Spirit. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Real Life Rock & Roll Band applies minimalist techniques to rumbling, dueling guitar histrionics on its debut album, Hollerin' the Spirit.

Courtesy of the artist

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

Ain't nothing minimal about minimalism. It's mind-expanding music within a limited frame, its attention to repetition and variation happens to be a sympathetic conductor for rock and pop music hypnosis.

In late 1986, the New York Times took stock of minimalism's place in culture: "Love it or loathe it, Minimalist music, with its patterned repetition, seemingly endless length and stubborn refusal to come to conventional climaxes, is everywhere these days." With over 30 years of perspective, it's wild to read critic John Rockwell's account of just how pissed the classical music establishment still was with the '60s movement that Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Tony Conrad and Pauline Oliveros wrought.

Joke's on them; minimalism not only survived, but thrived in Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love," U2's "With or Without You," King Crimson's "Discipline" and, later on, GAS's Pop and Sleep's Dopesmoker. Hell, even Carly Rae Jepsen nips some Reich-ian eighth-note marimbas for texture, though — and I can't stress this enough again for angry music theory nerds in my mentions — "Party for One" doesn't phase beyond the opening figure (essentially two patterns that start together, but one at a slightly faster tempo).

Real Life Rock & Roll Band contains a multitude of rock and roll bands. Throughout its debut album, Hollerin' the Spirit, the Oakland quartet is a country band summiting Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain (with a heady cover of Terry Allen's "There Oughta Be a Law Against Sunny Southern California"), an Auto-Tuned emo band set to a motorik beat ("Second Throne of the Nation's Millennium") and a group of psychedelic rockers raging on top of an imploding building ("Singing the Freedom of Utopic Space"). The band specifically cites Henry Flynt's Nova'Billy band and Tetuzi Akiyama's minimalist boogie as influences, but I also hear American Football's overlapping emotions/rhythms, Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio and Chris Forsyth's time-elastic rock jams.

The Oakland band applies minimalist techniques to rumbling, dueling guitar histrionics with a reckless, but locked-in energy. Album highlight "EarthBound Phantoms Not Numerous," in particular, collapses the Real Life Rock & Roll Band ethos in fantastically wild fashion, Auto-Tunneling out of cinematic skree with counterpoint melody and barreling straight into a phasing hoedown.

In that same New York Times piece, John Rockwell argues "what the best Minimalist art evokes is a sort of quasi-mediative state in which the mind is fully concentrated in a way that transcends rational deduction. It is this state, psychologists tell us, that any intensely creative or perceptive experience takes place; it is, perhaps, what makes life worth living."

Hollerin' the Spirit not only expands the mind with a euphoric gallop down rock and roll's continuum, but howls the soul ecstatic.

What does minimalism have to do with this week's picks? Absolutely nothing. (Note: Some of these tracks can only be found on Bandcamp.)

El Wali, "The People of El Aaiún"

Originally and anonymously first appearing on the 2012 compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol. 2, El Wali now gets a name and proper reissue of its 1994 album Tiris. This is Sahrawi folk music at its most ecstatic and political, with fierce call-and-response vocals, sinuous electric guitar, programmed drum beats and synths cutting up the melody. Absolutely righteous liberation music.

Patrick Cowley, "Right Here, Right Now"

Have the synthwave kids on Bandcamp caught onto all of these glorious Patrick Cowley reissues, yet? His sought-after techniques in the '70s turned synths into futuristic motorcycles. Mechanical Fantasy Box collects 13 previously unreleased songs from 1973-1980, including this funky synth ripper.

Bambara, "Serafina"

A few albums in, Bambara's slicked-back post-punk still flashes its fangs, but Stray's first single hangs in the air with ominous weight, a smoky surf-rock ride into the abyss.

Kelso, "Sorry I Told You to Go to Hell"

A member of Los Campesinos called this solo project led by Camp Cope bassist Kelly-Dawn "Kelso" Hellmrich an "emo Astral Weeks" and, welp, that's sure to get my attention. Strummy acoustic guitar, breathy saxophone and muffled cymbal crashes all swim in loose jam sesh of self-pity.

Gimu, "when a chance's bound to come"

A devastating, deep drone that captures the lingering fog of grief, as hypnotic synth-muck and crackling tape hiss slip between sorrowful states of consciousness.

Wishfield, "Three Seconds (Radio On)"

Everything about this Minnesota black metal band gives me vertigo. Fretless guitar and fretless bass slide around frenetic riffs like wobbly legs on wet mud, with bizarro-world dips into grunge-y alt-rock and emo, like Alice in Chains and Sunny Day Real Estate demos recorded onto a burner flip phone. Baffling, yet oddly compelling.

Man Jumping, "In the Jungle"

Speaking of minimalism in pop music, here's an adventurous '80s band that took lessons from Steve Reich and James Blood Ulmer and applied them to funk and dance music with exhilarating results. Another dazzling discovery from Emotional Rescue, a reissue label that regularly turns me onto unknown corners of revelatory music.

All Songs Considered

Jun 08, 2021

Roséwave: Back 2 Basic

Enlarge this image It's not a genre; it's a lifestyle. Kara Frame/NPR hide captiontoggle caption Kara
Dec 29, 2020

Roséwave: Lost Summer

Enlarge this image We danced in kitchens, took long drives, caught up in backyards or on video chat, watched weddings from our
Jun 29, 2020

Heat Check: Underrated And Elevating

Enlarge this image cupcakKe switches her flow up so many times that "Discounts" is a raunchy and hilarious three-minute shopper bargain.
Jun 22, 2020

Heat Check: Can't Get It For Free

Enlarge this image Miami duo City Girls returns with their second full-length album, City on Lock. Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images hide…
Jun 15, 2020

Heat Check: Bigger Picture

Enlarge this image Lil Baby's "The Bigger Picture" is a conscious trap anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Matthew Geovany
Jun 08, 2020

Meet The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest Community

YouTube Each year, we receive thousands of entries to the Tiny Desk Contest, and the Contest team watches every single one. We get to hear songs from…
May 31, 2020

Heat Check: 'Black Joy Is Radical'

Enlarge this image Nubya Garcia's latest single "Pace" is all about diving into the many layers of joy. Adama Jalloh/Courtesy of
May 25, 2020

Heat Check: Got A Big Ego

Enlarge this image Amaarae cuts it up better than a moon-walking Samurai on "Body Count." Philip Boakye/Courtesy of the artist hide
May 03, 2020

Heat Check: Hippocampus Two-Steps

Enlarge this image Dreya Mac spits bars at a level far beyond a novice on her debut track "Skippin." Clara Setian/Courtesy
Apr 26, 2020

Heat Check: Shake Your Senses

Enlarge this image Rooted in languid rhythm, Octavian's "Poison" featuring Santi with OBONGJAYAR sounds like nothing else out. Crowns & Owls/Courtesy…
Apr 19, 2020

Heat Check: Double My W's

Enlarge this image Kenny Mason unveils his debut project Angelic Hoodrat with a cool-under-pressure, low-lid resolve. Nasser Boulaich/Courtesy of the…
Apr 12, 2020

Heat Check: Money In My Hand

Enlarge this image Don't play with Kari Faux. Play with your kids. Quil Lemons /Courtesy of the artist hide captiontoggle caption Quil
Apr 05, 2020

Heat Check: I Feel Void

Enlarge this image Empress Of's "Void" feels like a euphoric cross-genre culture clash, a dance party in a summer storm. Dorian Lopez/Courtesy
Mar 29, 2020

Heat Check: Teleport And Transform

Enlarge this image Bongeziwe Mabandla's "masiziyekelele" sends you racing through the streets of Johannesburg. Justice Mukheli/Courtesy of the artist…
Mar 22, 2020

Heat Check: Make It Make Sense

Enlarge this image Alex Isley's "Gone" perfects the art of subtle, fear-inducing seduction. Lauren Desberg /Courtesy of the artist hide captiontoggle…
Mar 08, 2020

Heat Check: Homecoming

Enlarge this image The laboriously-delayed Eternal Atake finally delivered big time for Lil Uzi Vert fans. Erika Goldring/FilmMagic/Getty Images hide…
Feb 23, 2020

Heat Check: Caught Up And Curious

Enlarge this image Linda Diaz's "Magic" swirls in the watercolor pools of a quirky, young love. Jonah Zorn Koplin/Courtesy of the artist
Feb 17, 2020

Heat Check: Répéter, Répéter

Enlarge this image Arlo Parks' "Eugene" spins a stinging reminder of getting left for convention. Charlie Cummings/Courtesy of the artist hide…
Feb 09, 2020

Heat Check: Going All Out

Enlarge this image Victoria Monét melds fantasy with reality for her latest, "Moment." Dana Trippe/Courtesy of the artist hide captiontoggle caption…
Feb 03, 2020

The Tiny Desk Contest Is Back For 2020

YouTube In the past year, we've had some pretty big names come perform at the Tiny Desk: Lizzo, Jimmy Eat World and Taylor Swift, to name a few.
Default Image
Dec 17, 2019

Bob Boilen's Top 20 Albums For 2019

Big Thief released two of Bob Boilen's favorite albums in 2019: U.F.O.F. and Two Hands. Michael Buishas hide captiontoggle caption Michael Buishas
Dec 16, 2019

Heat Check: Favorite Discoveries Of 2019

Enlarge this image Kirby, Odunsi (The Engine) and Hope Tala Courtney Loo & David Karp/Folarin Omolayole/Freddie Stisted/Courtesy of the artists hide…
Dec 01, 2019

Heat Check: Ode To The Cap

Enlarge this image Kilo Kish's glitchy, pithy "SPARK" sets fire to procrastination, pushing you to keep creating. Kish Robinson/Courtesy of the artist
Nov 17, 2019

Poll: Your Favorite Songs Of The 2010s

Oivind Hovland/Getty Images/Ikon Images What are your favorite songs of the past decade? These are tracks released between 2010 and 2019. We know
Nov 17, 2019

Heat Check: Charge The Haters Interest

Enlarge this image Denzel Curry's Super Saiyan energy offsets Glass Animals' eerie, horn-submerged production on "Tokyo Drifting." Elliot Arndt…
Nov 10, 2019

Heat Check: Lived-In R&B, Rap And Ragga

Enlarge this image With rich, cascading runs, Ayoni's "September" is a stand-out on this week's Heat Check. Caleb Griffin/Courtesy of the artist
Nov 10, 2019

Heat Check: Lived-In R&B, Rap And Ragga

Enlarge this image With rich, cascading runs, Ayoni's "September" is a stand-out on this week's Heat Check. Caleb Griffin/Courtesy of the artist
Oct 20, 2019

Heat Check: Getting Lost, Giving In

Enlarge this image TeaMarrr's mesmerizing new single "Kinda Love" is the type of daydream to put into action. Tyren Redd/Courtesy of the
Oct 06, 2019

Heat Check: Songs That Let It All Out

Enlarge this image The Pendletons provide a jazzy, dancing-in-your-living-room soundtrack to self-care. Ivan Noble/Courtesy of the artist hide…
Sep 29, 2019

Heat Check: Euphoric Shuffle Play

Enlarge this image Daniela Andrade's "Ayayai" (single artwork pictured here) shows off the artist's linguistic versatility. Yi-Shuan Lee/Courtesy of…
Sep 15, 2019

Heat Check: Future Nostalgia

Enlarge this image KIRBY's "Kool Aid" injects just the right doses of doo-wop and soul. Courtney Loo & David Karp/Courtesy of the
Sep 02, 2019

Heat Check: Friends Of Friends Of Friends

Enlarge this image Sudan Archives' "Confessions" is included in this week's Heat Check. Alex Black/Courtesy of the artist hide captiontoggle caption…

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.