Ann Powers

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.

One of the nation's most notable music critics, Powers has been writing for The Record, NPR's blog about finding, making, buying, sharing and talking about music, since April 2011.

Powers served as chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 until she joined NPR. Prior to the Los Angeles Times, she was senior critic at Blender and senior curator at Experience Music Project. From 1997 to 2001 Powers was a pop critic at The New York Times and before that worked as a senior editor at the Village Voice. Powers began her career working as an editor and columnist at San Francisco Weekly.

Her writing extends beyond blogs, magazines and newspapers. Powers co-wrote Tori Amos: Piece By Piece, with Amos, which was published in 2005. In 1999, Power's book Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America was published. She was the editor, with Evelyn McDonnell, of the 1995 book Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop and the editor of Best Music Writing 2010.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University, Powers went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of California.

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First Listen
11:32 pm
Sun April 6, 2014

First Listen: The Afghan Whigs, 'Do To The Beast'

The Afghan Whigs' new album, Do to the Beast, comes out April 15.
Piper Ferguson

Originally published on Tue April 15, 2014 3:27 pm

A lover's obsessiveness may charm at first, but it can soon turn frightening. For an artist, the relentless pursuit of one object — a sound, a memory dragged up and reshaped, a fantasy that makes the long hours of work feel intimate — feeds creativity or freezes it. Greg Dulli has been chasing the same seductive nightmare since he was 22, when his band The Afghan Whigs formed. Next year, he'll turn 50. He's spent a long time, in his mind, sitting in a darkened car in front of the same house.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 6, 2014

First Listen: Ben Watt, 'Hendra'

Ben Watt's new album, Hendra, comes out April 29.
Edward Bishop Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 24, 2014 10:14 am

The stranger on the bus, the woman who gives you your change at the corner store; every human loves and hurts and finds a way to navigate through life's confusions. But most people don't share their inner lives with many others. It's a special gift when an artist tells the stories of plain people in an ordinary voice, leaving in the stops and starts, the seeming banality, and the unadorned insight that each of us experiences when things hit hard, or when the days and nights just go on.

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The Record
5:13 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Make Peace With Pop: 6 Songs That Prove Pop Gets Along With Everyone

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 6:53 pm

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 30, 2014

First Listen: EMA, 'The Future's Void'

EMA's new album, The Future's Void, comes out April 8.
Leif Shackelford Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 12:53 pm

Erika M. Anderson appreciates the flickering quality of meaning. She likes the sparks that fly off sounds, igniting constructive confusion: the buzz that makes an old synth sound like a guitar, or the way an acoustic beat can crash into an electronic one to make a whole nervous system of rhythm. She's also into wordplay, starting with the name of her ongoing project EMA — an acronym that could stand for a government agency but, read another way, is a feminine name. Then there's the title of her second album, The Future's Void, with its odd, homonym-like instability.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

First Listen: Nickel Creek, 'A Dotted Line'

Nickel Creek's new album, A Dotted Line, comes out April 1.
Brantley Gutierrez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 2:32 pm

"I think we're more grown-up now, to use an extremely childlike term," the violinist Sara Watkins recently told a reporter who asked what had changed in the eight years since Nickel Creek — the trio of Watkins, guitarist Sean Watkins (her brother) and mandolinist Chris Thile — released a studio album. Watkins' words astutely acknowledged the expectations leveled at the former child prodigies, who wowed bluegrass and country fans with three precocious albums in the early 2000s.

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The Record
11:45 am
Sat March 15, 2014

Lady Gaga At SXSW: 'Don't Sell Out. Sell In.'

Lady Gaga donned luxurious plastic bags for her SXSW Keynote on Friday.
Michael Buckner Getty

Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 12:20 pm

On Friday, March 14, Lady Gaga gave the keynote at SXSW 2014, a long interview conducted by John Norris that covered her career in pop, from her roots in the rock clubs of downtown New York to her decision to partner with a corporate sponsor for the concert she performed at Stubb's the night before. (You can see the complete video of the interview on this page.)

NPR Music's Ann Powers was in Austin for the keynote, and she filed this report.

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The Record
11:56 am
Mon March 10, 2014

The Guide To Making SXSW Fun (For Everybody)

Anything can happen in Austin. Be prepared.
Adam Kissick for NPR

The last thing anyone would say about South By Southwest is that it's an avenue for self-improvement. The annual mega gathering, which began last week for film and interactive-technology mavens and turns into a music conference and festival tomorrow, fulfills many needs for the culture nerd. Communal bonding? Yes – somewhere around 100,000 people will wander the Austin streets looking to high-five each other during this time. Fun? For sure.

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The Record
3:39 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Hearing Devotion In Pop's Details

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City.
Neilson Barnard Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 21, 2014 11:08 am

This week, the rock band Imagine Dragons set a record for the longest run on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart — 77 weeks, since it debuted in August of 2012.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun February 9, 2014

First Listen: St. Paul And The Broken Bones, 'Half The City'

St. Paul and the Broken Bones' new album, Half the City, comes out Feb. 18.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 2:08 pm

About a year ago, I saw St. Paul and the Broken Bones perform at a tiny club in Tuscaloosa, Ala., called the Green Bar. The Birmingham band's six members squeezed onto the stage, looking like ragtag school kids. Singer Paul Janeway, nerd-tastic in spectacles and a Sunday suit, unfurled a handkerchief. He started to croon, then shout and wail.

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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: Robert Ellis, 'The Lights From The Chemical Plant'

Robert Ellis' new album, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, comes out Feb.11.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 11:13 am

The quality of mystery is undervalued in music these days. It's often mimicked via indecipherable lyrics, mumbled vocals or spooky sound effects, but that's not the real stuff. Rarely does anyone touch upon that delicate, open-ended state of unknowing that can descend on any given day, whether you're locked in a lover's embrace or just sitting in front of the television.

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The Record
11:09 am
Thu January 23, 2014

Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk

Hurray For The Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 9:39 am

How many choruses does it take to turn a party song into an engine causing social change? Is it possible to honor American cultural traditions while dismantling the traps and habits that make them restrictive? Every so often a new voice engages these basic questions in subtle, exciting new ways. Alynda Lee Segarra, the 27-year-old guiding light of the New Orleans-based band Hurray For The Riff Raff, is this year's champion.

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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: Laura Cantrell, 'No Way There From Here'

Laura Cantrell's new album, No Way There From Here, comes out Jan. 28.
Amy Dickerson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 10:04 pm

"I'm under city lights, and it's all right," Laura Cantrell sings in one of the 12 deceptively lovely songs on No Way There From Here — her first album, besides a 2011 Kitty Wells tribute, in nine years. The line is about a love that thrives in spite of occasional separation; its story is typical of Cantrell's wry, wise viewpoint on feminine maturity. But it also says something about this Queens-based lover of vintage Nashville sounds.

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All Songs Considered
1:06 pm
Wed January 1, 2014

The Knife On 'Shaking' Expectations

Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer from Swedish electronic music duo The Knife perform live on stage at Lowlands festival in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands in August.
Paul Bergen Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 1, 2014 1:43 pm

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The Record
2:13 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

'12 Years A Slave' Is This Year's Best Film About Music

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave.
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Tue March 4, 2014 3:02 pm

12 Years a Slave is the most compelling film about music to be released this year, maybe this century. It's so many other things, too, as others have noted: a corrective to the weird cocktail of piety and cartoonishness that Hollywood usually supplies when depicting slavery; a gorgeous art film and an actor's hellish paradise; a cultural highlight of the Obama administration.

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The Record
8:03 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Holding Music History In Your Hands: Why Archives Matter

Ma Rainey Georgia Jazz Band posing for a studio group shot in the mid-1920s, with Thomas A. Dorsey at the piano.
JP Jazz Archive Redferns

Originally published on Fri November 1, 2013 7:23 pm

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The Record
3:36 pm
Sun October 27, 2013

What Lou Reed Taught Me

Lou Reed onstage in Amsterdam in 1975.
Gijsbert Hanekroot Redferns

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 10:57 am

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Thu October 10, 2013

Song Premiere: Christopher Denny, My Morning Jacket's 'Bermuda Highway'

Timothy S. Griffin Courtesy of the artist

Five years ago, a listener looking for a lonesome song anywhere near Arkansas might have heard a voice she still can't forget. Christopher Denny was 23 when he released Age Old Hunger, introducing the world to a high Southern warble that doesn't defy gravity so much as play with the tension that force creates – an androgynous, time-jumping instrument. Denny was learning to control his singing then, a process he says is more about instinct than craft. "I have to say...

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The Record
3:01 pm
Wed September 18, 2013

Drake And Pop Music's Good Girl Problem

Drake performing in Paris last April.
David Wolff - Patrick Redferns via Getty Images

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The Record
12:23 am
Fri September 13, 2013

'90s Nostalgia Revisited: 6 Musicians We Miss

P.M. Dawn, sometime in the '90s.
Mick Hutson Redferns

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 8:11 am

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The Record
2:56 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Innovation And Time-Honored Ways Meet On Nashville Stages

Eddie Stubbs (left), DJ at Nashville's WSM, and Alan Jackson onstage at The Station Inn last Tuesday.
Bill Thorup Courtesy of Universal Nashville

Onstage at Nashville's tiny Station Inn, the multiplatinum-selling country veteran Alan Jackson announced that he was nervous. He had reason to be, considering that the music-bizzers who'd scored one of the night's 150 tickets were sitting cheek-to-jowl with regulars, all diehard bluegrass fans. He was there to celebrate his first-ever bluegrass album (out September 24), and right away he made a point of proclaiming that he's really not very fond of dirt roads.

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