Duluth native Alan Sparhawk has proven that volume doesn't have a limit. His assembled team under the guise of Retribution Gospel Choir provides a striking stylistic departure from the songs he has helped compose as a member of Low. Driving guitars wash over slow-churning rock anthems - it's the perfect way to decompress after a long day.
Chastity Brown has been absent from Minnesota for a little while, but there's a good reason for it. Knoxville born and raised and a Minneapolis transplant, the inspiration for her latest album "Back-Road Highways" largely came with her roots. Tennessee and the South in general have helped shape Brown's newest sound, one which pushes her into new territory, both lyrically and instrumentally.
At SXSW, Springsteen gave a keynote address that traced the music most important to his career. The man many view as rock's ideal took the microphone for nearly an hour to stump for his love of all flavors of pop music. Listen to the entire speech.
A staple of "Bands To Watch" lists far and wide, Alabama Shakes sure didn't shrink under the open Texas skies during NPR Music's 2012 SXSW showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday night. Armed with a bright new batch of songs from the forthcoming "Boys & Girls" -- not to mention booming, shout-along standbys like "Hold On" -- lead singer Brittany Howard seemed to feed off a crowd 2,000 strong and packed to the exits.
Few high-profile musicians could disappear into the SXSW crowd as seamlessly as Dan Deacon, who doesn't exactly cut a lithe, otherworldly, Mick Jagger-esque figure offstage. But everything about his set at Stubb's on Wednesday night was a raving, raging bundle of surprises: Deacon puts on some of the most rivetingly unpredictable, oddly interactive concerts in the business, whether he's teaching the crowd how to move in choreographed unison -- witness the dance contest that precedes "Konono Ripoff No. 1" -- or issuing a long spoken riff that somehow invokes both "Avatar" and the mom from the movie "Big."
At NPR Music's showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday night, Sharon Van Etten flexed her songs' newfound muscle without obscuring the beating heart and raw nerves that lie beneath. The wounded acoustic material of her first album has given way to "Serpents" (from this year's mesmerizing Tramp), the bracing and caustic rocker with which she closed her performance. With its rigid, driving beat behind her vocals, the song fully captured many of Van Etten's newfound identities: frontwoman, bandleader, stealth rock star.
Andrew Bird's new 12th album, "Break It Yourself," is a brooding grower, not to mention a headphone record of the highest order. On the live stage, though, it's clear that Bird has become a cult superstar of the variety that attracts actual, real, live screaming fans. His music can be subtle and sweet, but Bird's concerts also bring out the fervent, electric energy of his following -- which, of course, helps coax out a showmanship that's not readily apparent in "Break It Yourself's" gentle, multilayered ballads.
Lizzy Grant's Lana Del Rey persona may be new to the broader world, but she's been singing for years and even released an album prior to 2012's already controversial "Born To Die." With her quick rise-to-fame came stringent criticism, throngs of battling publications looking for their next angle, and a warring music community.