NPR logo Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing

Heavy Rotation

Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing

Houston trio Khruangbin takes inspiration from '60s Thai funk. KCRW DJ Anne Litt is in love with the band's song "White Gloves." Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Houston trio Khruangbin takes inspiration from '60s Thai funk. KCRW DJ Anne Litt is in love with the band's song "White Gloves."

Courtesy of the artist

We asked 10 music curators from public-radio stations across North America to share the one song currently rocking their world. As usual, they delivered a delightful mix that's sure to help you discover something new to you. In this edition, hear new music by Houston-based Thai-funk trio Khruangbin, Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney, beloved Mexican pop singer Carla Morrison and more.

Hear The Songs

Khruangbin, "White Gloves" Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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05White Gloves

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    Song
    White Gloves
    Album
    Universe Smiles Upon You
    Artist
    Khruangbin
    Label
    LateNightTales
    Released
    1969

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Khruangbin, 'White Gloves'

  • from Universe Smiles Upon You

There's softness in the trippy funk of Khruangbin's "White Gloves" that has wrapped around me, and I have no intention of letting it go. Delicate psychedelics spin into velvety rock that's rooted in '60s Thai funk and surf music. It might not be what you'd expect from a primarily instrumental Houston trio, two of whose members started out playing gospel music together, but it works. Even the name Khruangbin, which means "engine fly" in Thai, adds another color to the band's story and sound. After discovering the group through its contribution to Bonobo's Late Night Tales compilation, I have Khruangbin's debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, in my personal heavy rotation.

Anne Litt, KCRW

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Song
Universe Smiles Upon You
Album
Universe Smiles Upon You
Artist
Khruangbin
Label
LateNightTales

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Carla Morrison. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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01Un Beso

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    Song
    Un Beso
    Album
    Amor Supremo
    Artist
    Carla Morrison
    Label
    Universal Music
    Released
    2015

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Carla Morrison, 'Un Beso'

  • from Amor Supremo

Carla Morrison is a big deal in her native Mexico, where she regularly sells out huge venues and plays to adoring crowds who know all of her lyrics. She's also won Latin Grammys and charmed the Latin indie scene, but she keeps a much lower profile in the U.S., largely due to the language barrier. But if the lead track from Amor Supremo is any indication, the pop singer's relative anonymity stateside might not last long. "Un Beso" is a sweeping, almost cinematic track with gorgeous synth lines and a hypnotic rhythm section whose sole purpose seems to be to heighten the effect of Morrison's sultry vocals. You don't have to speak Spanish to feel the sweltering passion behind her performance; nothing gets lost in translation.

Jerad Walker, opbmusic

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Song
Amor Supremo
Album
Amor Supremo
Artist
Carla Morrison
Label
Universal Music
Released
2015

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08Homecoming

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    Song
    Homecoming
    Album
    Sermon On The Rocks
    Artist
    Josh Ritter
    Label
    Pythias Recordings/Thirty Tigers
    Released
    2015

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Josh Ritter, 'Homecoming'

  • from Sermon On The Rocks

Josh Ritter's new album, Sermon On The Rocks, unfolds like a great book of short stories. The tales he tells, the metaphors he uses and the craft that goes into his songs are as literary as they are musical. I have to admit that I've never been much of a lyrics guy — give me a groove and I'm happy — but Ritter's lyrics are undeniably compelling. I heard "Homecoming," in which he sings of the days getting shorter and the weather changing, just as that was happening around our town. And even before reading that Ritter wrote this song with every town's "Makeout Point" in mind, I'd already started to think about my own hometown and a girlfriend from back then. The song captures the wistful nature of those thoughts, but also the pleasure of the memory. Ritter tells a story through "Homecoming" that you can picture, because you've probably been there yourself.

Neal Losey, KCBX

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Song
Sermon On The Rocks
Album
Sermon On The Rocks
Artist
Josh Ritter
Label
Pythias Recordings/Thirty Tigers
Released
2015

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01On And On (Reprise)

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    Song
    On And On (Reprise)
    Album
    Age Of Transparency
    Artist
    Autre Ne Veut
    Label
    Downtown
    Released
    2015

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Autre Ne Veut, 'On And On (Reprise)'

  • from Age Of Transparency

Autre Ne Veut's 2013 album Anxiety opened with "Play By Play," a deceptively structured song with no real verse or chorus, but that still prompts an urge to sing along. On Age Of Transparency, the singer born Arthur Ashin kicks off the proceedings with a similar trick: a track of increasing intensity that's driven by melody but ornately decorated with frenetic beats, acoustic piano, upright bass and speed-shifted electronic tape samples. It's as if Ashin took a tortured, compact confession and ran it through fun-house mirrors to mock his own inner conflict. In the past month, it hasn't once failed to put a smile on my face.

Gabe Meline, KQED

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Song
Age Of Transparency
Album
Age Of Transparency
Artist
Autre Ne Veut
Label
Downtown
Released
2015

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Illa J. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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06Sunflower

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    Song
    Sunflower
    Album
    Illa J
    Artist
    Illa J
    Label
    Cross Talk International
    Released
    2015

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Illa J feat. Allie, 'Sunflower'

  • from Illa J

Illa J, the younger brother of the late hip-hop legend J Dilla, recently dropped his new album, a self-titled effort that defies genre classification by mixing hip-hop vibes, acid jazz and progressive soul sensibilities. This is clearly evident in "Sunflower," which features the sultry and ebullient guest vocals of Canadian singer Allie. The track drips with progressive-soul ambiance that recalls '70s-era Roy Ayers, Leon Ware or Norman Connors, but with a modern twist that grooves heavily in both its melodic composition and vocal interplay. This is assured, soul-affirming work — a great combination that bodes well for the burgeoning artist and producer.

Chris Campbell, WDET's The Progressive Underground

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Song
Illa J
Album
Illa J
Artist
Illa J
Label
Cross Talk International
Released
2015

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01Point to Point

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    Song
    Point to Point
    Album
    Lost at Last
    Artist
    Jon Stickley Trio
    Released
    2015

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Jon Stickley Trio, 'Point To Point'

  • from Lost at Last

Asheville, N.C.'s Jon Stickley has been playing in bluegrass bands for years, and is known as a progressive and adventurous flatpicker, but his musical roots and influences range widely to include rap, grunge, punk and more. When he teamed up with fiddler Lyndsay Pruett and drummer Patrick Armitage — originally as a lighthearted side project — the end result is a wonderfully unique sound that defies easy categorization. "Point To Point," from the Jon Stickley Trio's new album Lost At Last, is an original composition that captures the group's fiery virtuosity perfectly.

Linda Fahey, Folk Alley

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Song
Lost at Last
Album
Lost at Last
Artist
Jon Stickley Trio
Released
2015

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05Northern Highway

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    Song
    Northern Highway
    Album
    Many Moons
    Artist
    Martin Courtney
    Label
    Domino
    Released
    2015

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Martin Courtney, 'Northern Highway'

  • from Many Moons

You might know Martin Courtney as the frontman of Real Estate, a band that specializes in shimmering, sun-dappled sounds that soothe like '70s FM radio or The Byrds in soft focus. So it's not surprising that Courtney's solo debut, Many Moons, has given us another collection of songs to help us float blissfully through a Sunday morning or provide the perfect soundtrack to a contemplative autumn drive. "Northern Highway," in particular, seems custom-crafted for an escape to greener surroundings. This quintessential road song echoes the grand questions we might ponder as we speed toward our destination: "Do you feel just like a stranger? Do you feel just like a shell?" With the music's gentle twists and turns, confronting those existential blues feels just a little less solitary.

Carmel Holt, WFUV

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Song
Many Moons
Album
Many Moons
Artist
Martin Courtney
Label
Domino
Released
2015

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02I Can't Figure Out What's Going On

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    Song
    I Can't Figure Out What's Going On
    Album
    Sun Leads Me On
    Artist
    Half Moon Run
    Label
    Glassnote Entertainment Group
    Released
    2015

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Half Moon Run, 'I Can't Figure Out What's Going On'

  • from Sun Leads Me On

Half Moon Run originally hails from the small Vancouver Island ocean community of Comox, British Columbia, but it wasn't until its members relocated to Montreal that they really made a name for themselves. In the spring of 2012, the band caught almost everyone by surprise with an excellent debut album that achieved gold status in Canada. Three and a half years later, Half Moon Run has returned, more mature and in control, for its second album, Sun Leads Me On. "I Can't Figure Out What's Going On" is a standout; I love a song with a slow build, and this one definitely qualifies. It's like putting a kettle on the stove: The song is calm at first until it starts simmering, hits a rolling boil and finally blasts forward in a heated finish. If you like Spoon, The Band or Sufjan Stevens, chances are you'll love Half Moon Run. Put the kettle on and enjoy.

Grant Lawrence, CBC Music

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Song
Sun Leads Me On
Album
Sun Leads Me On
Artist
Half Moon Run
Label
Glassnote Entertainment Group
Released
2015

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02The Trouble With Us

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    Song
    The Trouble With Us
    Album
    Work EP
    Artist
    Chet Faker & Marcus Marr
    Label
    Detail
    Released
    2015

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Chet Faker & Marcus Marr, 'The Trouble With Us'

  • from Work EP

British DJ Marcus Marr and Melbourne, Australia's Chet Faker have been friends for a while, which means they've been collaborating for far longer than the four days they spent together in Marr's studio to make their new Work EP. The funky "The Trouble With Us" takes advantage of Marr's instrumental chops; even if he's not actually popping lines on a bass guitar, he can make it sound as if he is. Faker (real name: Nick Murphy) brings the smoky voice and lyrical intimacy of his glorious 2014 debut, Built On Glass, but Marr raises the tempo and draws out Faker's pop tendencies. It's an irresistible pairing.

David Dye, World Cafe

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Song
Work EP
Album
Work EP
Artist
Chet Faker & Marcus Marr
Label
Detail
Released
2015

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Chairlift, 'Ch-Ching'

  • from Moth

Amid whistles, snaps, horns and driving percussion, Caroline Polachek's voice is the most essential and captivating instrument in Chairlift's new single "Ch-Ching." Manipulating pace and pitch in a disorienting yet bewitching way, the Brooklyn duo has created a danceable track with artful depth and texture. It's an exhilarating first glimpse of Chairlift's upcoming Moth, due out Jan. 19. As enjoyable as the addictive tune is, the video — which captures the song's seductive vibe through a choreographed dance performed by Polachek herself — is even better. Bonus points go to anyone cool enough to nail down the hand movements to go along with the words "27-9-9-23" — I'll be practicing all winter.

Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir

YouTube

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Song
Ch-Ching
Album
Ch-Ching
Artist
Chairlift
Released
2015

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