Above image: Sinple | Photo by Justin Walker
At NPR’s offices in Washington DC, more than 500 artists have gathered behind Bob Boilen’s [not-so]-tiny desk since 2008 to perform a condensed set for a few dozen employees and a potential YouTube crowd of millions. From the charming awkwardness between Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile to a poem written by Chance the Rapper on the car ride over from his hotel, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series captures artists at their most vulnerable and exposed.
That undeniable authenticity is perhaps why the series has become a touchstone for many musicians, and why thousands have entered the public contest since it started in 2015. Last year, Tank and the Bangas beat out 6,000 other entrants to take the coveted spot behind Boilen’s desk, along with an NPR Music-backed national tour.
This year’s contest deadline was Sunday, so we’re sorry if you missed the mark, but you can still watch a few featured entries from Kansas City-area musicians.
Kian Byrne – “Sing That Song”
A member of The Elders, Hi-Lux, The New Riddim and Yum, Kian Byrne puts his solo songwriting on display here. Surrounded by an unapologetic melange of music memorabilia (at Boss Hooligan Records in downtown KC) and armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and his voice, Byrne’s entry embodies the spirit and sincerity of a Tiny Desk concert.
Una Walkenhorst – “Man Like the City”
As for sincerity, that’s exactly what you get from Una Walkenhorst’s entry. Performing with her acoustic guitar in a mostly unadorned room, Walkenhorst keeps us focused on her penchant for vibrant storytelling. She pulls us in to the romantic, solitary snapshots of life in New York City: “The Hudson she carries me, let her marry me / But all I have to share is this land and this air / I know it’s not enough.”
Second Hand King and the Lovers – “There She Was”
Second Hand King has been winning over fans with his blend of hip-hop and doo-wop music for a handful of years, but has only recently started translating his songs to a full band. This Tiny Desk entry acts as an official introduction to his backing band, The Lovers, starting out with a glimpse into their playful dynamic and immediately kicking in to a soulful performance.
Blue False Indigo – “Wild Eyes”
And the winner for tiniest (and cutest) desk goes to Blue False Indigo. What started as a cover band of three music major friends at Drury University has developed into one of Springfield, Missouri’s, flourishing original acts. Reminiscent of The Staves, the trio’s graceful melodies and arresting vocal harmonies leave a deep impression.
Sinple – “Make Time”
It’s been a busy month for Jesse Bartmess, AKA Sinple. He recently opened up for Grammy Award winner Anna Wise, released a Brian Eno-inspired album – “Music For Machines Vol. 2” – and dropped a Tiny Desk contest video. One of the most interesting entries we’ve seen so far, Bartmess delivers a casual-cool, yet slightly haunting performance atop a dimly-lit desk. This video also signals a musical shift for Sinple, moving from ambient synth-pop to a dystopian, new-wave electronic style.
While you’re here, check out the rest of the entries from area artists:
Drew Ames (Robo Hops) feat. Colby Walter – “Chasing Dollars“
Gus Geiger – ”Five Miles From Waterloo”
Le Velle – ”Incredible Women”
Michael Abraham – “Baby Brown Eyes”
Miles Megaciph – “Attention”
Missouri Loves Company – “So Fly”
Olivia Fox – “Wood Panels and Wine”
Soul Revival – “Fall in Love”
Victor & Penny – “She Says, She Knows”
Vigil & Thieves – ”Drones”
Violet and the Undercurrents – “Still Here”
–Michelle Bacon writes about music for 90.9 The Bridge, plays bass and drums in bands, and her dream is to one day perform at Tiny Desk concert. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter at @michelleobacon.