#NowPlaying: Best New Songs From NPR Music Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations.
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Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations
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The manipulation of those two little folds of tissue in our throats known as vocal cords never ceases to amaze — they can conjure every emotion, every color. The Japanese singer Hatis Noit has full command of those cords, thrillingly on display in "Aura," the title track of her debut album. Following in a tradition of extended vocal techniques pioneered by Meredith Monk, Noit delivers ancient-sounding ululations, yips, birdsong, silken operatic roulades and raspy growls. All sounds are crafted from her voice, a flexible, evocative instrument that Noit electronically loops to create vocal foundations to build on and layer, in the style of the divine Julianna Barwick. Aura is a bold, impressive debut which signals — loud, clear and creatively — that when Hatis Noit opens her throat to sing, we should be listening.

Credit: Rainbow Girls YouTube

I first heard this Sour Patch Kids candy of a song not long after Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court justice; Erin Chapin, one-third of the Northern California folk trio Rainbow Girls, wrote it to process some rage by coating it in sarcasm and the group's trademark shiny harmonies. Listing all the things she definitely doesn't love, Chapin voices the predicament conventional femininity demands, especially for artists: the need to survive by sugarcoating emotions, playing nice and trying to remain compassionate. Now, the same week that Kavanaugh delivered one of the deciding opinions overturning Roe v. Wade, the Rainbow Girls offer a video capturing the song's emergence from "a liminal zone lacking substance. A sugar-coated wonderland reflecting the vapid distractions and bulging vanity we were seeing all over social media, despite the very alarming reality of the world falling apart in every conceivable way."

As Chapin and bandmates Vanessa May and Caitlin Gowdey gorge themselves on bonbons and glitter, the song's litany of horrors unfurls like the brightly colored body of a poisonous snake. "Compassion to the Nth Degree" captures the schizoid feeling of living through rolling crises, especially for those, like the ingenues the Rainbow Girls play in this video, who struggle to maintain a "pretty," vacant front.

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Ladies, GIVĒON is not looking for The One™. Known to wear his heart on his sleeve, the R&B crooner has never been shy about singing of his trials and tribulations with the L word. Today, he releases his highly anticipated debut studio album, Give Or Take, and the single "Lost Me" is a summer bop that chooses casual fun over the more daunting demands that come with committed love.

"Lost Me" opens with a warm serenade from GIVĒON, his vocal runs intimate. Produced by OZ with additional production from Leon Thomas III, the hook is undeniably catchy, with a beat that instantly evokes good feelings despite GIVĒON's lyrics of openly admitting that "We can kiss, we can touch and do it often / But if you here looking for love, that's when you lost me." But hey, let's face it: cuffing is overrated, especially during the summertime.

Watch Flo Milli's "Conceited" here.

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In the music video for her new track "Conceited," Flo Milli gazes confidently at six perfect reflections of herself, stating the obvious as she raps the chorus: "Feeling myself / I'm conceited / Feeling myself / I'm conceited." She's surrounded by a group of Black women hyping and primping her up, and of course, she has her hair done, nails done, everything did as she continues to flex.

The song is short and at face value has a simple premise: Flo should definitely be gassed up. She bounces off the beat with piercing claims like, "You can talk like this when you really that b****" and "I been that b**** since a fetus." But as the two-and-a-half minutes of knocking bass quickly come to a close, it begins to feel more like Flo's underlying message is a warning: "Hoes don't like when I talk like that / Please don't bark 'cause Milli bite back."

As a lead-up to her debut album You Still Here, Ho?, "Conceited" feels like it puts Flo's enemies on watch that jealousy will not be tolerated. If you don't feel Flo as much as she feels herself, you can't stay around. And whether you identify more with the self love or the annihilation of enemies, this is definitely a must-add to your hype-up playlist.

Credit: Daptone Recording Co. YouTube

There is something special about soul music in the summertime, and Thee Sacred Souls transports us to a timeless scene of amorous yearning with "Easier Said Than Done," a song about how hard it can be to reconcile a desire for love with all the static of our day-to-day.

Lead vocalist Josh Lane's sweet falsetto sets the tone, while the wistful underlying theme becomes clear from his opening lines: "She said be honest with how you feel / I said that's easier said than done / I said don't worry about the future / She said that's easier said than done / Well it is." Holding it all down, the band's rhythm section locks in a mid-tempo groove that will have fans of groups like War and Durand Jones & the Indications nodding along, as the female backing vocalists' "woo-ooh-ooh" breezes through. "Easier Said Than Done" is from the SoCal septet's self-titled debut, out Aug. 26 on Daptone / Penrose Records.

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Mt. Joy's "Orange Blood" is an indie track with an Americana twist that's equal parts joyous and contemplative. Even if you've never been on the type of literal psychedelic journey Mt. Joy weaves through in this song ("Acid took us on a date / Orange blood dripping from the sun), it might still move you to reflect, sepia-toned, on what it was like to fly down the interstate with the great love of your youth. The track is spare in many ways, with not much else besides the twang of a guitar and the occasional vibraslap rattle to accent frontman Matt Quinn's reminiscing. But it's ingenious, too – the percussion and lyrics combine to sound like a heartbeat, creating a mellow rhythm that carries us beautifully to Mt. Joy's gentle suggestion: take a trip. What kind, of course, is up to you.

June 21

Beyoncé, 'BREAK MY SOUL'

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Hold onto your wigs, the Queen is back. Four days after announcing the release date of her seventh solo studio album, the eagerly anticipated act i: RENAISSANCE (out July 29), Beyoncé dropped the project's lead single, "BREAK MY SOUL." A co-production between Beyoncé, Tricky Stewart and The-Dream (who last collaborated on 2009's "Single Ladies"), "BREAK MY SOUL" honors a long lineage of liberatory queer anthems, like Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" or Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."

Whether it's a dead-end job or a relationship that's not going anywhere, Beyoncé wants you to release the stress. Over a pulsing dance melody, she croons, "Got motivation, I done found me a new foundation, and I'm takin' my new salvation and I'ma build my own foundation," before delivering an uplifting mantra of "You won't break my soul" in the chorus. Built around a four-count sample of the gay club staple "Show Me Love" by Robin S. and an interpolation of NOLA rapper Big Freedia's 2014 bounce record "Explode," the retrofuturistic track is a seamless blend of disco, house and gospel pop with dulcet, meticulously-arranged vocals ready for the ballroom.

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There's an alternate universe in which Bea Laus, who performs as Beabadoobee, is a major superstar this side of the Atlantic. The easy, '90s-worshipping rock songs of her 2020 debut Fake It Flowers were slickly produced bangers, grungy and glittery in all the right places. She's a rockstar with a craft for pop songwriting, but her music feels simultaneously too shiny for today's indie rock-listening crowd, and too off-trend to climb any pop charts.

Not that charts or genres are of any interest to Laus, anyway — or at least that's what I think when I hear "10:36." The catchy, fuzzed-out single from her forthcoming sophomore album Beatopia has a loose noisiness, with dueling, twangy guitars and staticky drum machine beats. A cheerleader stomp in the background — "I! Don't! Want! To!" — underscores Laus' letdown of a lover who thought what they had was a bigger deal than it was. I'm reminded of the textures of early Broken Social Scene — the sound of too many band members in the room, noodling guitar lines criss-crossing into artful cacophony. On "10:36," Beabadoobee builds a magnetic, rough-around-the-edges sound, but with a sweetness at its core.

June 15

Valley of Weights, 'I Was a Wartime Draughtsman'

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Valley of Weights is an impressive polyglot – featuring members of Sky Furrows, Burnt Hills, the Winterpills and Vatican Commandos – whose self-titled debut is a frills-free double LP that throws a haymaker into the contemporary psych scene. It also feels unburdened by some of that scene's conventions; the de rigeur lo-fi production, stoned noodling posturing as improvisation, a sometimes parochial reverence for obscure records, etc.

The single "I Was a Wartime Draughtsman" is a savvy psych-punk merger that splits the difference between the guitar attacks of 1968-era electric Jorma Kaukonen and circa 1978 Robert Quine at his most furious. Spitting anti-war vocals and a relentless group performance, with the group shifting back and from serpentine-instrumental interplay to nihilistic wallop, "I Was a Wartime Draughtsman"is trippy, darkly gleeful and right on point.

June 15

Willi Carlisle, 'Vanlife'

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Free Dirt YouTube

Humor needs truth like an outlet needs positive and negative polarity; the circuit is incomplete without one or the other, and jokes never land without their counterpart. Willi Carlisle speaks his truth, of falling down the economic ladder, to set up space for punch lines galore in the honky-tonk romp "Vanlife," produced by Joel Savoy in rural Louisiana.

Lyrically, Carlisle bounces between the poles of socioeconomic commentary – reminiscent of folk singers like Woody Guthrie in lyrics like "Sittin' sad and wonderin' why / Meritocracy's a lie" – and the twisted humor of Shel Silverstein, with wry ringers: "All the girls from Chickamauga to Passamaquoddy / Speak enviously of my van's rusted body." He adds a hefty measure of physical comedy in the song's video, where his 6'-4" 300-pound frame slips, slides and stumbles from scene to scene, bringing the song's message of absurdity and pain front and center.

The truth of his own experience gives this irreverent country sing-along its root: Carlisle lived his own version of it not too long ago, when he was an aspiring poet who took up the guitar and began busking on street corners and sleeping under overpasses. "Vanlife" is from Willi Carlisle's album Peculiar, Missouri which arrives July 15 on Free Dirt Records.

June 14

Bonny Light Horseman, 'California'

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37d03d YouTube

Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman leave behind the old-world feel that defined Bonny Light Horseman's self-titled debut with "California," a bittersweet folk shuffler from their sophomore collection, Rolling Golden Holy (out Oct. 7 via 37d03d Records). Ironically, one thing that frames this new setting is the addition of a dulcimer, an instrument whose origins date back centuries at least. It was the first instrument the supergroup bought for themselves, and each member takes turns playing it on the album.

Here, Johnson's lead vocals lend a sweetness and light to the minor-key melody of a song that is, as he says in a statement, "a sad one, a story about pulling up roots, new beginnings, goodbyes, early morning long drives, riding into the sunrise instead of the sunset. They usually don't end movies riding into the sunrise but this movie has that scene."

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At the beginning of The Beths' new song, "Silence Is Golden," Elizabeth Stokes seems to want the impossible: "I wish that I could freeze time, go to the wild, soak up the quiet / Till I'm dripping wet with it / Then I would drive home, go to my room, wring myself out / That would be the end of it." Stokes sings with precision on the lead single off the New Zealand band's third album, which is bursting with lyrics about what the group has called "stress and anxiety manifesting as an intolerance to noise, where each new sound makes you more and more stressed." That desire to wring oneself out is heard across the track, which is roaring, anxious and brimming with existentialism. "Silence is golden, is golden," Stokes repeats later in the song with a rising cadence, building to a screeching guitar solo that cleverly challenges the title.

June 14

The A's, 'He Needs Me'

Psychic Hotline YouTube

Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath and Daughter of Swords' Alexandra Sauser-Monnig have racked up more than a decade working together as part of their folk group Mountain Man. So, for many music aficionados, the two artists' new collab as The A's might look and sound familiar. But where Mountain Man and Sylvan Esso can sound hazy and imprecise under acoustic guitars or electronic production, the musical vision of The A's seems almost shockingly lucid.

The duo's first single — a sparse, harmonic cover of the 1980s Harry Nilsson and Shelley Duvall classic "He Needs Me" — feels like a statement of intent. The two singers harmonize as if they are in your ears, backed by a judicious sprinkling of keys and kooky strings that strike a perfect balance between inquisitive and comforting. There's something here for almost anyone, and you'll be charmed before you know it.

Pentatone YouTube

David Lang's again (after ecclesiastes) opens with sections of the Cappella Amsterdam choir, from high to low, interlacing on the phrase "People come and people go / The earth goes on and on." The words are from Ecclesiastes, a curious book of The Old Testament that reads more like a philosophical argument than a rousing validation of belief. The book questions the meaning of our existence.

Lang's descending melodic theme repeats in a steady beat, providing an ebb and flow like waves slowly lapping against a shoreline, a reminder that nature's cycles never cease. There's something comforting in the constancy of this solemn and translucent music. It's part of Lang's larger cycle, the writings, choral pieces based on five Old Testament books that are integrated within the Jewish liturgical year. How do we fit into this ever-turning wheel of life? Near the end, the choir intones: "What happened before will happen again."

June 10

Dummy, 'Pepsi Vacuum'

WYSO

The Los Angeles quintet Dummy takes a scrapbook-like approach in its work, pulling snapshots of the best sounds in psychedelic and otherwise left-field guitar music into a consistently brilliant whole. On Dummy's debut single for Sub Pop, the band leans hard into pop bliss on the B-side "Pepsi Vacuum." Pillowy harmonies rest atop synth swells and sampled drums while a tremolo guitar pulse circles the Seefeel-via-Beach House dreamscape. Even in softer places, the band maintains an intensity that shines through the hazy stasis, the song's echoes and reflections as vast as the oceans depicted within it. Here's hoping this one stretches way, way out if it graces a future setlist.

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For "Never Gonna Be Alone," his first single since the award-winning Djesse Vol. 3, Jacob Collier enlisted the help of Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer to create a celestial soundscape that spans the depths of isolation, loss and memory.

The piece swells with the rubato, orchestral textures — sustained string harmonics, tinkling wind chimes, warm and brassy long tones — that make up Collier's expansive sound. However, once McAlpine's nuanced vocals enter for the verse, it takes a subtle yet tasteful turn. "There's a patch of sunlight in my room / On the carpet where I held you for a moment in June," McAlpine sings as hi-hats and deep sub bass contribute to a cool, laid-back groove. Lush, immersive background vocals from Collier and McAlpine adds to the overall intimacy the song evokes, while Mayer's melancholic, bluesy guitar solo ushers us into the bridge, in which McAlpine provides more context: "There's so much I wanna say to you / Even though I know nothing's gonna change / But I'll always find my way back here to you."

There's much to experience over the course of this one multifaceted and emotional song. "It speaks to my experience of the world as a hugely beautiful and fragile place," Collier writes in a press statement, adding that the song "has helped me process some of the grief I think we're all feeling for our pasts and futures, in a myriad of different ways."

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Over the past several years, Demi Lovato has positioned themselves as one of the more human pop stars to emerge from the '00s Disney era. The artist's 2021 docuseries Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil and accompanying album laid all the cards out on the table when it came to their experiences with rehab, recovery and self-discovery. Since then, they've also come out as nonbinary and starred in a show about extraterrestrials. Now, they're back with new music, emerging with a much harder sound than their previous records with "Skin of My Teeth," a punchy, hardcore-adjacent track that borrows, with a wink, from both "Celebrity Skin" by Hole and the vocal affectations of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." The expletive-laden lyrics can be a little eye roll inducing — starting a song with "Demi leaves rehab again" is a cringe-worthy, self-referential third person opener — but the track fuses their inspirations with their powerhouse vocals for a fun listening experience.

Lovato is no stranger to the rock aesthetic. They've gone on the record to say their favorite band is Turnstile and have publicly proclaimed love for bands like The Devil Wears Prada and Bring Me The Horizon. It's important to make the distinction here between what Demi is doing and what, say, WILLOW and other pop-punk revivalists are doing right now. There's a level of camp to Demi's art; a genuineness and commitment to their music that has been present throughout their career, since they proclaimed "Who said I can't wear Converse with my dress? / Oh, baby, that's just me!" all the way back in 2008. You have to reward authenticity; they've made a song that feels distinctly them, for maybe the first time since their rock-infused Disney pop in the late aughts.

June 9

MJ Lenderman, 'Toontown'

WYSO

Dear Life Records YouTube

Jake Lenderman, who plays guitar in the indie-rock group Wednesday, can keep things light in his solo music as MJ Lenderman — but he also knows when to bring heaviness into a song. With the latter in mind, alt-country vibes meet slowcore tempos on the heartbroken "Toontown," a mini-epic swaying with lumbering guitars and weeping lap steel. Lenderman takes the role of a down-and-out clown, face paint fading and pants down for all to see, unable to hide behind a familiar façade any longer. Glimpses of pain, whether about the state of the world or a relationship gone awry, are equally felt in the song's sudden feedback squalls as in Lenderman's voice, a forlorn twang that's felt the dust of the rodeo arena one too many times.

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"I've been writing a bunch of love songs to friends," says Nick Carpenter, the Anchorage, Alaska, artist who performs as Medium Build. The indie rocker's music is marked by his compassionate, conversational lyricism and grounded, grungy sound – and his latest single, "comeonback," is no exception. The song is about committing to the messy and rewarding work that accompanies long-term relationships. "It's never too late to come on back," Carpenter pleads, voice thick with desperation on the track. "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't take you back?"

The song's one-shot music video, directed by Carpenter, follows him through Anchorage restaurant Club Paris: He greets a sleepy dog at the back door, passes cooks in the kitchen, throws back a shot with the bartender, shares a bite with a kid in a booth and so on. Each acquaintance seems to know him in a familial way that makes performative greetings unnecessary; they say hello and goodbye with the comforting knowledge that he'll return. "The bar in the video is a character — a living, breathing, flawed thing," says Carpenter in a statement, "Just like me and my friendships."

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The Doors suck. "But, wait, what about—," you say. No, no, no... The Doors suck. But then Blondie, possibly the coolest band to come out of New York's 1970s punk and new wave scene, covers The Doors, LA's most pompous rock band.

The story goes that Jim Morrison mumbled the opening lines of "Moonlight Drive" to Ray Manzarek in 1965 and a band was born. In the original, Morrison's slurred monotone turns into his trademark howl over an off-kilter blues. For decades, live bootlegs of Blondie's cover floated around, but there was never a studio version until Against the Odds: 1974-1982, a forthcoming box set with loads of previously vaulted tracks, including Blondie's "Moonlight Drive" pressed to 7-inch vinyl. But where John Densmore shuffled the beat, Clem Burke pedals a punked-up disco groove under barroom piano, power chords and Debbie Harry's wild-eyed seduction. With dramatic pauses and a climax pounded like the very tides swum to the moon, the arrangement teases and romps. While very little can dissuade me to reconsider The Doors, there's a reckless glamor to this version that can't be denied.

June 8

Joyce Manor, 'Gotta Let It Go'

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Joyce Manor is playing the long game — not out of necessity, but because it's more fun that way. The Torrance, Calif.-born band has surfed the waves of pop-punk notoriety since its 2012 debut, but still has a charming, small-artist kitsch about it. Maybe it's the fact that the group is selling burritos and hot sauce to promote its new album, 40 oz. to Fresno, out June 10. Or maybe it's the members' stubborn rejection of convention, creating records that feel punk yet pristine. On "Gotta Let It Go," your average verse-chorus-verse structure is replaced by an incredibly catchy sustained guitar hook and screamed lyrics that capture a universal (albeit simple) teenage angst, somehow evoking both Wallows and Weezer. These musicians know exactly what they're doing, and that may be why their new record is a mere 17 minutes long. Why keep a song going when the best part's over? Joyce Manor would rather have you hitting repeat over and over again.

June 7

Beach Bunny, 'Karaoke'

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With airy, sun-soaked guitar, the rock quartet Beach Bunny effortlessly soars in its glowing track "Karaoke." Heart-fluttering lyrics like, "I learn all the words to your daydreams / Like I'm trying to sing karaoke" paint sweet nuances of budding affection. Lili Trifilio's folk-imbued vocals float weightlessly over the group's charming garage-pop sound, a buoyancy that mirrors the band's current cosmic aesthetic. This single, in addition to Beach Bunny's upcoming sophomore album, Emotional Creature, plays off ethereal sci-fi themes to center both the complexities and wonderment of humanness.

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Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations