Project Song: The least boring thing NPR does

This summer, Pax turned me on to NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. (It should be noted that as a rule Father Scott avoids NPR, because it deals with, you know, news and stuff.)

Until recently, All Songs Considered was an amalgamation of live shows, interviews, reviews, and whatever host Bob Boilen felt like talking about. It’s been entertaining, but not necessarily vital (at least compared to the official music podcast of Father Scott, Paste Culture Club).

They’ve recently revamped their format, setting up separate podcasts for live shows, and also introducing an outstanding new feature: Project Song.

For Project Song, a video podcast, NPR provides the studio and inspiration for a songwriter to write and record a song in two days. In its first edition, Project Song featured the unfortunately-spelled Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields acclaim. (Merritt must have been a conscious choice for the first edition–The Magnetic Fields are known for being quite prolific.)


When your mom chooses weird vowels for your name, you live in the shadows. Ask Jhonny Peralta.

NPR provided him an area to write (consciously set to resemble a bar, where Merritt writes most of his material) and all of the equipment. They also provided “inspiration:”

And just as we’ll do with each Project Song artist, we showed Merritt six vivid images, along with six words or phrases printed on white cards. The instructions: Choose one photo to inspire the subject of the song; choose a word or phrase that will inspire the style.

Merritt ended up composing “Man of a Million Faces,” inspired by the word/phrase “1974” and the photo below.

Photo of man covered with dozens of baby dolls
Not creepy at all

The song is pretty cool, though it’s not as cool as “I Don’t Believe You,” Father Scott’s favorite of the few Magnetic Fields songs he knows. More importantly, the creative process is fascinating to watch. Merritt tinkers with instruments and talks about drum beats and lays down vocals–it’s all engaging. The only thing I can hope is that they allow future editions, which host Boilen guessed would occur about once a month, to show more footage. It clocked in just under 11 minutes; I think you could fill an hour listening to different takes, and different ideas that the artist kicks around.

-Father Scott

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Filed under media, music, pax arcana

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