lineage; the other hits in the moment, altering the reality of everyone within earshot.

Some anniversaries are hard to celebrate. How should we greet the arrival of October, a year after the stories broke initiating the reckoning that soon became known as #MeToo? Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published their exposés — on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 of last year, respectively — of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's long career as an alleged serial rapist, a new nationwide discussion has formed about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Often, this ongoing reckoning feels like not a dialogue, but a war.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

It's easy to love, worship and seek to emulate Joni Mitchell – but it's not so easy to pay proper tribute to her. That's why celebrations centered on her music are so fun. They challenge each performer, usually a besotted Joni devotee, to engage her tricky rhythms and find footing in her sometimes octave-jumping melodies; to parse her words — those phrases piercing through the particular into the universal — without slavishly imitating her Canadian cadences.

Prince is everything. Yes, I'm using a meme-ably meaningless phrase to describe the most fascinating artist to reign during my lifetime, but it's nearly factual for the Purple One: the intense reconsideration so many listeners have given his work since his death in April 2016 continues to reveal new facets of his genius and his work's cultural importance.

The world has been reminded of what the phrase "take me to church" really means. The musical offerings at Aretha Franklin's funeral showed the glory of gospel in its many forms, and saw secular performers placing themselves within the context of that fundamental American art form.

The Detroit Free Press issued a stern directive to fans and would-be Instagram influencers gathering this week to commemorate Aretha Franklin in her hometown. "Remember," admonished staffer (and occasional NPR contributor) Rochelle Riley in her Tuesday column, "We will treat this like church." No selfies are allowed with Franklin's gold-plated coffin, as she lay in repose at the Charles H.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

We are heartbroken to report this morning that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has died at the age of 76 years old. Ann Powers is with me now. She's NPR's music critic and correspondent. Good morning, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

The results are in for the first-ever NPR Turning the Tables readers' poll, and they send a strong message to anyone fancying themselves a cultural justice warrior in 2018. It is this: check your intervention.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

"I am lost, I confess, in the age of the social," Lady Gaga intones in her saddest alto in "Angel Down," the anti-violence anthem that concludes her fifth studio album, Joanne, officially released today. It's a strange disclosure from a pop star whose entire career has seemingly played upon the 21st-century practice of inhabiting constructed online identities to escape reality, earn a lover's affections or scam a path toward success. Gaga crashed the Top 40 in 2008 with The Fame, an examination of the risks and limits of democratized glamor written in cool club bangers.

Somewhere in the back of my closet is a torn photograph from a party in Seattle in 1982. Dig if you will the picture: It's me, in a second-hand chiffon dress that (though the photo is black and white) I'm sure is violet. My hair is a two-toned mass of strawberries and cream, my neck's draped in my mom's big costume pearls; a bracelet of pretend diamonds dangles from my wrist. This is an ordinary look for a college girl with a nightlife obsession in 1982. I'm gazing into a mirror; behind me is my friend Pete, holding the camera, laughing his head off.

1990s revivalism may be entering its dwarf-star phase without ever having shed proper light on itself. Last week, the 22-year-old rapper Vince Staples argued that for his generation, hip-hop's official Golden Age matters less than the viral onset of 21st-century stars like Soulja Boy.

One For The Ages

Oct 22, 2015

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released.

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