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Heavy Rotation

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

KXT in North Texas loves Charley Crockett's song "I Am Not Afraid." Lyza Renee/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Lyza Renee/Courtesy of the artist

KXT in North Texas loves Charley Crockett's song "I Am Not Afraid."

Lyza Renee/Courtesy of the artist

Each month, NPR Music asks disc jockeys and music experts from public radio stations across the country to share one song they can't get enough of. In July's edition, you'll hear new music by Queens rocksteady band The Frightnrs, R&B producer and singer Blood Orange, Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow and more — an eclectic mix that's just right for summer.

Hear The Songs

James Vincent McMorrow, We Move hide caption

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James Vincent McMorrow, 'Rising Water'

The first single from James Vincent McMorrow's forthcoming album, We Move, begins with a synth-bass lick and an electronic handclap. It's a production trick straight out of the R&B canon of the late 1980s, and it's a little disconcerting at first. But any fears of misplaced nostalgia disappear seconds later, when a thumping beat joins in and launches the song forward with cardiac efficiency. Produced by Nineteen85 (Drake, dvsn), the song's bells and whistles are frequent, but they're wielded with a light touch, allowing the Irishman's sublime falsetto to rightfully take center stage. We Move was written and recorded in four countries during a time of flux in McMorrow's life, and the resulting uneasiness and anxiety are palpable in his voice and in the sentiment of "Rising Water." But there's also a sense of hopefulness, as McMorrow repeatedly insists, "You make me feel alive in spite of rising water."

Jerad Walker, opbmusic

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Kungs Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Kungs, 'This Girl'

French producer, DJ and instrumentalist Valentin Brunel — better known as Kungs — experienced his musical beginnings at age 5, when his parents gave him a djembe (a West African hand drum). It was a gift that kept on giving. Now 19, Kungs has already had his single "This Girl" reach No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart, almost upending Drake's hold on No. 1. Kungs previously seduced house-music fans worldwide with remixes of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie And Clyde" and a stunning version of Bob Marley's "Jammin'," just to name two. For "This Girl," he teamed with the funky Australian soul trio Cookin' On 3 Burners to bring on what may well be the dance track of the summer. Though Kungs takes his music seriously, his sounds are carefree, fun and a staple of my summer DJ sets.

Anne Litt, KCRW

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Song
This Girl
Album
This Girl
Artist
Kungs vs. Cookin' on 3 Burners
Label
Universal
Released
2016

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Cover for Can't Think - Single

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

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Dawg Yawp, 'Can't Think'

Tyler Randall and Rob Keenan grew up in Cincinnati together, went to Berklee College of Music together, dropped out together and returned home together to create Dawg Yawp. Like its Ohioan cousins in The Black Keys, Dawg Yawp is a duo that sounds much bigger than two people, thanks to Randall's sitar and Keenan's synth samples. "Can't Think" is quirkier, darker and heavier than their other songs, and it's a standout track. There's more where this came from, too: The duo's debut EP, Two Hearted, is out now, with more music slated to follow soon.

Liz Felix, WNKU

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Song
Can't Think - Single
Album
Can't Think - Single
Artist
Dawg Yawp

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Cass McCombs Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

I Am Not Afraid

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Cass McCombs, 'Opposite House'

Over the past decade or so, Cass McCombs has quietly created a deep catalog of songs that have grown to be well-respected by other artists; Jenny Lewis and The National (with Bob Weir) have covered his work. As a songwriter, McCombs operates with a high degree of difficulty: Never settling for the obvious, he invariably opts for a clever lyrical phrase or a truthful metaphor. This all comes together in "Opposite House." With an assist from Angel Olsen, McCombs delivers direct, conversational vocals wrapped around a solid melody. His lyrics question what is home — the walls of our rooms, or the home inside our heads? — and describe the beautiful push-pull of love: "When it rains inside, there is nowhere to hide, which is why I'm all sunshine." The songwriting greats would be proud of this one.

Rita Houston, WFUV

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Song
Cass McCombs
Album
Cass McCombs
Artist
Opposite House
Released
2016

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Blood Orange, 'Best To You'

Freetown Sound, Devonté Hynes' latest album as Blood Orange, is a wonderfully eclectic collection of songs — political yet invitingly personal — that explore issues of identity, race, sexuality and religion. "Best To You" is easily its poppiest song, boasting a hook that won't leave your head. The chilled-out melody and vocal line, courtesy of Empress Of, is so sugary and sweet that it almost disguises the desperation and loneliness of the words. That's part of what makes the song (and album) so powerful: At its core, there's an honesty and vulnerability that sucks you in emotionally. The season's well on its way to being over, but this could just make it under the wire to become the jam of the summer.

Kevin Cole, KEXP

Listen to "Best To You" via Spotify.

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

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BADBADNOTGOOD, 'Time Moves Slow'

"Time Moves Slow," from Toronto band BADBADNOTGOOD's fourth album IV, exemplifies the record's experimental jazz-fusion sound while unveiling fresh, imaginative concepts. Future Islands singer Sam Herring's impassioned, bluesy vocals make the track a slow-burner whose vivid and arresting climax is underscored by a catchy hook: "Time moves slow when we get to the end / Running away is easy, it's the leaving that's hard." Meanwhile, BBNG's jazz and hip-hop pedigrees are evident in the fiery, powerful rhythms that underlay Herring's vocals. "Time Moves Slow" is essentially a blues ballad colored by hip-hop sounds and lounge-style grooves — a timeless track that could easily become a modern classic.

Chris Campbell, 101.9 FM WDET's The Progressive Underground

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

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Lady Midnight x Afrokeys, 'Wax Line'

Lady Midnight has developed her chops by playing in wide-ranging groups like the electro-pop trio VANDAAM and the horn-fueled Afro-Cuban band Malamanya. There's never been a better time to take a closer look at this entrancing singer, however, as she emerges as a solo artist. Her new mixtape offers an airy mash-up of Beyonce's "Hold Up" and Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," and this scintillating pop single with beatmaker Afrokeys places her talents squarely in the spotlight. It's hard not to picture Sade lounging on a yacht in the Caribbean, or Lady Midnight herself coolly driving around town with the top down. It's vibey, it's catchy, and yet it's distinct; completely her, and a harbinger of great music to come.


—Andrea Swensson, The Current

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02Nothing More To Say

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    Song
    Nothing More To Say
    Album
    Nothing More To Say
    Artist
    The Frightnrs
    Label
    Daptone
    Released
    2016

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The Frightnrs, 'Nothing More To Say'

In early June, the New York reggae and rocksteady band The Frightnrs lost lead singer Dan Klein to ALS. Klein had been diagnosed with the illness months before the band began recording Nothing More To Say, its first album for Daptone Records, but found the strength to carry on with the sessions in spite of his debilitation. With Klein at the helm, the album's title song sounds like Smokey Robinson recording at Jamaica's Studio One. The trancelike groove floats steadily, the chunka-chunka rhythm is fresh and snappy, and when Klein sings, "I don't want to fight / I'll be gone before the night," the love song takes on a sadder and more profound meaning.

Bruce Warren, WXPN

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My Morning Jacket, 'Magic Bullet'

"I don't pretend to think that a song can fix or change the world instantly," My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James recently wrote. "But if we say nothing, then nothing will ever change. And things have got to change." The groove-laden ambient track "Magic Bullet" is the Louisville rockers' attempt to practice what they preach. Released in response to recent violence in the U.S., the song provides a reminder that the answer to injustice and suffering ultimately comes from within each of us individually — but also that it can only be found with help from one another.

Sean Cannon, WFPK's The Guestlist

Listen to "Magic Bullet" via Soundcloud.

Charley Crockett, In The Night
Lyza Renee/Courtesy of the artist

01I Am Not Afraid

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Charley Crockett, 'I Am Not Afraid'

We've all heard it before: "Her songs are so good" or "You have to hear this guy play." As radio programmers who shuffle through hundreds of songs each week, we tend to take these accolades with a grain of salt. A friend had been telling me about Charley Crockett's music for a while and finally, late one night, I happened to see him jump on stage at a local dive in Dallas. I quickly realized that this was an artist who lived up to the hype. Crockett's throwback sound is a blend of blues, New Orleans jazz and soul. With songs like "I Am Not Afraid," his new album In The Night is sure to attract attention outside of Dallas. It doesn't hurt that one of his friends and biggest supporters is fellow Texas retro-soul singer Leon Bridges — if you're lucky enough, you might see Bridges join Crockett for a song or two at any given show.

Amy Miller, KXT

Buy Featured Music

Song
I Am Not Afraid
Album
I Am Not Afraid
Artist
Charley Crockett
Released
2016

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