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

Heavy Rotation

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

WFUV can't get enough of Mavis Staples' new song "High Note," which was written for her by fellow singer Valerie June. Chris Strong/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Chris Strong/Courtesy of the artist

WFUV can't get enough of Mavis Staples' new song "High Note," which was written for her by fellow singer Valerie June.

Chris Strong/Courtesy of the artist

Weighty collaborations abound in January's mix of new songs handpicked by 10 public-radio music curators. Start off with the single that Valerie June wrote for (and performs with) Mavis Staples, then hear a JD McPherson-produced tune by The Cactus Blossoms, Charlie Hilton's duet with Mac DeMarco, and more. These are the songs some of our favorite DJs loved this month; chances are you'll find something here to love, too.

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

Mavis Staples. Chris Strong/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Chris Strong/Courtesy of the artist

05High Note

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464411407" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    High Note
    Album
    Livin' On A High Note
    Artist
    Mavis Staples
    Label
    Anti-
    Released
    2016

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Mavis Staples, 'High Note'

  • from Livin' On A High Note

The mighty and vibrant Mavis Staples adds another creative chapter to her six-decade career with Livin' On A High Note, a collection of songs written for her by admiring collaborators (Neko Case, Nick Cave and Aloe Blacc among them). It's no surprise that Staples would turn to current songwriters for inspiration; The Staple Singers were known for recording the significant songs of their time. This one, written by Valerie June, also invokes the classic Staple Singers sound, with layered vocals and a nod to Pops' guitar work. This is the first time these mutual admirers have worked together, but it turns out they have a lot in common: They both started young in music, they both have gospel in their background, and they both worked closely with their dads. "High Note" brings out the joyful, truthful best in both.

Rita Houston, WFUV

Buy Featured Music

Song
Livin' On A High Note
Album
Livin' On A High Note
Artist
Mavis Staples
Label
Anti-
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Villagers. Andrew Whitton/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Andrew Whitton/Courtesy of the artist

07Memoir

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464427370" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Memoir
    Album
    Where Have You Been All My Life?
    Artist
    Villagers
    Label
    Domino
    Released
    2016

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Villagers, 'Memoir'

  • from Where Have You Been All My Life?

Sometimes you need to take a second listen; to look at a piece of art from a different angle. You can find many examples of this principle in the record business; Peter Frampton re-recording his greatest hits live for the Frampton Comes Alive! album embodies the trend at its most commercial. Not that Conor O'Brien of Villagers has those intentions with his live-in-the-studio revisiting of his three studio albums for a new collection called Where Have You Been All My Life? We've heard these songs on albums like {Awayland} and Darling Arithmetic in far different ways. This time, after months of touring, O'Brien plays small ball and runs the set list mostly live in one take at London's RAK studio, resulting in a cohesive album of his repertoire. One of the most compelling reinventions is O'Brien's version of "Memoir," a song he'd originally written for Charlotte Gainsbourg.

David Dye, World Cafe

Buy Featured Music

Song
Where Have You Been All My Life?
Album
Where Have You Been All My Life?
Artist
Villagers
Label
Domino
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

The Cactus Blossoms. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the artist

07Change Your Ways Or Die

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464426637" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Change Your Ways Or Die
    Album
    You're Dreaming
    Artist
    The Cactus Blossoms
    Label
    Burnside Distribution
    Released
    2015

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

The Cactus Blossoms, 'Change Your Ways Or Die'

  • from You're Dreaming

Minneapolis brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum — who perform together as The Cactus Blossoms — got their start when singing old country songs for fun landed them a residency at St. Paul music venue The Turf Club. That led to an opportunity to open for JD McPherson, and shortly thereafter, they got a call that McPherson wanted to produce their next album in his Chicago studio. The result is You're Dreaming, a collection of mostly originals written by Torrey. The sound is undeniably reminiscent of classic sibling duos like the Everly and Louvin Brothers. This song, "Change Your Ways Or Die," is a cautionary tale with tight harmonies and a catchy, cool guitar riff. It's one of many songs from the album that will be in heavy rotation on Folk Alley — and a certain early addition to our "Best Of 2016" list.

Linda Fahey, Folk Alley

Buy Featured Music

Song
You're Dreaming
Album
You're Dreaming
Artist
Cactus Blossoms
Label
Burnside Distribution
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

M. Ward. Sarah Cass/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Sarah Cass/Courtesy of the artist

06Girl From Conejo Valley

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464412029" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Girl From Conejo Valley
    Album
    More Rain
    Artist
    M. Ward
    Label
    Merge Records
    Released
    2016

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

M. Ward, 'Girl From Conejo Valley'

  • from More Rain

M. Ward is back with his first solo work in more than three years, titled More Rain. The new album features a long list of collaborators: R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Neko Case and k.d. lang all add to the mix. But the sound of More Rain's first single, "Girl From Conejo Valley," is all Ward — an upbeat slice of mandolin-infused Americana, doused in Moog synthesizers and served with a tone of understated cool.

Jerad Walker, opbmusic

Buy Featured Music

Song
More Rain
Album
More Rain
Artist
M. Ward
Label
Merge Records
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Charlie Hilton. Miranda Lehman/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Miranda Lehman/Courtesy of the artist

11100 Million

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464411744" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    100 Million
    Album
    Palana
    Artist
    Charlie Hilton
    Label
    Captured Tracks
    Released
    2016

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Charlie Hilton, '100 Million'

  • from Palana

Charlie Hilton's vocals may be spaced-out and dreamy in "100 Million" — with music to match — but that's not all there is to her solo debut, Palana. The album touches on many feelings, moods and sounds, matching Hilton's belief that we are not static beings but rather "many people" on the inside. In "100 Million," her voice evokes Nico: It's imperfect in a perfect way. At the end of the song, we hear the backing vocals of Mac DeMarco, who also steps in instrumentally.

Hilton is part of the Portland band Blouse, but it's great to hear her step out on her own. This song closes with a nod to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" — perhaps accidental, but just one more reason to love it.

Anne Litt, KCRW

Buy Featured Music

Song
Palana
Album
Palana
Artist
Charlie Hilton
Label
Captured Tracks
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Nao. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the artist

01Bad Blood

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464413349" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Bad Blood
    Album
    Bad Blood
    Artist
    Nao
    Label
    Little Tokyo
    Released
    2015

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Nao, 'Bad Blood'

  • from Bad Blood

Nao is a 24-year-old singer, songwriter and producer from East London who's had singing jobs with the likes of Jarvis Cocker. Now, Nao is taking her first steps as a solo artist, and has finally settled on a sound that claims influences like SBTRKT and Bjork. Check out her latest single, "Bad Blood," for an advance taste of her still-untitled debut album.

Huw Stephens, BBC Radio 1

Buy Featured Music

Song
Bad Blood
Album
Bad Blood
Artist
Nao
Label
Little Tokyo
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Jack Garratt. Daniel Harris/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Daniel Harris/Courtesy of the artist

05Worry

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464412671" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Worry
    Album
    Phase
    Artist
    Jack Garratt
    Label
    Island
    Released
    2016

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Jack Garratt, 'Worry'

  • from Phase

BBC Music's annual "Sound Of" poll provided early indications of success for the likes of Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Adele. This past month, they crowned 24-year-old British singer-songwriter Jack Garratt as their 2016 artist to watch, and with good reason. "Worry," from the forthcoming Phase, is an unrequited love song with enough electro-hop jeers and folk-pop tears to make any fan of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" swoon.

Joni Deutsch, WVPB's A Change Of Tune and Mountain Stage

Buy Featured Music

Song
Phase
Album
Phase
Artist
Jack Garratt
Label
Island
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Sarah Williams White. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the artist

07Hum, Pt. 1

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464412383" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Hum, Pt. 1
    Album
    Of the New World
    Artist
    Sarah Williams White
    Label
    First Word
    Released
    2015

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Sarah Williams White, 'Hum'

  • from Of the New World

Sarah Williams White is a soul singer from South London who, along with her peers — including Henry Wu, her brother Peter White and Mo Kolours — resides at the forefront of soul music's ongoing evolution. "Hum," from her album Of The New World, is a progressive, jazzy, soulfully vibrant track that blends robust basslines and percussion with breathy vocals and atmospheric emoting. The result is a satisfying song with many layers and a seemingly effortless groove.

Chris Campbell, WDET's The Progressive Underground

Buy Featured Music

Song
Of the New World
Album
Of the New World
Artist
Sarah Williams White
Label
First Word
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

We Are The City. Kirsten Huculiak/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Kirsten Huculiak/Courtesy of the artist

03Keep On Dancing

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464411023/464413713" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Keep On Dancing
    Album
    Above Club
    Artist
    We Are the City
    Label
    Tooth & Nail
    Released
    2015

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

We Are The City, 'Keep On Dancing'

  • from Above Club

One of Canada's most intriguing bands, We Are The City is originally from a tiny town called Peachland, British Columbia, in the sun-baked Okanagan Valley. The three members (Cayne McKenzie, Andy Huculiak and David Menzel) grew up together and eventually relocated to Vancouver. Over time, the band's once-frenetic sound has become more and more mature, but We Are The City's latest album, Above Club, is a revelation. In "Keep On Dancing," moody vocals and dark percussion hearken back to some of the breakthrough post-punk-revival bands of the early 2000s, but We Are The City sounds fresh and more than radio-ready for this decade.

Grant Lawrence, CBC Music

Buy Featured Music

Song
Above Club
Album
Above Club
Artist
We Are the City
Label
Tooth & Nail
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Deep Sea Divers. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the artist

Deep Sea Diver, 'Secrets'

  • from Secrets

Jessica Dobson is a bona fide badass. She's played guitar in Beck's band and with The Shins, taken on the bass and keyboards with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and recorded with Spoon. Now, Dobson is turning her attention back to her own project, Deep Sea Diver. "Secrets," the title track of DSD's new album, is sublime, with so much to devour sonically. The guitar's interplay with the bass, drums and voice is spectacular as the song ebbs and flows, building to a powerful crescendo that ought to expose this well-kept secret for the world to enjoy.

Kevin Cole, KEXP

YouTube

Buy Featured Music

Song
Secrets
Album
Secrets
Artist
Deep Sea Diver
Label
High Beam Records
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?