Whether your desk is tiny or gigantic, chances are you may be spending more time at it than ever this summer. As many of the artists who submitted to National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest can attest, it’s a great time to have a project, and for some, that meant participating in this year’s contest.
The Tiny Desk Concert series started as a passing joke in 2008 between NPR’s All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson. It has since evolved into an avenue for artists of all styles to perform at. In 2014, NPR launched the Tiny Desk Concert as a way to discover relatively unknown, unsigned artists.
This year, artists across the country submitted videos of themselves performing original songs under 10 minutes for their shot at the Grand Prize of performing at NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C. and then a national tour with NPR Music. While the tour may look a little different this year due to COVID-19, the Grand Prize Winner will still be revealed tomorrow, Aug. 4.
It may still be a little soon for a Minnesotan to win again, since Duluth’s Gaelynn Lea won the contest just four years ago – but the Twins pulled off two World Series wins in four years, so anything can happen! 84 submissions to the concert this year came out of Minnesota, and I listened to every single one. All the artists that participated were brave, bold and talented. Here are just a few of this year’s selection, in no particular order.
Druzy Rose, “Lawn Games, Teeth Parade”
With paper planes strewn about their space, a reference to this very song, Druzy Rose’s “Lawn Games, Teeth Parade” performance makes you want to sway and then transition into a light bop.
Psalm One, “Where U Been Hiding?”
Veteran hip hop artist Psalm One speaks to the isolation indie artists often feel being under the radar, as well as the isolation so many of us are going through right now. With a chill flow, she talks about repping as a queer Black female musician and sticking around despite obstacles.
Jeffrey Paul, “You Are Here”
This song features not one but two Jeffrey Pauls: one on the ukelele and the other of the shaker. It’s about “the lifelong quarantine you spend with yourself, and learning to accept that,” says ukelele Paul in the video.
Ozone Baby, “Feel The Pull”
Ozone Baby have got energy and humor as they transition from acoustic sound to hardcore garage rock band, jumping from sound to sound and place to place.
M.T. Foyer, “You Left (Your Desk)”
In a very fun submission for this contest centered on desks, M.T. Foyer sings a ragtime-y ode about his departed lover’s desk contents. With each item he references, a woman magically removes it from the desk’s drawer, only to pack them up as Foyer contemplates what to do with this desk now.
Mrs. Pinky and The Great Fox, “Fall Back”
With a particularly tiny desk sat atop their bass drum, Mrs. Pinky and The Great Fox look like they’re having so much fun jamming out that they’re likewise a joy to watch and hear.
Barbaro’s self-titled tune “Barbaro” has got a great sound and wistful, reassuring storytelling.
Sprig of That, “River Song”
One of a few socially distanced performances in this batch, this soothing and at times hypnotizing instrumental piece features a guitar, a fiddle, and the tablas. It transports you.
Anita Kozan, “Hold Me While I Cry”
This plea on piano, sung by Kozan in a jazzy round voice, is romantic and sad and makes you want to slow-dance with someone at a 1950s sock hop.
Oklahoma, “I Was Starting To Love You”
Perhaps the best part of this homey performance is that, as Oklahoma plays a bittersweet song dedicated to Los Angeles accompanying himself guitar, he chose not to edit out interruptions from his children. It’s a reminder that, in 2020, we’re all working with what we’ve got and sometimes the result is just plain sweet.