Courtesy of the artists
Lil Nas X (left), FKA Twigs and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend
Courtesy of the artists
The arbitrary boundaries dividing music into genres, localities and charts have all but eroded. This month's collection of songs is a small, but tremendous, piece of proof.
Lil Nas X, the much-ballyhooed yeehaw rapper, upended country's traditional gatekeepers with a clever SoundCloud placement and the aid of one Billy Ray Cyrus. Beyoncé recruited Memphis producer du jour Tay Keith for a modern and historical spin on a generation-transcending cookout jam. The duo of Wilma Vritra pulls apart the liminal and geographic space between U.K. and American jazz and hip-hop broached upon by the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and BADBADNOTGOOD. And, not to be outdone, electro-chabbi pioneer Islam Chipsy weaves together tradition and modernity on his latest offering.
Even with the less radical songs on this list, including Little Big Town's quietly subversive paean to "The Daughters," K-pop golden boys BTS' latest inroads into the hearts and minds of global pop consumers and FKA Twigs' beautiful, gutting artistic rebirth, there's a reckoning underway.
Below you'll find a complete, alphabetized list of NPR Music's favorite 20 songs for April, as well as a Spotify playlist to hear them. And be sure to check out the 10 best albums we heard in April, too.
Anderson .Paak, "Make it Better"
There's nothing easy about admitting you've fallen out of love. But FaceTime fights, shifting expectations and awkward silences aside, Anderson .Paak's "Make It Better" makes its case for putting the work in at love's most pivotal moments. —Sidney Madden
Beyoncé, "Before I Let Go"
Maze and Frankie Beverly's 1981 hit "Before I Let Go" has long been synonymous with uniting family cookouts in a matrimony of intergenerational two-steps and (off-key) high notes. But in this 2019 cover, Beyoncé infused the classic with contemporary touches of a heart-pumping, double-timed bassline courtesy of Tay Keith, marching band horns, an instructional rap verse and sonic nods to Mr. C, Cameo and Aaliyah. What a generous queen. —Sidney Madden
BTS, "Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)"
"Boy With Luv" glistens, coy and just sultry enough for the biggest boy band in the world. Balmed by glossy blips, guitar loops and Halsey's sweet, global crossover-ready harmonies, BTS' world domination is here, and it's sinfully sweet. —Joshua Bote
Cave In, "All Illusion"
Simultaneously jangly and throttling, heartfelt and cryptic, Cave In's "All Illusion" is the metal-turned-space-rock band's return, which arrives with a patina of sorrow. The presence of Caleb Scofield, the band's former singer and bassist who died last year in a car accident, is felt throughout, with lyrics cribbed from his journal and his majestic bass out front, particularly in those miraculous final moments. —Lars Gotrich
Cienfue, "Shining in the Dark"
For the first time, the surfer and Panamanian singer/songwriter Camilo Navarro Quelquejeu sings his new album Sunset Sesh completely in English. Recording under the name Cienfue, his channels his signature tropical psychedelia into a catchy, guitar-driven bit of pop. It's a very good example of Cienfue's approach if you're not already familiar with his music. —Felix Contreras
Tom Demac, "Second Skin"
The British techno producer isn't afraid to imbue his functional rhythms with wistful chord progressions, and this minimal cut from his Serenade EP brims with restrained emotion. —Otis Hart
FKA Twigs, "Cellophane"
FKA Twigs doesn't so much burn, but simmer, through this phoenix-esque rebirth. "Cellophane" peers at, and through, a broken and desperate love with an arrangement that turns down her signature Cubist clatter, finding her gasping and soaring through a crushed ballad instead. —Lars Gotrich
Girl Unit feat. Kelela, "WYWD (Remix)"
U.K. producer Phil Gamble, who records as Girl Unit, helped define the electronic subgenre of bass music with the 2010 juggernaut "Wut." His "WYWD" remix, which was released in shorter form on last year's Night Slugs Allstars X compilation and now caps his debut LP, Song Feel, is a breezier affair than anything in his or Kelela's discography. —Otis Hart
Aldous Harding, "Fixture Picture"
In a string-sweetened ballad that's as mercurial as it is beautiful, the New Zealand singer-songwriter crafts a pristinely appointed reminder that "you can't be pure and in love." —Stephen Thompson
Islam Chipsy, "El Daynasour"
The Egyptian electro-chabbi artist, with his trusty percussionists, unleash an incendiary – and irresistible – fusion of traditional Arabic wedding dance music beats and souped up synths imitating nasally winds and brass. —Tom Huizenga
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Julien"
"Julien" is not, despite the probably inevitable fanfic, an ode to Julien Baker (whose response to the song was perfection). No, it's Carly Rae Jepsen shimmying into the corners of what-could've-been, with slinky synth-funk and the ache of whispering a lost lover's name. —Lars Gotrich
Lil Nas X, "Old Town Road (Remix)"
We don't quite have music monoculture like we used to. But, against all odds, a SoundCloud-savvy, yeehaw-rap outlaw, with the help of fellow vagabond Billy Ray Cyrus, became a folk hero for the culture en masse with "Old Town Road." Removed from its memeification or not, it absolutely slaps. —Joshua Bote
Little Big Town, "The Daughters"
As the country world continues to reckon with the sexism built into its foundations, its finest harmonizing quartet offers an intimate liberation anthem from a thinking mother's point of view. —Ann Powers
Martha, "Mini Was a Preteen Arsonist"
Based on the true story of an 11-year-old malcontent, this ode to youthful rebellion by one of Britain's best rock bands channels Against Me! and Thin Lizzy in equal measure. —Otis Hart
Patio, "Boy Scout"
Patio's post-punk is stretched taut like cheesecloth over a jar, but strains a vulnerability not always heard in the genre's sometimes too-detached cool. "Boy Scout," with a playful B-52s-style flourish, contemplates ennui and self-care, often in a single line: "I think I'm gonna go home and listen to Washer / Instead of spending anymore time with you." It's a good plan. —Lars Gotrich
Snoh Aalegra, "You"
Like a lace curtain dancing in a breeze or a silk-lined slip dress falling to the floor, the power of "You" lies in its simple, slow, trance-inducing softness. It's perceived to be demure, but demands attention. —Sidney Madden
Molly Tuttle, "Take the Journey"
Both a road song and a rousing call to dream your best, this driving number from bluegrass' brightest young guitar talent shows off both her high lonesome voice and her amazing fingerpicking skills. —Ann Powers
Vampire Weekend, "Unbearably White"
Vampire Weekend shakes off its most damning albatross with a stunning, self-aware devotional that yearns – a self-aware rebuttal sheathed in spare congas, tremolo strings and Ezra Koenig's gentle coos. —Joshua Bote
Daniel Wohl, "Melt"
A sorcerer of electroacoustic sonorities, Daniel Wohl is back with a potent dreamscape of clicks, creaks, jagged interruptions, aching melodies and enough new sounds to keep the most tech-obsessed gear heads guessing. —Tom Huizenga
Wilma Vritra, "The Hill"
"The Hill" is a love song as beautiful and unexpected as the cross-seas collaboration between Pyramid Vritra of Odd Future and British producer Wilma Archer. Their album Burd belongs in your earbuds, too. —Rodney Carmichael
Stream the Songs