#NowPlaying: Best New Songs From NPR Music Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations.
Now Playing.

#NowPlaying

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

Fuubutsushi has already released three albums in 2021, each part of the ambient-jazz quartet's tetralogy based on the seasons. Matthew Sage, Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek and Patrick Shiroishi formed the group remotely (across different U.S. states) during the pandemic, editing improvisations into abstract yet accessible pieces of synesthetic nostalgia.

"Good Sky Day" stretches out the group's purpose in a 25-minute piece for Longform Editions, a Sydney-based label that focuses on deep listening experiences over extended periods of time. Jussel's melancholic violin plays the main character in a story that flies through cumulonimbus clouds out of a Miyasaki film. The music's free-flowing mood is a wonder to behold in its hail and thunder, heard in dissonant clashes of noisy drone and flickering feedback, only resolve in languid slide guitar and field recordings of children playing on the beach.

October 21

anaiis (feat. Topaz Jones), 'chuu'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

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Following two thematically heavy and introspective singles, anaiis' new track "chuu" carries a message of calmness and relief. "After having spent so much energy dwelling on the heavier themes that inspired this body of work, I just needed to offer myself this catharsis," the London-based artist says of "chuu," one of the many highlights of her debut record this is no longer a dream. Joining her on the track is New Jersey rapper Topaz Jones, whose verse fits perfectly over the same mellow beat that carries anaiis' ethereal vocals.

October 21

Tall Heights, 'The Mountain'

Jefferson Public Radio

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Tender falsetto singing has always been a hallmark of the sound of Tall Heights, the folk duo of Tim Harrington and Paul Wright. On Tall Heights' new single "The Mountain," from the upcoming album Juniors, the duo ratchets up the heartache with a poignant sentiment we've all experienced: "If your body leaves me before mine leavеs you / I'll be lookin' out at the mountain, honey / I'll bе makin' eyes at you." Inspired by a picture of a friend's grandfather on his last day looking out at the Green Mountains of Vermont, "The Mountain" beautifully captures the notion of love transcending death. The video features photos submitted by fans that depict loved ones who've passed away.

Naxos Digital Services US, Inc on YouTube

The electric guitar too often triggers the image of a solitary dude shredding his fingers raw beside a stack of thunderous amplifiers. But in the right hands the instrument can astonish with a colossal range of subtle textures and colors. And that is precisely what's offered by the High Low Duo, Cameron Greider and Jack Petruzzelli, two veteran rock guitarists who have arranged classics by Maurice Ravel and Béla Bartók for their new album. Ravel's magical Mother Goose (from 1910) concludes in the "Enchanted Garden" which, in this arrangement, is a beautifully chilled out oasis. The guitars intertwine, singing in close harmony, finishing each other's phrases in radiant transparency. Gradually, the music builds to an explosion of colors, like a morning sun rising in all its blinding glory. This performance proves that it's not how many notes you can play, it's knowing how to pick just the right ones.

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On his 2020 debut album Giver Taker, singer-songwriter Anjimile brought a mix of influences — a love of Sufjan Stevens, technical knowledge from singing in youth choir, the African pop of his parents' childhood — to some very personal themes; namely, his gender transition and how it impacted his faith and sense of self. "Stranger," a new one-off single and his first new song since that record, is a stirring, introspective track that brings a lush sound to his continued meditation on these themes.

Anjimile describes "Stranger" as "something of a confrontation" between his past and present selves as related to his trans identity. "It's been simultaneously liberating and alarming to note the changes to my mind and body over the years" since beginning to medically transition, he says in a press release. The song reflects that ambivalence and gratitude: At its climax, Anjimile sings about what it might mean to "never be the same," and as the music swells beneath him, he manages to sound both cautious and triumphant.

Stromae, 'Santé'

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Welcome back Stromae. While rumors continue to buzz about a new album, the Belgian polymath has released "Santé," a new single (and a touching video) celebrating our working-class heroes. Propelled by an irrepressible, loping beat and the effervescent sheen of the cavaquinho (small Portuguese guitar), Stromae proposes a toast to "the conquerors of the worst work hours." In the video, we meet cooks, waitresses and fishermen who break for a moment to learn a few Stromae-instructed dance moves.

It's been eight years since the pop star — whose formal name is Paul Van Haver — released Racine Carrée, the much-lauded album that faced a diverse range of topics, from absent fathers and cancer to the Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora. We last heard from him in 2018, when he released a 9-minute promotional video soundtracking his own clothing line. He's also busied himself collaborating with, among others, Dua Lipa and Coldplay. With such ebullient talent, let's hope Stromae makes good on those album rumors.

UMG on YouTube

Blackfishing aside, there's a reason Jesy Nelson isn't a household name. "Boyz," the former Little Mix member's first solo attempt, is a pseudo-rap track founded on an extensive interpolation of Diddy's 2001 hit "Bad Boy for Life." The once-iconic riff is muddled in "Boyz," antithetically stuttering as if someone accidentally hit their elbow on the keyboard, glitched the instrumental and spliced it in random places. Always behind beat, the riff tries to catch up to a song that it's incompatible with in the first place.

With "Boyz," Nelson (you might know her — if nowhere else — from viral "balegdeh" meme fame) commits the cardinal solo career sin: being boring. Alongside toothless lyrics about liking men with tattoos, Nelson contributes a nondescript vocal that attempts to invoke the spirit of "Dirrty"-era Christina Aguilera but ends up being a bad Camila Cabello impression. Nicki Minaj is the only redeemable part of "Boyz," which makes sense for two reasons: One, Minaj can save any song with a couple of bars. Two, as seen over the past few months, she has done an incredible job of aligning herself with things that are just The Worst.

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It's giving Nivea, it's giving Tiffany Evans' "Promise Ring," it's giving Ciara lusting after 50 Cent in 2006. What Summer Walker's new song, "Ex For A Reason" featuring JT from City Girls, is not giving is the entrancing, smoky lounge sound we fell in love with when the Atlanta singer-songwriter came in hot with 2018's "Girls Need Love" and garnered more hype with her debut studio album, 2019's Over It. Still, the fairly generic Buddah Bless and Sean Garrett-produced track catches the ear with a high-tempo beat, Walker's signature honeyed-liquor vocals and toxic warning shots. Where it falls off is the tone-deaf guest verse from JT as she raps about pulling up on the new girl her ex is with. (JT's current partner, rapper Lil Uzi Vert, has an ex-girlfriend who alleges that he punched her in July after seeing her with another man). All in all, "Ex For A Reason" is an underwhelming release best suited for mindless listening at the roller rink.

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For her first new song in six years, Adele deviates from the expected show-stopping lead single — goodbye, "Hello." Instead, the determinedly straightforward and achingly honest "Easy On Me" is a slow burn. Produced by frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin, Adele's return single finds the British singer-songwriter acknowledging internal demons and the damage they've inflicted. It's not a heartbreak anthem as much as a tentatively hopeful ballad from a woman emerging from an emotionally marooned period. Rough with feeling, Adele's pliant vibrato stretches before leaping over an intense piano progression. "Easy On Me" is a plea: a reminder to oneself and a loved one that giving up isn't necessarily a failure and that even in our missteps, we're worthy of tender patience. 30, Adele's fourth studio album, will be released Nov. 19.

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Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell says they wrote "Moment Feed" while dreaming about post-pandemic live performances, picturing looking out over a crowd of swaying bodies and smiling faces. "Don't you want to hear my body talk?" they sing at the song's opening, a fitting prelude to a song they say was meant to "warm up the room in all senses."

"Moment Feed" intertwines two central elements of Land of Talk's music, locking into an insistent groove while still giving Powell space to hone a delicate, meditative sound. It's the first single from the forthcoming Calming Night Partner EP, which Powell recorded during the pandemic with trusted collaborators. That spirit of closeness is palpable here, as the band follows their dynamic shifts from propulsive to peaceful and back again.

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Change can sound itself out in shouts or murmurs. Nashville singer-songwriter Erin Rae is a master of its subtle arts, the sunset gradations of her voice signaling progressive transformations within a person or among lovers and friends. Her new song, "Modern Woman," showcases how she finds ways to be both measured and bold as a writer. Dedicated to telling the stories of those who might otherwise remain in the background, Rae's accompanying video (directed by Joshua Shoemaker) features an array of Nashville musicians, artists and business owners who make Rae's assertion that a woman can be many things gorgeously tangible. "Modern Woman," the lead single from her forthcoming third album Lighten Up, offers a new sonic approach: country undertones remain, but the drums are bigger, and the production (by neo-psychedelicist Jonathan Wilson) more Southern California than Middle Tennessee. The sound suits this most intimate anthem, a call for redefinition (or, as the lyrics say, an acceptance of what's always been true) that makes its case poetically.

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Back in February, the London post-punk band Black Country, New Road released one of the year's gnarliest debuts. The genre-smashing For the First Time is an odyssey that encompasses rock, jazz, post-punk, spoken-word, klezmer and much more, in songs that could sprawl to the 6-, 8- or even 10-minute mark.

Now, just eight months later, the group has announced a full-length followup, called Ants From Up There. If its first single, "Chaos Space Marine," is any indication, Black Country, New Road has spent 2021 learning to shoehorn its zillions of sonic ideas into smaller spaces: The track runs a mere 3 minutes and 38 seconds, but still barnstorms through a thrilling transcontinental epic, punctuated by frenetic horn blasts and hairpin turns.


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Hyperpop as we know it seems to be quickly collapsing on itself. From Charli XCX's radio-friendly (but still delightful) "Good Ones" to a long-standing silence from genre pioneers 100 gecs, it seems like the scene has an opening for a new pack leader. Enter umru, a PC music favorite working in the more experimental realm of hyperpop with his new single, "check1," flanked by rappers Tommy Cash and 645AR.

The song, a stank face industrial rap track, floored me on first listen with umru's production evoking Warlord-era Yung Lean (a known inspiration of his) and adjacent artists Drain Gang. The synergy between umru and Cash doesn't let up even when it gets passed from Cash to 645AR, who comes in hot with his signature whisper-rat intonation. The type of song you play on speakers until they burst, "check1" pushes the needle forward for a genre that sometimes feels stuck in its own mythos.

Universal Music Group on YouTube YouTube

Emily D'Angelo is a young opera singer who doesn't exactly play by the rules. Although she's prized for her interpretations of Mozart, Handel and Rossini, none of those composers appear on her extraordinary debut recital disc. Instead, the award-winning Canadian mezzo-soprano sings music by women, spanning a thousand years — from 12th-century antiphons by Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary song cycles by Sara Kirkland Snider and Missy Mazzoli. Inspired by Homer's Odyssey, Snider's heartbreaking "Nausicaa" depicts a woman welcoming home her husband after an absence of 20 years. With its clean, long lines and luminous orchestration, the music lets you hear the pure beauty of D'Angelo's voice in all its creamy muscularity.

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For nearly three decades, London-born singer-songwriter Martina Topley-Bird's voice has served as one of the most evocative instruments in contemporary music. From her soulful and chilling performances on Tricky's Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension to her string of solo albums throughout the 2000s, Topley-Bird brings tenderness and fire to every note she sings. Her latest album, Forever I Wait, was partially written during her time living in Baltimore, and "Wyman," inspired by the city's Wyman Park neighborhood, is one of the album's clear standouts.

The song finds Topley-Bird articulating her feelings as a European expat witnessing the bleakness of life in America. With a slow, head-nodding groove anchored by deep and menacing synths, Topley-Bird's voice cries out like a bright beam of light in the midst of a dark storm: "When my path is lost and the dream is gone," she sings "I am looking for a lie to fall back on." The entire affair is topped off by the simple but effective hook: "I find my way in the dark to Wyman Park."

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Following his 2020 EP Studying Abroad, notable crooner and saxophonist Masego returns with "Garden Party," a lush neo-soul single that unveils wonderland. Building from samples of squawking birds and chirping crickets, producers Iman Omari and Jack Dine create a smooth soundscape where Battle of the Bands meets A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dotted with references to 2007's Stomp The Yard, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, the track feels suspended in time, content with languishing in the moment. Infinitely cinematic, "Garden Party" unites two generations of Atlanta rap with features from Sleeping Village's JID and Big Boi. The latter takes the track's sultry seduction to the next level with a flow that could've been plucked from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and X-rated wordplay of the OutKast legend sneaking off for a romantic rendezvous in the bushes.

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Your mileage may vary, but pop music should explode on contact. Let the melodies glide into the stratosphere on a Hypercolor rocket, sure, but there also needs to be a collision of sight and sound. Dummy's "Daffodils" is a groovy refinement of the LA band's influences — namely, the unclassifiable and impossibly cool pop music of Stereolab, Broadcast and Silver Apples — set against trebly guitar jangle, droning organ, slyly funky drums and conversational vocals between Nathan O'Dell (formerly of the Baltimore dream-pop band Wildhoney) and Emma Maatman. "Daffodils" has a gelatinous-yet-static quality: It drones in place even as it mutates in real time — especially in the last 30 seconds, when a squeal of feedback announces the deliriously loud noise-pop denouement.

Ghösh makes irreverent, high-energy, boot-stomping rave music that sounds as if the entirety of the Hackers soundtrack got melted down and poured into a punk-shaped mold. In its 2 minutes and 20 seconds, "Slamafied Buddhafied Funk" turns the dance floor into a mosh pit; it smashes Zachary Fairbrother's blitzed breakbeats against a wall of distortion (guitar and otherwise) and emcee Symphony Spell's exhilarating flow. But it's also the only track from the Alien Nation EP to feature the duo in a rowdy tête-à-tête, as they glow each other up in a body-rockin' boomshakalaka slam dunk that's equal parts bravado ("I see you got the funk / And you wield it like a weapon"), liberation ("Free some asses, bust some minds out of jail") and defiance ("No respects, 'cause I'm not a man / Riot Grrrl Funkenstein / That is my jam").

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Percussion ensembles tend to be populated by white men. So the four young women of color who founded the group Recap in 2020 are, by definition, shifting the percussion paradigm. Their distinctive debut album, Count to Five, features works by six women composers and is anchored by Hedera, a mesmerizing, 20-minute piece by Lesley Flanigan.

Thunderous bass drums and tom-toms predominate, delivering an oscillating groove over which the composer's voice floats like "clouds of pitch wrapping around the line of unrelenting beat," as she told NPR. Like ivy, to which the word "hedera" refers, the music's tendrils slowly wrap themselves around the listener, warping time such that 20 minutes flies by like only a few. Hats off to Mantra Percussion, the ensemble whose tuition-free program for young musicians has nurtured the members of Recap.

Dead Oceans Records YouTube

Many of Mitski's most compelling songs – from 2018's "Geyser" all the way back to 2013's "Class of 2013" – are about chasing your dreams: not the romantic majesty that promises, but the grueling, humiliating, dispiriting labor of it all. "Working for the Knife," her new track, is a powerful entry into that canon. "I cry at the start of every movie," she sings coolly in the song's opening lines, "I guess 'cause I wish I was making things too."

In 2019, following the Be The Cowboy tour, Mitski logged off social media and announced she'd be playing her "last show indefinitely." This track feels like a comeback, reflecting the gaze of hungry fans with a daring intensity. Mitski's despair is set over a syncopated beat and roiling production that surges and sways. In the video, she wanders alone through a performance venue in Albany, N.Y.; her presence is both startling and magnetic – particularly in the video's final minute, soundtracked only by the sound of her breathing and vigorous choreography. It's impressive but, frankly, unsurprising that Mitski, in her return to the public eye, is able to transform a song about feeling hollow and adrift – about being unable to escape "a world that doesn't seem to recognize your humanity," as she put it in a press release – into something transfixing and staggeringly alive.

Beggars / XL Recordings on YouTube

The last time Arca blessed fans with a solo release was earlier this year when the electronic artist-producer released the EP Madre, a slight departure. Gone were the maximalist tapestries of distorted synths and digitally warped vocals that fuel Arca's signature sound, and in their place was a delicate vocal performance over strings that positioned the artist as the star of her own tragic mini-opera.

But on her latest song, "Incendio," Arca invites listeners to once again dance to the sound of her delightfully chaotic pop universe — one where the streets run red with blood and fire threatens to consume all who dare to enter. "Roja roja, corre por la calles," she spits over distorted bass and metallic beats, spotlighting Arca's clear rap prowess. References to witchcraft, magic and ritual abound. By the end of the track, Arca's repeated rallying cry of "incendio!" is reverberated and warped into an inhuman howl fighting underneath the song's glitchy noise like a witch cheering beneath the fire that envelopes her sacrificial stake.

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Maria Elena Silva's voice floats like a feather swishing this way and that, painting invisible shapes with the wind. Her music, spacious and exploratory, does the same. "December," from the Wichita singer-songwriter's new album Eros (out Friday), starts as one thing and blooms and bursts as miniature revelations expand.

"I tell the truth too much these days / Some things are better left unsaid," Silva opens amid sparsely plucked electric guitar, her napkin-scrawled confession crumpled as soon as it's sung. Hammond organ drones and busy-yet-gentle drums enter the frame as sonic doulas, while a bass clarinet and second guitar lend a steady foundation to Silva's deepest anguish. The LA-assembled improv ensemble's arrangement can feel unsettled at times — the immense and intricate quiet of Talk Talk's Laughing Stock or Julie Tippetts' Sunset Glow come to mind — but is empathetic to the world shifting beneath Silva's feet.

Now Playing.

#NowPlaying

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