Listen

The Best 2021 Tiny Desk Contest Entries We Saw This Week: Viking's Choice Edition

Jul 8, 2021
Originally published on July 8, 2021 6:38 am

The 2021 Tiny Desk Contest closed for entries on June 7, and our judges are now combing through entries to find a winner. In the meantime, we've been sharing some of the many entries that have caught our eyes and ears.

This week, we asked our colleague Lars Gotrich to curate a selection of standout 2021 entries that you might hear in Viking's Choice, his newsletter and playlist dedicated to "heavy metal, heady psych, dreamy ambient, furious punk, chooglin' rock, twinkly emo and cotton-candy pop music."


Matthew J. Rolin, "4th Street"

YouTube

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Pairs well with: A late-night porch hang

Life moves the nighttime background of Matthew J. Rolin's Tiny Desk Contest entry: Traffic whirs, a neighbor returns home with a lit-up tank of a bicycle, a train somewhere in the distance screeches the rails. On his front porch in Columbus, the acoustic guitarist fingerpicks a sweet, dexterous melody at home with the slowdown of night. If that spritely pattern sounds familiar, his guitar's tuned to CGCFCE with a capo on the 4th fret: "The Nick Drake tuning," he admits.


Rakefire, "A Song About Depression"

YouTube

Hometown: Stamford, Conn.
Pairs well with: Moshable laughter to mask the pain

Rakefire's Aerobic Scream Workout could use some tweaks, but there might be potential there (says the person who does not work out). Vocalist Maiko Newell pumps some blood into his veins on the elliptical as he screams, "You take and you take, I will never see the end of it / Once you find a host you will never quit / Until they're dead... bust it!" In the confines of a basement office surrounded by baseball memorabilia, Newell's understandably out of breath as the last metallic hardcore riff crunches.


Jordan Sand, "Palm to Chest"

YouTube

Hometown: Syracuse, N.Y.
Pairs well with: Old machines that remind you of home

For many, we've clung to nostalgia during the pandemic: old TV shows and games, pop songs from youth, homey recipes. Last year, double bassist and composer Jordan Sand received an old sewing machine used by her mother, a clothing designer and maker: "When I was young, she worked nights in the attic studio, above my bedroom," she says. "The ceiling hummed with sewing machines as I fell asleep." That comforting, domestic hum threads "Palm to Chest," an insomniac's lullaby that bows lulling overtones as Sand sings fragments of poetry and stitches them together as she presses on the foot pedal of a Singer Featherweight.


Franck Martin, "Quadraphonic in Binaural"

YouTube

Hometown: Pacifica, Calif.
Pairs well with: Entering the (natural) void

Franck Martin has entered the Tiny Desk Contest multiple times, but I still remember his 2019 entry: a mobile, modular synth unit filmed near the Golden Gate bridge with a 360-degree camera! This one's no less scenic, but stable, as Martin's mix of Buchla and Moog synths soundtrack the mountainous Pacifica skyline with headphone-panning dark ambient.


JD, "Locomotion #3"

YouTube

Hometown: San Francisco, Calif.
Pairs well with: Dressing like your crush

You know, it's not all loud and weird on Viking's Choice; pop music gets equal footing with screams and guitar shred. (After all, I am a guardian of roséwave.) With a nod to Tegan & Sara's soft synth-pop era, JD's "Locomotion #3" is a sumptuous bop that skirts the line between infatuation and envy: "Do I want u? Do I want to be like u?" they sing, adding vocal curlicues to the exasperated expletive that follows.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.