The Best Music Of April: NPR Staff Picks : All Songs Considered In April, we adored biting and beautiful indie rock from Pom Pom Squad and Flock of Dimes, witnessed Zao's metallic brutality, were transported by Catalan multi-instrumentalist Rita Payés and kora player Toumani Diabaté, and were reminded why we love ILOVEMAKONNEN.

Songs featured on this episode:
• Pom Pom Squad: "Head Cheerleader" from Death of a Cheerleader
• Flock of Dimes: "Awake for the Sunrise" from Head of Roses
• Zao: "Creator/Destroyer" from The Crimson Corridor
• Rita Payés: "Nunca vas a comprender" from Como La Piel
• Toumani Diabaté & London Symphony Orchestra: "Elyne Road" from Kôrôlén
• ILOVEMAKONNEN: "So Saucy" from My Parade

Follow the Press Pause playlist for the NPR Music staff's favorite new songs.
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The Best Music Of April: NPR Staff Picks

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The Best Music Of April: NPR Staff Picks

The Best Music Of April: NPR Staff Picks

The Best Music Of April: NPR Staff Picks

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/991988246/992533623" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Top row, left to right: Rita Payés, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Flock of Dimes, Zao, Toumani Diabaté, Pom Pom Squad. Courtesy of the artists hide caption

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Courtesy of the artists

Top row, left to right: Rita Payés, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Flock of Dimes, Zao, Toumani Diabaté, Pom Pom Squad.

Courtesy of the artists

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 April, we adored biting and beautiful indie rock from Pom Pom Squad and Flock of Dimes, witnessed Zao's metallic brutality, were transported by Catalan multi-instrumentalist Rita Payés and kora player Toumani Diabaté, and were reminded why we love ILOVEMAKONNEN.

Follow the Press Pause playlist for the NPR Music staff's favorite new songs.


Flock of Dimes: "Awake for the Sunrise" from Head of Roses

For Jenn Wasner's 2016 debut solo album as Flock of Dimes, the singer and guitarist (best known as a member of Wye Oak) worked in creative isolation, controlling all aspects of the recording process. But for her sophomore album, she turned to her friends; members of Sylvan Esso, Hand Habits, Landlady and Bon Iver help hone Wasner's unmistakable voice and sonic landscapes and expand their possibilities. Through blistering indie-rock songs and sparse, tender ballads, Head of Roses mines the dissolution of a romantic relationship to reveal the interconnections between loss and love, and between heartbreak and healing. —Marissa Lorusso

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Pom Pom Squad: "Head Cheerleader" from Death of a Cheerleader

The lead single from Pom Pom Squad's forthcoming debut, Death of a Cheerleader, carries a lot of anxiety, but also a lot of charm. Mia Berrin has a very specific vision; she conjures the image of "the scariest girl on the cheerleading team." Her voice is backed by the static rumble of guitar, bass, drum — all of them somewhat serrated in sound. Her words are biting, in a way, but also earnest and bittersweet. It's like listening to someone overwhelmed, full of both fear and love. —Alex Ramos

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Zao: "Creator/Destroyer" from The Crimson Corridor

I've been listening to Zao since I was a young punk in JNCO jeans. Nearly three decades later, the metal band's sound and members have changed, but I'm still struck by Zao's originality and core message: to express themselves honestly, with integrity. The Crimson Corridor is just as savage as anything in Zao's catalog, featuring riffs that rip apart the dark wilderness and thrilling, if unsettling, screams. But there's a spaciousness that I've never heard before: mournful melodies become the Greek chorus, witness to humanity's brutality, taking in the gruesome scene with somber reflection. For all this bleakness, there's an urgency to rearrange the chaos, to find our way back to each other. —Lars Gotrich


Rita Payés: "Nunca vas a comprender" from Como La Piel

Como La Piel is the brainchild of Rita Payés and her mother, Elisabeth Roma, rendering an effortless chemistry. On the opening track, "Nunca vas a comprender," Payés shows the true breadth of her multi-instrumentalist ingenuity, switching from guitar to trombone and back again, lacing the sweet sounds together with stunningly angelic vocals. The resulting magic transports the listener to grassy meadows and lengthy sobremesas – and if it doesn't, this video of the duo performing juntos will. —Anamaria Sayre

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Toumani Diabaté & London Symphony Orchestra: "Elyne Road" from Kôrôlén

Sometimes an album comes along that's so good, you just can't stop listening to it and talking about it. That's the case with Kôrôlén, a fascinating collaboration between Toumani Diabaté, the master kora player from Mali, and the London Symphony Orchestra. This is not only the best release of April but a "best of the year" kind of album. The kora is a 21-stringed West African instrument that's somewhere between a harp and a lute. It sports a large round gourd as its resonating body. It may seem like strange bedfellows to pair such an instrument with a Western symphony orchestra, but when you hear Diabaté's soulful playing, floating above the strings and winds, you realize what a heavenly combination it is. The idea for this collaboration came from Diabaté himself, and its success, I think, is partly due to the amazing orchestral arrangements on the album, like this song, "Elyne Road," arranged by composer Nico Muhly. —Tom Huizenga

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ILOVEMAKONNEN: "So Saucy" from My Parade

In an episode of Rick Rubin's 2019 doc Shangri-La, you can practically read the pain on ILOVEMAKONNEN'S face as he spills his creative frustrations over major-label pressure to follow up the success of his Drake-certified hit "Tuesday." The struggle was twice as real for an artist whose tragicomic trap sound rooted him in a genre where homophobia seemingly kept him on the outs. But after shaking off those major-label shackles, ILOVEMAKONNEN is back, fully independent, with a full-length album titled My Parade that reminds us why we loved him so much in the first place. Still drippy, still trippy, yet totally untrapped by the weight of false expectations. —Rodney Carmichael

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