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Tiny Desk Contest: Celebrating Creative 2020 Entries Filmed In Quarantine

Stacey Joy entered the song "Can't Be Found" for the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest
Stacey Joy entered the song "Can't Be Found" for the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest

Lately, we've been sharing some of the many 2020 Tiny Desk Contest entries that have caught our eyes and ears. Over the past few weeks, those of us watching Contest entries have noticed how many artists have been getting creative in the age of social distancing: figuring out how to get their best sound while stuck at home or how to record with bandmates in multiple places. So this week, we wanted to celebrate the ingenuity we've seen from entrants making great music under less-than-ideal circumstances.

If you have a song you'd like us to hear: You have until until 11:59 p.m. ET on April 27 to enter the Contest. You can check out a playlist of all the entries we've featured on the blog on YouTube — and if you think you've got what it takes, check out the Official Rules and fill out the eligibility checklist, then film your video and submit it here.

The Rare Occasions, "Set It Right"

Recorded in: California
Pairs well with: A long, socially-distanced walk on a sunny day

Los Angeles band The Rare Occasions has entered the Tiny Desk Contest four times, so it shouldn't be surprising that its three members found a way to enter this year despite not being able to play music in the same room. The band's entry, "Set It Right," is a sunny, sweet ode to doing the right thing complemented by harmonies and a mid-set metallophone solo. In order to make its entry, the band told NPR Music that each member played along to a metronome then "put the files into a shared online folder, mixed down the audio and spliced the three videos side-by-side to maintain that live, one-take spirit of Tiny Desk." —Marissa Lorusso

Amsellem, "Brother"

Recorded in: Israel
Pairs well with: A starry night sky; distant memories of a far away home

When I started watching Amsellem's entry, "Brother," the first thing I noticed was the video's composition — the videographer was filming from outside a window. "I was planing to film the entry at an old church in Seattle but then coronavirus happened, so I booked a flight to Israel to be with family," Amesellem told NPR Music in an email. "Israel has a mandatory two week quarantine, so I couldn't leave my room. Eyal, my brother, filmed so I guess it was meant to be." It was a clever solution to quarantining that ended up being very effective: As Amsellem solemnly sings, we see the bars on the window and hear the echo of an empty room. The pain and isolation in this song is so artfully visualized, and much like the hum of the synth, it lingers. —Pilar Fitzgerald

Pullover, "Beat Up Car"

Recorded in: North Carolina
Pairs well with: The bittersweet ending montage in a coming-of-age film

Band members in Charlotte, N.C., band Pullover rose to the challenge of entering the Tiny Desk Contest together in the era of social distancing with its entry, "Beat Up Car." The song reflects on travels on the road with regret, acknowledging, "In a beat up car / We're not taking roads that go very far." The video was filmed on band members' phones in five separate locations, including under a canopy of flowering trees and in a bedroom stocked with quarantine essentials. One band member improvises percussion — similar to our 2017 Contest winner's Tiny Desk (home) concert — using toilet paper and hand sanitizer as drums. As songwriter Phil Pucci shared with NPR Music, "We filmed the video with our phones! Nothing special ... I used a coffee cup with a fistful of coffee beans inside of it as a shaker." —Elle Mannion

The Japonize Elephants, "Lockdown Hoedown"

Recorded in: California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts and Italy
Pairs well with: Your best wide-brimmed hat; stomping your feet and making your downstairs neighbors upset

The Japonize Elephants' entry, "Lockdown Hoedown," is a breakneck genre-hopping good time, bringing to mind everything from klezmer to Django Reinhardt-style jazz to spaghetti Western soundtracks. The band recorded the entry while members were quarantined in their homes around the world — in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, New York, Boston and even Florence, Italy. "We needed to somehow capture a live feel despite being in very separate locations," guitarist and singer Sylvain Carton wrote in an email to NPR Music. After an unsuccessful attempt at a Zoom "jam session," Carton wrote that he and the band decided to record separate live takes and edit them together. Carton started by recording a video of himself playing through the song — the clap at the beginning of the entry was his way of helping everyone sync up their takes — and sent it out to his bandmates for them to add their parts. As he got more recordings, he sent out new mixes so that everyone could record against as many people as possible and approximate the feeling of playing live. —Jon Lewis

Stacey Joy, "Can't Be Found"

Recorded in: Oaxaca, Mexico
Pairs well with: Quiet moments when your mind is racing; a much-needed breath of fresh air

Stacey Joy's entry, "Can't Be Found," is an entry that helped me breathe a little easier. The song is, in Joy's words, "an ode to isolation," recorded from her combination home/studio/office/tour bus while stranded on lockdown in Oaxaca, Mexico. The instrumentation follows a delicate path: from gentle and measured to restless and unrestrained, until finally settling into a fragile calm. In the video's description, Joy wrote, "Due to COVID-19 most of us have found ourselves cooped up for a while, some of us with a significant other (or others!). Tensions can rise, and this song speaks to those moments." —Pilar Fitzgerald

Mato Wayuhi & Treehorse, "Knots"

Recorded in: California, Pennsylvania and South Dakota
Pairs well with: A late-night session working on your overdue history assignments

From Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Sioux Falls, S.D., Mato Wayuhi & Treehorse banded together in the Contest entry "Knots" to prove no amount of distance could serve as an obstacle from entering again this year. The group incorporates images of virtual desks and people alike, presenting jazz-fueled hip-hop while Wayuhi tells a story of his people from his perspective: "I'm turning Pine Ridgeinto fashion week / Native Americans are the world's greatest masterpiece." Then, gently, the music begins to fade away as each member disappears from the video, along with their sound, until the audience is left with one picturesque portrait of the plains. —Tolu Igun

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tolu Igun
Marissa Lorusso
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Pilar Fitzgerald
Elle Mannion
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer and producer based in New York.