Top Shelf: 2019 Tiny Desk Contest Entries Our Judges Loved
This year, like every year, an incredibly strong pool of artists entered the Tiny Desk Contest. Our team of judges — Bob Boilen and Rodney Carmichael of NPR Music; Abbie Gobeli of KEXP; Raul Campos of KCRW; and some of our favorite Tiny Desk performers: Lucy Dacus, Jason Isbell and Ledisi — fell in love with the authenticity and songwriting of our winner, Quinn Christopherson. But there were many additional entries that really astounded them, too.
We decided to designate these entries — which represent some of the best songs we heard from this year's Contest — as the Tiny Desk Top Shelf. We hope it helps you discover another new song to fall in love with.
Bandits On The Run, "Love In The Underground"
Bandits On The Run's entry video for "Love in the Underground" is as charming and delightful as its origin story: Five years ago, two of the band members met on a subway platform—they didn't realize it then, but it was the beginning of a beautiful musical friendship. Returning to the platform that started it all, the band orchestrates a symphony of sound and story through its impressive musicianship and marvelous harmonies. The judges were drawn to the band members' authenticity and performance. — Pilar Fitzgerald
Nik Alexander, "AM I OK"
Our judges were blown away by Nik Alexander's Tiny Desk Contest entry, "AM I OK." Each judge commented on Alexander's magnificent vocals, with one judge even praising it as "flawless." Like the judges, I was captivated by his theatrical, vibrant performance that emits sunshine and energy. — Elle Mannion
Blessing Offor, "Tin Roof"
Blessing Offor's voice alone stopped us in our tracks on his song, "Tin Roof." His vocal range is extraordinary yet it is carried by such a graceful energy. We were especially moved after he emailed us to tell his story. He was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States as a child. Since then, he's secured a O-1 visa for individual with extraordinary abilities, but hasn't been back home or seen his family in about 22 years.
"What I missed most about home was sleeping under a tin roof... It sounded like heaven," he says. His lyricism and storytelling ability are profound and impressed all our judges. — Clara Maurer
In Kelechi's entry video for "Circles," the Atlanta-based artist sings of an unconditional love for his city — the kind of love that finds comfort in the familiarity of a Waffle House order.
"I even love your losing Super Bowl team / as sure as the 285 is a loop / Imma come right back to you / I love you in circles," he raps.
Kelechi's love letter to Atlanta resonated with our judges as well. NPR Music's hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael said Kelechi may well have "wrote a new anthem for the city." — Elle Mannion
In NoSo's entry, artist Abby Hwong performs a stripped-down version of her song "Allie." While this entry is visually simple — it appears to be recorded in the artist's bedroom, like many Contest entries are — NoSo's musicianship is complex. This song's chorus has been stuck in my head for weeks, but it's the tender bridge that I keep coming back to: "You called to say he holds you / with his whole body / and the way he curls in your lap / like a child / when he heard a crack of thunder."
The Tiny Desk Contest judges raved about NoSo's entry, saying they hoped they'd get to hear a full record of hers. — Elle Mannion
Alidade, "Death Valley Blues"
As it opens, Alidade's entry video looks unassuming: It's just singer Lindsay Sack with a guitar, a mic and a small desk under a bridge in Providence, R.I. But with its droning guitar and aching narrative, "Death Valley Blues" left a lasting impressed. The stirring, heartsick song caught our ears, with our judges praising Sack's lyrics and saying they hoped to hear more from her in the future. — Marissa Lorusso
Lauren Weintraub, "If You Were Gonna Leave Anyway"
In her entry video for "If You Were Gonna Leave Anyway," Lauren Weintraub performs a song of love and heartbreak that has a classic feel. She writes about love with intricate details – glimpses of the happiest moments she's shared. It makes the question in the refrain so much more painful: "Why'd we have to build up that dream / If you were gonna leave anyway?" The build into the bridge just adds to the emotional candor of the song, making this an entry video we can't stop watching. — Clara Maurer
King Hoodie, "Turn The Lights Out"
King Hoodie's entry video for "Turn The Lights Out" stood out to our judges for its flair, energy and creativity. As the camera circles King Hoodie and his fellow band members, the song builds itself up piece by piece, creating a clever layering of instrumentation and surround-sound effect. Between his compelling verses and catchy hook, King Hoodie has the promise of a dope lyricist on the rise. — Pilar Fitzgerald
Grayson Erhard, "Boxed Odyssey"
In Grayson Erhard's entry video for "Boxed Odyssey," the Colorado songwriter performs alone in dim lighting. He sings with a powerful, emotive voice tinged with folk-rock grit: "They like to tell me / What package that I can be / It's a boxed odyssey," he repeats. But it's his guitar playing that really caught our judges' attention: The song makes use of a distinctive slap-tap style that's percussive and truly impressive. — Marissa Lorusso
The Collection, "Becoming My Own Home"
The Collection is a band of seven people, but each member plays with the same powerful spirit in "Becoming My Own Home." The recurring melody is pronounced on the trombone, trumpet and glockenspiel by the especially impressive multi-instrumentalist Graham Dickey. The song flourishes at a high point when David Wimbish shouts the refrain: "I'm becoming my own home." The performance radiates of the powerful nature of hope. — Clara Maurer
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