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Tiny Desk Contest: Entries Public Radio Loves

Clockwise from top left: Audible; Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers; Joy Ike; St. Paul de Vence
Clockwise from top left: Audible; Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers; Joy Ike; St. Paul de Vence

Earlier this month, NPR Music was thrilled to announce Naia Izumi as the winner of the 2018 Tiny Desk Contest. His virtuosic playing and soulful songwriting impressed the panel of judges and has since won him fans around the country.

But the Contest isn't just about one winner, it's about listening to musicians all over the country in order to discover new songs we can fall in love with. So many talented artists entered the Contest this year, from every single state in the country, so to celebrate those musical communities we asked some of our Member Stations to share their thoughts on the Tiny Desk Contest entries that caught their attention this year.

St. Paul de Vence, "Your Goodbye"

The sound of plucking guitars and the quiet muffle of a saxophone sets the mood for "Your Goodbye," a mellow Americana song. As the video starts, the camera draws the viewer in before revealing that the four-piece band is sharing a single piano bench.

The sound, look and feel of the video is intimate — something that characterizes Seattle band St. Paul de Vence. "We really operate like family," says bandleader Ben Doerr. "I like to say we are the best band on the road. I'm not talking about our skills or our performances. We have the most fun. There's never conflict."

Doer is a sailboat charter captain by summer and a songwriter in Seattle's winters. "It's always gray and sad, so I kind of write sadder songs, but there are little themes of hope and inspiration in there," Doer says. -- Emily Fox, KUOW

Audible, "Up, Up and Away"

With a dark room, a single spotlight and a song that sways and slays, neo-soul hip-hop band Audible make this massive Contest with thousands of submissions feel like an intimate experience. Emcee HoTT is the central visual focus of the shot, looking into and through the camera. His staggered-then-flowing words form the centerpiece of the song "Up, Up, and Away." This is unmistakably Colorado hip-hop: With references to nature including "sprouting farm fresh produce" and "growing leaves," it's easy to imagine this song materializing at the base of Pikes Peak in the band's hometown of Colorado Springs. — Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir

Hobo Johnson and The LoveMakers, "Peach Scone"

Within just a few days of sharing his entry, Hobo Johnson seemed to grasp the attention of everyone I know. At one point, it was as if every time I logged onto social media, someone else had reposted the video.

The entry — which has, as of now, hit over 5.6 million views on YouTube — is a taste of the poetic spoken-word-meets-hip-hop style he's made into his own, and shows off his knack for relatable story-telling skills. The first time you watch or listen, you might just be as confused as I was — but don't be surprised if the next day, you're replaying his album for the 15th time in a row. — Alexis Palmer, Mountain Stage

Kimball Lamb, "Dumb"

Ignorance has never sounded more satisfying.

The celestial sound of Kimball Lamb's Tiny Desk Contest entry, "Dumb," comes coupled with lyrics that face emotional dishonesty head-on. Much like the echoing clap that opens the track, this thing really resonates, drawing you into a progressive tantalization and ultimately providing two distinctly enjoyable experiences because of it.

If you're like me, your first few turns with "Dumb" will glean a passive ride, one reminiscent of tearful slow-motion montages in sci-fi thrillers. But it only gets better from there: You'll catch yourself actively listening to Kimball Lamb's accusations of fraudulent love and professional stagnation. You almost get tricked into exploring your own black hole of a heart as you really lean in to engage with Lamb's prevailing strums and lyrical vulnerability.

By the time you realize you're captivated, it's too late to escape the replay button. — Melissa Pisarski, WUWF

Lisa Gain, "Wake Up Violet"

Over two dozen bands from the Columbus, Ohio area entered the Tiny Desk Contest. So when WOSU asked our listeners to choose their favorite local artist, we had no idea what the result would be. But listeners overwhelmingly chose singer-songwriter Lisa Gain, who has been playing in Central Ohio coffee shops for some 22 years.

When we invited Gain into the studio, she told us that the song she played in her entry video, "Wake Up Violet," was inspired by the #MeToo movement. The song's story follows an aspiring screenwriter who moves to Hollywood from Ohio, but falls victim to a predatory, Harvey Weinstein-esque figure. She says she finished the song just three days before entering the Contest but found it incredibly meaningful, saying she told herself "just for this song alone, I should do it." -- Gabe Rosenberg, WOSU

Racoma, "Howl"

Wait for the vocals to build in this song. Singer Glenn Haider starts to get playful about a minute and a half into the video for "Howl," right before he belts the chorus: "You and I, we alright / We don't have time for excuses / We don't have time for them now."

Haider wrote this song for his wife when he was trying to convince her to make the move with him from New Jersey to Seattle. (He was successful.) Racoma is named after a beach on Vashon Island near Seattle, the same spot where the band acquired a gutted-out trailer and first started rehearsing after Haider arrived. – Emily Fox, KUOW

Joy Ike, "Ever Stay"

In her Tiny Desk Contest entry, Philadelphia-based artist Joy Ike presents a song that will make you tap your toes. But listen closely to the lyrics and you'll understand that "Ever Stay" presents a deeper perspective, too. It's easy to hear Ike's fervor laced throughout every note and lyric; she's a fresh breath of air and a voice you'll want to listen to while the sun shines through your open car windows. In the video's YouTube description, Ike says the song "is for the person who needs to be reminded that they are not alone." A message we all need, sometimes. -- Alexis Palmer, Mountain Stage

Dope Francis, "With The Beanie On"

As Dope Francis' "With the Beanie On" begins, vocalist Dylan Joyce personifies the paradoxical energetic chill delivered in the song, with one hand around the mic and the other in his pocket. Alongside Joyce's captivating voice, you can hear the remaining members of Dope Francis caressing their respective instruments with a tender force that they build and deconstruct admirably throughout the track.

They don't say much, and yet they say it all in this vague-yet-emotional Sunday afternoon anthem to good times gone by. — Melissa Pisarski, WUWF

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Melissa Pisarski
Gabe Rosenberg
Emily is a reporter and producer for Stateside and fill-in host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Alexis Palmer