Heavy Rotation: The Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
Every month, NPR Music asks our friends from public radio stations across the country — hosts, music directors and writers — for the new songs they simply can't stop listening to. Sometimes they're hot tracks that have dropped just the week before, and sometimes they're songs that have taken a couple months to slow-burn into our memories. Either way, the result is a mix that's perfect for the moment.
Click the audio link above to hear Nick Brunner of Capital Public Radio, Andrea Swensson of The Current and Art Levy of KUTX discuss their picks this month. Below you'll find the full list, which includes songs from emerging London singer Jade Bird, Rhode Island punk band Downtown Boys and West Virginia singer-songwriter-keyboardist Brad Goodall.
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Hear The Songs
So Much Light, 'Idiot Soul'
From 'Oh, Yuck'
"I thought it was just a funny, self-deprecating sub-genre," says Damien Verrett, who makes music in the sleepy burg of Elk Grove, a few miles south of Sacramento, Calif., under the name So Much Light. "Soul has wisdom behind it. I'm recording this in my parents' house ... in the closet. I was like 'No, this is idiot soul.' " The track appears on So Much Light's ANTI- Records debut, and the self-deprecation doesn't stop there. Verrett offers phrases like "puppy-making music" (i.e. not quite baby-making music) to describe his songs, and his label manager came up with "Bizarre & B" — which fits, given Verrett's love for the music of TLC and D'Angelo. Al Green may not have made his first record in his parents' closet, but "Idiot Soul" has enough heart and heat to land a few moves away on the same playlist.
—Nick Brunner, Capital Public Radio's Hey, Listen!
Nooky Jones, 'Hello'
From 'Nooky Jones'
Nooky Jones has been a mainstay of the Twin Cities club scene for three years now, leading a renaissance of horn-driven bands who are embracing vintage 1960s soul and R&B. The band waited just long enough to get into the studio: "Hello," from its self-titled debut album, is a carefully crafted, time-traveling arrangement that mixes in equal parts Stevie Wonder, D'Angelo and Prince and is guaranteed to move both heart and booty. It's hard not to imagine the band as an extension of the famed "Minneapolis Sound" that Prince and his peers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis introduced to the world in the 1980s, but Nooky Jones has inverted that sound back into a warm, analog vibe that feels timeless. It's about time that lead singer Cameron Kinghorn, who still plays trumpet in at least a half-dozen other bands in town, gets this much-deserved placement at center stage.
—Andrea Swensson, The Current's The Local Show
Juana Molina, 'Cosoco'
Juana Molina grew up making repetitive songs in her bedroom before taking a star-making detour into the Argentine comedy world. But ever since she returned to music in the mid-'90s, the Buenos Aires native has carved a path back to that place of childlike wonderment. On Halo, Molina's seventh album, additional musicians augment her loop-based approach to electronic music that hums with humanity and folk forms. "Cosoco" is weird and flat-out fun, like a finger painting come to life. Singing in Spanish about a relationship gone sour, she journeys all the way back to Adam and Eve, compressing millennia and myth with an economy of words. For Molina, the human comedy started at the beginning, and it's only looped its way across time.
—Art Levy, KUTX
From 'Three Futures'
Mackenzie Scott, who performs under the moniker Torres, has a new home on 4AD and a new record called Three Futures out Sept. 29. Fans can get a glimpse of what's to come with two new videos that put desire and power front and center. Both videos were shot in the same location by the same director, suggesting that an ongoing storyline might emerge as the record release approaches — but there's a lot to dig into already. "Skim" is the kind of track that creeps in slowly, a song you find yourself thinking about hours after you've heard it. In the most haunting line, Torres sings, "There's no unlit corner of the room I'm in." Sexuality is out in the open at the surface of this song, but there's still some mystery here, making repeated listens more rewarding. Torres earned a lot of praise from critics for her first two records, and if "Skim" is any indication, Three Futures is about to appear on a lot of best-of lists this year.
—Liz Felix, WNKU
Broncho, 'Get In My Car'
From 'Get In My Car'
I was at a water park when Broncho's new song dropped; my 7-year-old son was splashing around in knee-high water and getting drenched by a giant bucket. "Get In My Car" was a perfect musical complement to that carefree summer feeling. The song signals a return to the Tulsa band's power-pop wheelhouse, following a slight departure in the form of 2016's dreamy, reverb-soaked Double Vanity. Shimmery guitar sounds dominate here, along with a driving rhythm section and frontman Ryan Lindsey's hiccups all over the track. And when the chorus hits ("I like to go fast / I like to go far / Won't you open that door / Get in my car"), the pace picks up, as if someone's pressing down on a gas pedal. This summer jam can fit in next to The Cars and Dwight Twilley as easily as it can Phoenix and Vampire Weekend. Add it to your summer playlist, get in that car and head to the nearest water park.
—Ryan LaCroix, KOSU's The Spy
Downtown Boys, 'Lips That Bite'
From 'Cost of Living'
People keep saying that rock music isn't political anymore. If you've peddled some version of that trope lately, you probably aren't familiar with Downtown Boys. The combustible, bilingual Providence, R.I., punks don't simply borrow tired talking points from their suburban hardcore forebears. The band's intersectional message was important when it started in 2012, and it's become downright indispensable in 2017. In "Lips That Bite," Downtown Boys' members showcase their message of solidarity across structural divides by examining, as the band says, "the systemic and collective origins of all the anxieties and struggles we too often see as isolated and personal" — while encouraging virulent action. The music follows suit, compelling listeners to throw their fists in the air with piercing riffs, a defiant snarl and Downtown Boys' signature, scorching punk sax. You read that right: scorching punk sax!
—Sean Cannon, Louisville Public Media's The Guestlist
Jade Bird, 'Cathedral'
From 'Something American'
"Cathedral" is one of five new songs from London-born singer-songwriter Jade Bird's debut EP, Something American. Produced by Simone Felice of The Felice Brothers, it's a heartfelt collection of intimate songs featuring bassist Sara Lee (known for her playing withGang of Four, Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco) and guitarist Larry Campbell (best known for playing with Bob Dylan and Levon Helm of The Band). Front and center on the EP, though, is Bird's voice and the confidence with which she delivers each of the songs. On "Cathedral," her voice convincingly soars over a sparse — yet warm and delicate — arrangement of bass, drums and acoustic guitar. A groundswell of strings reinforces the song's main hook, making it linger in your head long after it's over.
—Bruce Warren, WXPN
Brad Goodall, 'Casa De Mel'
From 'Casa De Mel'
When the cat's away, the mice will play. And when you're a broke musician who occasionally house-sits at luxury brownstones in New York City, that means crafting a gem of a yacht-rock song about white Steinways, shag carpets imported from Spain and avocado toast on roofs with a billion-dollar view. Yes, West Virginia keyboard player Brad Goodall is living far too well at "Casa de Mel," and he's having far too much fun bringing his Weekend At Bernie's stories to life with Wurlitzer grooves, Steely Dan riffs and playful lyrics à la Donald Fagen. You may recognize Goodall as the keyboardist for rising indie-rock band Ona, and some of his bandmates — including Zack Owens on guitar, Zach "Jeeter" Johnston on bass and Max Nolte as co-producer — cameo on his Michael McDonald-esque solo project. As Goodall told West Virginia Public Broadcasting with a laugh in a recent interview, "I love synthesizers and keyboards, but I don't see very many keyboard bands, so I'm trying to fill that gap. I would love to be the flagship keyboard artist."
Twisted Pine, 'Hold On Me'
From 'Twisted Pine'
Lately, some of the most interesting progressive bluegrass and acoustic music (see: Crooked Still, Joy Kills Sorrow, The Deadly Gentlemen, Sarah Jarosz) has not necessarily come out of the hills of Appalachia or the industry epicenter of Nashville. Thanks to the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, Boston has established itself as a productive incubator for some of the most exciting, innovative acoustic music today. Add to the list Twisted Pine, comprising Rachel Sumner (guitar and vocals), Kathleen Parks (fiddle and vocals), Dan Bui (mandolin) and Chris Sartori (bass). Though the band's been on the music landscape in the Northeast for the past few years, it just released its self-titled debut on Signature Sounds. The lead track on the album, "Hold On Me," displays everything that is wonderful about Twisted Pine: an upbeat, poppy vibe; energetic, driving rhythms; virtuosic solos; tight harmonies. This is definitely a band to watch!
—Linda Fahey, Folk Alley