They're simply my favorite band of the decade, so I'm thrilled that alt-J will be premiering a good chunk of its new album live for you to see and hear on September 2. That album, This Is All Yours, is another eclectic mix of English folk and art rock, with disturbing and intoxicating lyrics, rhythms and melodies that shift, fall apart and explode. It's been looping endlessly in my head since I first heard it.
This second set of songs from the Leeds, England group (now a trio) is every bit as quirky and mysterious the one we heard on its 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave, which was my favorite album of 2012. This Is All Yours will be out Sept. 22, but three weeks before the release the band will play these songs at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City. I'll be co-hosting the event along with WFUV's Russ Borris. Audio and video of the entire show will be broadcast live on at NPR Music, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on Sept. 2 (and on WFUV as well).
For those who will be in New York on Sept. 2, there are a limited number of free tickets to the show. If you'd like to attend, make sure to follow @nprmusic on Twitter and keep your eyes peeled for updates.
Please note that the event is 18+ with ID. RSVP does not guarantee admission. And of course, if you can't make it to LPR in person or watch the live webcast, the show will be archived in our Live In Concert series.
Music is about connection. Sometimes that connection is a feeling, a theory or a technique, but mostly music connects time and provides a record of how we choose to interact with it.
There's a deep distillation of Nathan Bowles' musical past and present on his second solo album, Nansemond: from the old-time Black Twig Pickers to the abstract drone of Spiral Joy Band to the band that sort of splits the difference, Pelt. But Bowles also carves out his own corner of this clawhammer-banjo-based music and takes a portal through time while keeping one foot in the ether. Take a listen to "Chuckatuck," named for the Virginia creek he grew up on, and featuring Charalambides' Tom Carter on guitar.
Built on a hypnotic banjo melody that drones more like a sitar than something out of Appalachia, "Chuckatuck" sounds like something recorded in a bunker and long since forgotten. There are muffled shuffles throughout, as if a woodland creature overhead had become irresistibly drawn to the percussive plucks and Carter's acoustic arpeggios. For the coda, Carter switches to the electric guitar for a regal solo that belongs more to the wandering English countryside (think Richard Thompson, then put some burn on it) than to the tidewater.
Nansemond comes out Nov. 18 on Paradise of Bachelors.
The northern Iraqi village of Al-Qoush was humming with activity — and some jitters — when NPR visited back in June. The Assyrian Christian villagers had opened their schools and homes to Iraqis fleeing the takeover of nearby city Mosul by Islamist fighters calling themselves the Islamic State.
But these days most of Al-Qoush is as silent as the 6th-century monastery overlooking the village from a hill. A few Kurdish security men guard the entrance to the village, primarily concerned with keeping potential looters away from the tidy stone and cement homes.
The villagers fled an masse in early August, when Islamist fighters made a move in al-Qoush's direction. Now, as Kurdish forces begin to retake territory around Mosul, including the strategic Mosul dam, some families have begun to trickle back to al-Qoush. Most stay only during daylight hours, however, afraid to stay overnight with Islamic State forces a mere 20 miles away.
Leaving Everything Behind, Yet Again
Raed Salman, 45, is one of the few who's here full-time, at least for now. The truck driver's recent history is sadly familiar to many Iraqis.
"This is the second time I'm displaced. We're originally from Baghdad," he says. "We fled Baghdad, my father and brother were kidnapped. We paid a huge ransom but they shot and badly wounded my brother. Now we're displaced for a second time."
Salman gestures to his large, well-appointed home. He says it took years of high-risk travel on Iraq's deadly highways to save enough money to finish it. But he's resigned to leaving it all behind, once again, because his family's safety comes first.
"Believe me, there is nowhere in Iraq that is safe for us," he says. "We have Shi'ite friends in the city of Kut. They say, 'Come live with us, we'll keep you safe.' They're good friends, but what about the future? They could be the next ones displaced."
Salman doesn't know where they'll go. Their passports are expired and he doesn't think there's much chance of renewing them now.
New Pressure On A Dwindling Population
A deep current of fear is once again running through Iraq's Christian minority, which has roots in the earliest days of the faith. Precise counts are impossible to come by, but Christians are believed to have numbered about 1.5 million when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003. Current estimates range from 200,000 to 400,000.
While the Christian exodus from Iraq is extreme and driven by the country's bloodshed, it's a trend that's been underway for decades throughout the Middle East. In the mid-20th century, Christians were estimated to be about 20 percent of the Middle East's population. Today, it's 5 percent at most.
In June, NPR spoke with Rinam Mansour, 30, a teacher who was volunteering to help displaced people from Mosul. Now he sits on his couch, pondering his own future.
"I was on the church's commission to help displaced people," he says. "They were Shiites, Christians and others. We opened our doors and gave them what we could. And now, we ourselves are the displaced."
In numerous interviews with displaced Yazidis, another religious minority in Iraq, many said they envied the Christians because at least they had a church establishment to stand up for them. Mansour laughs bitterly when he hears this.
"The church protect us? The church people were the first ones to leave," he says. "Maybe al-Qoush used to be a strong Christian village, but now most people want to leave Iraq. I think only those families with no money, no passports, no friends to help them relocate, will stay."
Mansour's sister Lillian has already tried relocating. The United Nations moved her family to southern California after the last round of anti-Christian violence in 2008. She says because the U.S. was in recession at the time, there were no jobs to be had, so after exhausting all of their options they decided to return to northern Iraq.
"When we got back, it took my husband over a year to find work, and then at least things were better than in America," she says. "But just a few months later, all this started."
As luck would have it, Liliian's husband found work as a teacher in one of the minority villages around Mount Sinjar just before it was terrorized by Islamic State fighters.
For Rinam Mansour, the future looks bleak. He says the best-case scenario is to give up his home and the relative prestige of teaching and hope he can land a menial job in a strange country. He believes that if Iraqi Christians are to survive, it won't be in Iraq.
American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was back home in Cambridge, Mass., today, after he was released by a militant group in Syria.
Speaking to reporters, Curtis said he was "overwhelmed by emotion." Curtis, if you remember, disappeared in 2012 and was freed over the weekend by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate operating in Syria.
Curtis was handed over to United Nations peace keepers just a week after another extremist group, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, beheaded the American journalist James Foley.
Curtis, 45, said he had no idea the kind of effort that was underway to get him back home. He said total strangers had come up to him and told him they were glad he was home.
"I suddenly remember how good the American people are and what kindness they have in their hearts. And to all those people I say a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said.
Curtis did not take any questions. He said he would at another time but that now it was time to bond with his mother and his family.
Meanwhile, the mother of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who is still being held captive in Syria, issued a direct plea to the Islamic State.
In the video, she says that Sotloff is simply an "innocent journalist" without control of the actions taken by the United States.
"I ask you to please release my child," Shirley Sotloff says.
She pleads with Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to grant her son amnesty, "to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Mohammed who protected people of the Book."
From the pubs and clubs of home to international festivals stages, some great live performances electrify this hour of music.