Heavy Rotation: The Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
Each month, NPR Music asks our friends at public radio stations around the country for the songs they can't stop spinning. Whether it's a new song from a local artist or a band from the other side of the world, the mix is likely to include something you've never heard before.
November's playlist includes a song from an avant-garde Russian band with hints of new wave, a nostalgic country-folk song perfect for a campfire and a genre-blending song by a pair of 19-year-old producers.
From ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ
Russian band ГШ (Glintshake) are one of the most exciting acts I've seen this past year. Their live set for KEXP's Iceland Airwaves broadcast was beyond riveting. Vocalist Katya Shilonosova's stage presence is so confident — oozing attitude, sass, and humor — and so expressive you don't need to understand Russian to understand what's being conveyed. Katya and Jenya Gorbunov's angular, taunt, guitar riffs play off each other, often with a sense of liberation from the weight of expectations, into pure expression. The propulsive, post-punk/post-pop feels dangerous, like it's on the verge of being out of control, dangerous, about to careen off the cliff of convention — which is exciting and absent in so much music today. The influences and touchstones — the post-punk of Wire, the arty new wave of Romeo Void, along with Russian avant-garde concepts of abstraction, constructivism and primitivism — combine for a potent set of sounds that keep me flipping this record over and over on my turntable.
– Kevin Cole, KEXP
Jonti, 'Island Rose'
Tokorats, the third album from Sydney, Australia-based producer Jonti builds on the eclectic and evolving foundational sounds of his first two releases, Twirligig and Sine And Moon. On this project, each track is a rich aural exercise in lavish pop and progressive hip-hop textures married with atmospheric, technicolor-style electronica.
Nowhere is this melodic marriage more evident than on the tune "Island Rose." Featuring quirky and vibrantly-textured sound painting, the track boasts a strong collaboration with Australian hip-hop wordsmith/singer Sampa The Great, who drops rhythmic flows and an infectious hook that perfectly ride the instrumentation. It climaxes into a polyrhythmic beat-scape blended with lush, 1960s Beach Boys-style harmonies.
The track has wide-screen ambition and takes you places through its high production values and symphonic ambiance, punctuated by a lovely interplay between flute and upright bass under lush orchestral underpinnings. Tokorats is a genre-bending album that may one day be regarded as a future classic, and "Island Rose" will be one of the main reasons why.
– Chris Campbell, WDET's The Progressive Underground
Whiskey Folk Ramblers, 'Goin' Back To Clarksdale'
From Face Your Fear
Whiskey Folk Ramblers sound just like you think they would, in the best possible way. Their music is a soundtrack for lonely ghost towns, Texas-sized horizons, rusty gas stations and all-too-pensive nights infused with campfire and rye. It makes you want to pack it all in, hit the dirt road running and never look back — or at least, grab your thickest Steinbeck, slip into a sleeping bag and read about other people doing such things.
Their latest single, "Goin' Back To Clarksdale," is no exception. Waning guitar meets train-track drums, a trickle of keys and the soft but sturdy rise of horns — all heightened by the harmonious Carter-and-Cash vocals of Jenna Clark and Tyler Rougeux. The overall effect is a track that is bright but melancholy, hopeful yet nostalgic — a sweet but stinging tonic for wanderers everywhere.
—Lauren Menking, KXT
Ezra Furman, 'Love You So Bad'
From Transangelic Exodus
Ezra Furman has been on the scene for a decade or so, garnering a good-sized fan base and critical acclaim along the way. His forthcoming not-quite-a-concept album/sort-of-a-novel piece, called Transangelic Exodus, just could be Furman's breakthrough. "Love You So Bad" is the kind of song that you simply can't listen to once — not because it's impossible, but more so because it won't allow you to. The hook is undeniable, and the harmonies from Furman's backing band The Visions add some serious sing-along fun. Lyrically, the song surprises with each line, including gems like "you still send me the occasional email; I got a dumb job working in retail; miss you baby so bad." Having listened to the song at least 50 times already, it's pretty clear for me: Love this one so bad.
—Russ Borris, WFUV
Mimicking Birds, 'Sunlight Daze'
From Layers Of Us
Just when you think there isn't much originality left in rock music, along comes a group like Mimicking Birds. Vague words like "ethereal," "otherworldly" and "sleepy" often get thrown the innovative Portland rock band's way, but they don't quite pin down its curious mix of down-tempo rhythms, complicated finger-picking guitar work and singer Nate Lacey's nasally, wavering voice.
In early 2018, Mimicking Birds is set to release its third full-length record, Layers Of Us. The new recording finds them experimenting with faster (and dare I say, more conventional) rhythms like on the album's first single, "Sunlight Daze," which picks up the pace considerably behind a dance-rock beat that spurs the song forward with surprising force. It adds yet another layer to the band's already fascinating sound.
—Jerad Walker, opbmusic
Hayley Thompson-King, 'No Room For Jesus'
From Psychotic Melancholia
With a title like that, Hayley Thompson-King's new album sounds very rock 'n' roll indeed. Except the name refers to Romantic composer Robert Schumann, whose severe depression was given the very 19th-century-sounding diagnosis of psychotic melancholia.
In fact, a song by Schumann closes the album, and with its precise German diction and controlled vibrato, "Wehmut" is an opportunity for listeners to discover Thompson-King's operatic training (she has a Master's degree in opera performance from New England Conservatory of Music).
Like any great opera singer, Thompson-King gets into character for her songs, including "No Room for Jesus." Juke-joint rhythm and blues bump up against heartsick country, tinges of psychedelia bleeding through the garage-rock performance. Throughout Psychotic Melancholia, Thompson-King's vocal delivery is just what the doctor ordered.
—Micah Schweizer, Wyoming Public Radio
Greg Grease, 'Runaways'
From Down So Long
Funk, hip-hop and space travel collide in this ode to finding true love in a hopeless world and leaving the suckers behind. Greg Grease has earned the reputation as one of the most consistent and thoughtful MCs in a Twin Cities market overflowing with rap talent, and his new work seems to simultaneously stretch back in time to invoke the production of Minneapolis Sound pioneers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis while reaching ever forward to explore what's coming next. Greg's new album, Down So Long, weaves together collaborators from his funk/soul/rap/jazz collective ZULUZULUU and other stars of the Minneapolis scene (the producer Psymun, Doomtree's Mike Mictlan) to create an entrancing, shape-shifting and alluring tapestry of sound.
—Andrea Swensson, Minnesota Public Radio's The Current
Republican Hair, 'Whatever Blows Your Hair Back'
From The Prince & The Duke
For some, songwriting is a formula. For others, it's a feeling or a style. Luke Dick, the mastermind behind Nashville band Republican Hair, falls into the latter category. Piecing together phrases he hears and experiences he has, he takes note of things that make a light go off in his head.
The Oklahoma native has written songs for country music powerhouses like Eric Church and Miranda Lambert, but when writing for his own band, there are no barriers. This shines through on the playful soul jam "Whatever Blows Your Hair Back," where Dick opts to keep a melodic placeholder in the hook in lieu of jamming a bunch of words into its spot.
Dick channels his inner D'Angelo here, ooing and cooing his way through the song, as he probes, "What puts the spike in the middle / Right in the middle of your lemonade?"
—Ryan LaCroix, KOSU's The Spy
The Burns Twins, 'Day By Day'
From Day By Day
Chicago multi-instrumentalist producers Eddie and Iz, The Burns Twins, have provided compositions for numerous up-and-coming Chicago acts. Though trained in conventional jazz, the Twins are informed by an array of genres, each adding an element of flavor to their distinct sound. On the heels of their well-received EP Sweet ESL, Eddie and Iz have released their first new song in over a year, the excellent "Day By Day." True to Burns Twins form, the song is a collaboration, featuring singers Sam Hudgens and Omar Apollo. On the song, a warm piano line leads the way for Latin percussion, clean horns and soulful vocals. Each part works in unison to convey the song's guiding principle: Life come at you fast, so be sure to take it day by day.
—Jesse Menendez, Vocalo
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