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

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

Heavy Rotation

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

Hear new music by This Is The Kit, Grizzly Bear, Sean Rowe and more.

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

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This Is The Kit's "Moonshine Freeze" is a big hit at World Cafe. Florian Duboé/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Florian Duboé/Courtesy of the artist

This Is The Kit's "Moonshine Freeze" is a big hit at World Cafe.

Florian Duboé/Courtesy of the artist

Once a month, NPR Music checks in with hosts and music curators from public radio stations across the country to find out which new songs they just can't let go. The depth and variety of their selections is always a joy to behold, and this month's list is no exception. Whether your pleasure is new-wave chamber pop, hypnotic trance-blues or Ethio-jazz that's literally made of star stuff, public radio has you covered.

Listen at the audio link to hear Folk Alley and WYEP's Cindy Howes, Wyoming Public Media's Micah Schweizer and World Cafe's Talia Schlanger share their picks, and read on for the full list.

Hear The Songs

Deb Talan Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

01Bring Water

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    Song
    Bring Water
    Album
    Lucky Girl
    Artist
    Deb Talan
    Label
    Nettwerk
    Released
    2017

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Deb Talan, 'Bring Water'

  • from Lucky Girl

After over a decade of success with the folk-rock group The Weepies, Deb Talan discovered that being in a band, having three kids and surviving stage 3 breast cancer had caused her to lose pieces of her identity. In order to gain it back, the songwriter began working on Lucky Girl. It's her first solo project in 13 years — with an emphasis on "solo," as she plays every instrument on the record. The opening track, "Bring Water," sets the stage for Talan as she digs back into difficult memories she hasn't visited in a long time. Driving percussion throughout the song creates a marching-like quality as she describes how revisiting her past is arduous enough to set her heart on fire: "Bring water / Something's on fire / Bring water / That must be my heart." Through Talan's fine songcraft,"Bring Water" and the rest of the songs on Lucky Girl prove that in order to regain and heal yourself, looking back and processing your past — although it can be painful — leads to the ultimate reward of a happy and full life.

Cindy Howes, Folk Alley/WYEP

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Song
Lucky Girl
Album
Lucky Girl
Artist
Deb Talan
Label
Nettwerk
Released
2017

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Otis Taylor Evan Sem/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Evan Sem/Courtesy of the artist

Fantasizing About Being Black

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    Fantasizing About Being Black
    Album
    Fantasizing About Being Black
    Artist
    Otis Taylor
    Label
    Trance Blues Festival
    Released
    2117

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Otis Taylor, 'Twelve String Mile'

  • from Fantasizing About Being Black

Otis Taylor's new album opens with a bumpy rhythm section under a freewheeling solo cornet, stinging lap-steel guitar and a devastating representation of a black man who, in the Deep South in the 1930s, wouldn't dare look a white man in the eye: "I'm alive now, be dead soon," Taylor intones on "Twelve String Mile." Taylor calls his style of music "trance blues" — moody, repetitive grooves that create space for spare, evocative lyrics and urgent ideas. On 2013's My World Is Gone, Taylor tackled the treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government; now, on Fantasizing About Being Black, he confronts the historical trauma of the African-American experience. The subject matter isn't easy, but the hypnotic style won't let you go. "A big black man, got dark, dark eyes / Big, big man, got dark, dark skin," Taylor moans. "Nobody sees me." But we hear him.

Micah Schweizer, Wyoming Public Media's Wyoming Sounds

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Song
Fantasizing About Being Black
Album
Fantasizing About Being Black
Artist
Otis Taylor
Label
Trance Blues Festival
Released
2117

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This Is The Kit Lucy Sugden-Smith/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Lucy Sugden-Smith/Courtesy of the artist

This Is The Kit, 'Moonshine Freeze'

  • from Moonshine Freeze

My first thought when I heard this song was "Can I take a bath in this, please?" You get the initial sound of that warm bass and ethereal voice, the snaking shaker, the layered harmonies and the unexpected brass that brings it all to a thrilling climax. And then there's the hypnotic repetition of "moonshine, moonshine, moonshine freeze." Kate Stables, the songwriter behind This is the Kit, borrowed the concept from a children's clapping game where you say "moonshine" three times, and then freeze. Simple, right? Not in Stables' deft, poetic hands. In the lyrics, Stables sets up her concept: "Cycles of three, triangles are tricky." Then, she structures the song in a cycle of three — a triangle of verses, each with its own subtle but important lyrical differences, where "as the change sets in, we are separate" turns into "we are one again" turns into "we have lost our way." Then you realize that a triangle is the Greek letter delta: Δ, the symbol used in math and science to represent change. Then you remember what Stables sang about change and about cycles. And then all you can do is hit repeat and listen again, in a cycle of at least three.

Talia Schlanger, World Cafe

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Song
Moonshine Freeze
Album
Moonshine Freeze
Artist
This Is The Kit
Label
Rough Trade
Released
2017

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Sean Rowe Matt Dayak/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Matt Dayak/Courtesy of the artist

06Newton's Cradle

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    Newton's Cradle
    Album
    New Lore
    Artist
    Sean Rowe
    Label
    Anti-
    Released
    2117

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Sean Rowe, 'Newton's Cradle'

  • from New Lore

While a single typically sells you on an artist's sound, every once in a while someone releases a song that serves not as a representation of their style, but as a stepping stone to the rest of their catalog. New York's Sean Rowe did just that earlier this year with "Newton's Cradle" — the lead single from his fifth album, New Lore. This upbeat, soft-rock-oriented song bears the acoustic fruits that make Rowe's songwriting so compelling — but packaged in a catchy, easily accessible toe-tapper. Between bouncing and swelling string riffs and lyrics that compare tiffs in a relationship to a novelty office item, "Newton's Cradle" introduces Rowe against welcome accompaniment — yet demands listeners to familiarize themselves with his more stripped-down compositions.

—Jack Anderson, KUTX

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New Lore
Album
New Lore
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Sean Rowe
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Anti-
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2117

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Meklit John Nilsen/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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John Nilsen/Courtesy of the artist

Meklit, Supernova

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Meklit, 'Supernova'

  • from When The People Move, The Music Moves Too

Meklit Hadero is an Ethiopia-born singer who lives in Oakland, and if you have any doubts that the musical styles of East Africa and the Bay Area can be melded with equal parts grit and grace, she'll knock them right out of you with vocals, horns and percussion — such exhilarating, heartbeat-propelling percussion — by the time the first chorus comes around. "Supernova" was born when Meklit, who's somehow a TED Fellow in her spare time, met Jon Jenkins, a NASA researcher who makes sonifications of Kepler telescope data. That means the expansive, electrically charged beat of this tune is actually, kind of, made of star stuff: It's the translated sound of light from a hot pair of stars that orbit each other in Earth's line of sight, causing an eclipse, as Jenkins recently told Gizmodo. The track is just one of several surprising nuggets of ear candy on When The People Move, The Music Moves Too (out June 23), which features an eclectic range of collaborators — like Andrew Bird and the brass firepower of the Preservation Hall horns.

Emma Silvers, KQED

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When The People Move, The Music Moves Too
Album
When The People Move, The Music Moves Too
Artist
Meklit
Label
Six Degrees Records
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2117

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Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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02Subconscious-Lee

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    Subconscious-Lee
    Album
    Small Town
    Artist
    Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
    Label
    ECM Records
    Released
    2117

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Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, 'Subconscious-Lee'

  • from Small Town

Bill Frisell, the soft-spoken and ingenious jazz guitarist, has a history of deep connection with musical partners. But his rapport with bassist Thomas Morgan — as heard on their exquisite new album, Small Town — amounts to something extremely special. Hear what they do together on "Subconscious-Lee," an old Lee Konitz tune based on Cole Porter's harmonic progression in "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Swinging at a medium-brisk clip, they pounce on each other's lines like a veteran comedy team, often blurring the line between lead and accompaniment. The track, like the rest of the album, was recorded at the Village Vanguard just a few months ago, and as the best albums made in that club do, it puts you right in the room.

—Nate Chinen, WBGO

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Small Town
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Small Town
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Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
Label
ECM Records
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Grizzly Bear Tom Hines/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Tom Hines/Courtesy of the artist

Grizzly Bear, 'Mourning Sound'

  • from Painted Ruins

If the '80s taught us anything, it's that bouncy synths and guitars work well with bummer lyrics. Something about that juxtaposition makes the sadness go down easy, and the new Grizzly Bear song "Mourning Sound" stands up with the best. After the band's five-year break, the return of these indie chamber-pop greats is exciting — the new album, Painted Ruins, is set for release Aug. 18, and this song exemplifies the maturation of a band now approaching its 15th year. Like all Grizzly Bear songs, "Mourning Sound" can take repeated listens to fully reveal itself, and while the band's sonically creative approach is usually front-and-center, what we hear first is a shiny new-wave exterior as Ed Droste imparts his opening confession: "I made a mistake. I should have never tried." By the time love dies in the lyrics, we're all goners, in the best possible way.

—Carmel Holt, WFUV

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Rozwell Kid Emily Dubin/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Emily Dubin/Courtesy of the artist

07UHF On DVD

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    UHF On DVD
    Album
    Precious Art
    Artist
    Rozwell Kid
    Label
    SideOneDummy
    Released
    2117

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Rozwell Kid, 'UHF On DVD'

  • from Precious Art

Have three minutes to spare for a power-pop tune about hanging-10 atop a wicked homemade surfboard composed of '90s nostalgia and a hankering for tacos? The answer should be a resounding "yes," but if it's not, alt-punk band Rozwell Kid and its new single "UHF On DVD" will change your mind. Guitar harmonies, a fuzzy bassline and killer drum fills bind the West Virginia four-piece in this song as it attempts to ride out waves of human isolation, anxiety attacks and the need for hometown comfort — experiences that actually occurred to frontman Jordan Hudkins during the band's tour through Australia. As the band's guitarist, Adam Meisterhans, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting in a recent interview, "I've known Jordan for 12 or 13 years. He sent me the first songs he ever wrote. So it's crazy to go through these life changes together... [and now] I get to experience the records we make as an active participant of the band, but also as a fan of his writing." Give this song a listen, and I think you'll be a fan, too.

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

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Precious Art
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Precious Art
Artist
Rozwell Kid
Label
SideOneDummy
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2117

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Tero Ahonen/Courtesy of the artist

Mikko Joensuu, 'There Used To Be A Darkness'

  • from Amen 2

I discovered Finnish artist Mikko Joensuu's solo work during a trip to Helsinki last December, and I was immediately taken by the emotional quality of the songs and lyrics. Some songs, like "Warning Sign," are deeply mournful, with a high lonesome sound conjuring up Zen cowboy Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Other songs, like "No One Knows," rock like The War On Drugs. All of the songs felt like a deeply cathartic release of pent-up emotions — at times liberating, at other times exhausting. Intrigued, I put Joensuu at the top of my list of artists to see at the Estonian new music showcase Tallinn Music Week, where he played a four-song set. The final song started out quiet and twangy, before blasting off into an epic, hypnotic noise-fest — a lot like "There Used To Be A Darkness," from the second album in Joensuu's Amen trilogy. This is music worth travelling 4,808 miles for — a small price for total transcendence.

—Kevin Cole, KEXP

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