The Best Music Of January: NPR Staff Picks
The Best Music Of January: NPR Staff Picks
Every month, we ask the NPR Music staff: What's the one song you couldn't escape? What's the one album to which you'll return all year? In January, we saw ourselves in FKA twigs and Jazmine Sullivan, drank from Ian Sweet's astral pop, shuffled Cassandra Jenkins' Tarot deck and got lost in William Parker's tone worlds.
Follow the Press Pause playlist for the NPR Music staff's favorite new songs.
FKA twigs (feat. Headie One, Fred again..), "Don't Judge Me"
White supremacy is an invisible oppressor armed with centuries of power. Patriarchy is a similar tyrant. As a Black person, I don't know who's going to hate me until they're revealed. As a Black woman, I don't know who's going to follow me down the street, leering and calling me lewd names my mother didn't give me until they do. On her new single, "Don't Judge Me," FKA twigs — alongside drill rapper Headie One and producer Fred again.. — battles hidden persecutors with raw vulnerability. Full of elegant coos, swelling synth production and hypnotic drums, the track finds twigs begging for judgement-free connection. Her requests range from the structural to the interpersonal: don't discriminate against me; don't pass judgement on how I cope; don't blame me for needing what you won't give. Still, with all her appeals, twigs' offer rings the loudest in a tender refrain: "I'll send the precious kinda love your way." —LaTesha Harris
Jazmine Sullivan: "Girl Like Me (feat. H.E.R.)" from Heaux Tales
Great sex and a bus pass or bad sex and a Maybach? These are the big questions Jazmine Sullivan ponders. Six years since her last album, Sullivan's Heaux Tales is a catalog of the dirty laundry women keep locked away when it comes to relationships — all the things we wouldn't dare dare say on a dating profile, but definitely divulge to our homegirls. From daydreams of bagging a millionaire to endless hours spent on self-comparison to Instagram baddies, Sullivan sews together her own deep-seated insecurities, a few rants from friends and her searingly specific songwriting. Even with her enthralling lower register, there's an air of vulnerability in these stories that's free of judgement. Get ready for story time in the group chat. —Sidney Madden
Ian Sweet: "Drink the Lake" from Show Me How You Disappear
Jilian Medford wrote much of Ian Sweet's new album, Show Me How You Disappear, while recovering from a mental health crisis; its songs bring anxious, astral pop to bear on questions of what it means to have a healthy relationship with yourself and with own thoughts. In "Drink the Lake," which balances fuzzed-out production and Medford's clear-eyed delivery, she recounts her attempts to break out of an obsessive pattern of thought by repeating someone's name backwards. —Marissa Lorusso
Cassandra Jenkins: "Hard Drive" from An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
"Hard Drive" has its origins in voice memos and sound recordings, including the voice of a museum security guard at the Met, a bookkeeper in Topanga Canyon, her New York City driving instructor and a psychic at a birthday party. Cassandra Jenkins told me that the lyrics came together like shuffling a deck of Tarot cards and reading connections between a specific set a characters. By stepping back and looking at them side by side, Jenkins says that she was able to see some of the common threads in conversations that she was having with people. With music built from an organ loop and drum beat heard on friend's Instagram page, the found instrumentation fit the spirit of the song. —Bob Boilen
William Parker: "The Golden Light (Hymn)" and "A Great Day to be Dead" from Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World
For the past 40 years, William Parker has been a crucial figure on the New York free-jazz scene, shredding with the likes of saxophonist David S. Ware and pianist Matthew Shipp — that's how I first came to Parker — but also meditating on the upright bass' more tender textures. Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World is a 10-disc box set that focuses on Parker's compositions, often without him playing, all recorded in just a two-year time span. From Stevie Wonder-inspired soul and acoustic drone to spoken word and spiritual jazz — not to mention spell-binding album-length pieces for solo piano and voice, performed by Eri Yamamoto and Lisa Sokolov, respectively — this a monumental set of works with a wide range of ensembles and styles, cohered by one singular passion: William Parker wants to move our consciousness through vibration. —Lars Gotrich