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


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

Yves Tumor is boundless. On their latest album, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), they propel the listener into a poetic, divine, saturated soundscape. The album is textured with sounds from angsty '90s past and neo-psychedelic future. It ironically consumes the listener with its nostalgic cybernetic beats, folding to Tumor's ferocity and eccentricity.

"Operator" simulates a metallic new-wave symphony. Tumor is giving goth, glamorous and godly. The track is visceral, atmospheric, high-octane and tenacious — but reveals tender desperation. Tumor converses with the listener on the other line, "Hello? / Are you my lord and savior? / I need a reason to believe / Baby, please never take me home." The pulsing reverbs rumble, commanding higher powers. Tumor's lyrics sinfully fixate on vices, money, religion and lust, resolving with a classic high school cheer, and grapples with the synthetic operator, "Be aggressive / be-be aggressive."

RVNG Intl. YouTube

As one half of the electronic duo Visible Cloaks, Spencer Doran regularly finds the uncanny meeting point between digital and natural worlds. On SEASON: A letter to the future, a open-ended adventure game out now on PlayStation and PC, a protagonist named Estelle travels around on bicycle capturing photos and audio recordings of her home before it is irreversibly changed. Doran worked closely with the game's developers to create its soundtrack, envisioning a world that is serene and drifting, far from the buzzing sounds of modern-day life.

Two new cuts from that soundtrack, out digitally May 5 and physically this fall via RVNG Intl., peek into the introspective mind of Estelle as she explores the natural landscape. On "The Seaside," chimes shimmer like sea glass while harps and woodwinds plink like sudden realizations. "Tieng Winds" stretches celestial voices until they become the cries of ghosts, expelling one last breath before dissolving into the sky. Like Estelle, Doran wants to squeeze the most out of every living moment before it fades into the past.

March 20

Mighty Poplar, 'Grey Eagle'


MNRK YouTube

Bluegrass music can be a thrill ride that rivals metal and jazz in terms of speed and intricacy. On "Grey Eagle" from acoustic roots supergroup Mighty Poplar, members Andrew Marlin (Watchhouse), Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldridge (Punch Brothers), Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon) and Alex Hargreaves (Billy Strings) rip into a blazing fast instrumental that could serve as the aural equivalent of a sports car commercial, complete with twists, turns and a warning: Do Not Attempt.

Inspired by an 1839 Kentucky horse race, and first recorded and released by Uncle "Am" Stuart in 1924, "Grey Eagle" is foremost a fiddle tune that also gives ample room for solos on mandolin and guitar. In the right hands, wooden instruments can give an electric jolt, and Mighty Poplar gives us a prime example here.

March 17

Strange Ranger, 'Rain So Hard'

Fire Talk YouTube

The more that the members of Strange Ranger dress like the cast of Trainspotting, the more its music sounds like it would have appeared on the 1996 movie's soundtrack. Since relocating from Portland, Ore., to New York City and Philly surrounding the release of 2019's Remembering the Rockets, the drab guitar rockers (formerly known as Sioux Falls) have fallen in love with glitchy digital production and unpredictable pop songwriting.

"Rain So Hard" was written while members Isaac Eiger and Fiona Woodman were in the midst of breaking up. The song ultimately retains the energy of Strange Ranger's signature emo-y rock, but whispers of rave culture and — more unexpectedly — glam beam through layers of manipulated voices and distorted guitar noodling. "How do I get out of this movie now?" Woodman serenely intones over floaty synth pads and filtered drums in the pearly cut's pre-chorus. Strange Ranger might be intertwined with the Dimes Square electronic scene (think The Dare, Blaketheman1000), but its newer output increasingly harkens the muddy fields of some long-forgotten '90s U.K. festival.

Dancing can be a strangely solitary experience — bodies gathered but moving independently from one another, eyes closed and minds drifting. Sofia Kourtesis, an electronic musician born in Peru and residing in Berlin, strives to bring a more collective meaning through her pulsing house tracks. She sings in Spanish and explores her own Latin American heritage, but her themes of cultural identity are common to anyone questioning who they are and where they belong.

These themes are explicit in "Madres," which she says is not only about her mother but also all of whom look after others. "Madres has no gender," she writes. "Madres loves to protect the ones you love." She takes the shape of an angel standing on the shoulder of a dancer, whispering in their ear that they can never stray too far from home: "Ven, niño que estás ahí, vuelve a casa / Vuelve a casa."

With its soft pulse, bubbling arpeggios and magical vocals, "Madres" also acts as an antidote to the more aggressive, fast-paced music dominating the electronic scene. Its refrain is short but powerful, and it shows Kourtesis can go beyond the dancefloor to write songs with a wider emotional reach.


"Droplet," the opening track from Turner Williams Jr.'s Briars on a Dewdrop, plays like a field recording from a parallel world, yet there's something familiar in how its shimmering harp-like tones dart around the core six-note motif. Williams performs primarily with indigenous deep-folk stringed instruments, which he modifies and soaks in effects processing to create a vast palette of microtonal bends and moans. Agitated countermelodies create a call and response over the tentative main theme, and "Droplet" ends as mysteriously as it arrived.

As was the case in his previous projects (Ramble Tamble, Guardian Alien), Williams doesn't shy away from flexing his proficiency. "Droplet" reveals that Williams spends hours with these instruments, but the heartbeat of the music isn't suffocated by a barrage of "exotic" arpeggios or athletic shredding. Where so much current solo instrumentalism tends to be defined by what it shares with John Fahey, Williams lies closer to the weird-blood lineage of Tony Conrad and Angus MacLise, still-ineffable 20th century polymaths whose legacies, thankfully, continue to be excavated.

March 14

Róisín Murphy, 'CooCool'

Ninja Tune YouTube

I remember the exact moment I stopped thinking of Róisín Murphy as a merely "good" musician and began to view her as genuinely heroic. At the height of lockdown, the Irish singer posted a live performance of her single "Murphy's Law" to YouTube. The song is about small town claustrophobia, and how fate and force of habit seem to ensure that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Now that the pandemic had proven just that, Murphy strained against the cramped limits of reality rather than succumbing to them; shouting, "Keep on!" while high-kicking in a ball gown in her living room. In doing so, she reminded why she's been one of the most remarkable pop musicians of the past 25 years: her ability to make the most fraught emotions feel dazzlingly danceable and glam possibility seem completely within reach.

On her latest single, "CooCool," Murphy foregoes psychodrama to bask in uncomplicated love. "I lost it," she mutters through rippling reverb as a muffled drum machine kicks the track into an understated groove. Whatever has been lost — her nerve? Her joie de vivre? — is steadily regained as she establishes that she's firmly on the right side of a rough patch: "That ol' magic's back / A warm feeling flooding / A new age of love / An incandescent joy." Cruising over DJ Koze's rapturous production, which has echoes of her jazzy early work, Murphy sweet-talks her way to the chorus before forsaking words to coo out her pleasure. As vintage horns fire off and a silvery Santana guitar mirrors her delight, Murphy luxuriates in the music, having once again found a new way to be free.


Matthew Robert Cooper, the composer who records under the name Eluvium, has spent much of the last 20 years crafting head-filling ambient music — the kind of stuff that can both flood your brain and help clarify your thoughts. Though consistently beautiful, his work never settles on a single mood or tone: The forthcoming (Whirring Marvels In) Consensus Reality will be Eluvium's 13th album, and its songs keep venturing into new forms and moods, aided by a full live orchestra.

Cooper has been dropping two of the album's songs per month in the run-up to Consensus Reality's release on May 12, and "Void Manifest" is its loveliest and most engrossing track yet. Amid dreamy strings and a cloudy swirl of synths, vocalist Charlotte Mundy (a composer in her own right) lends the song a haunted, impressionistic quality. In ways that recall Grace Davidson's hypnotic presence in Max Richter's essential Sleep project, Mundy grounds "Void Manifest" in humanity. Even at its most mysterious, her clear and present voice drifts eloquently in the din — a source of boundless and ever-welcome comfort.

Deutsche Grammophon YouTube

When you're at Yuja Wang's level of virtuosity — not to mention celebrity — the composers come to you. The piano demigod's forthcoming album (releasing March 10) features a 40-minute piano concerto written for her by Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams, plus a rollicking four-minute piece for solo piano by another music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, longtime leader of the San Francisco Symphony.

MTT's piece is irresistible, opening with a catchy kind of cat-and-mouse motif that builds to a funky, rocking crescendo. From then on, the music alternates between more contemplative passages tinged with jazz and the motorized theme.

Never mind the cutesy wolf-whistle midway through (could have done without that, frankly), just let Wang's rock and roll performance bulldoze right over you. The last 30 seconds are a concussive tour de force, and more proof that she is among the most masterful pianists of her generation.

Matador YouTube

What a blessing, to not be perceived. Or, at least, what a blessing it is to coolly cultivate some shred of unknowability in a digital economy that demands a recounting of your every thought (lest people forget you exist!). The U.K. rock band bar italia understands the value of unknowability, however fleeting — finding in-depth information on its members or its artistic approach is a fool's errand. The band's Instagram page is a handful of blurry point-and-shoot photos and graphics announcing live performances around Europe that look like they were hastily designed in Microsoft Paint. It certainly doesn't help that the band's first two albums were released by World Music Group, the avant-garde label of rapper Dean Blunt, an artist who tends to err on the side of cryptic.

But the group's latest single "Nurse!" and a newly announced signing to Matador suggest bar italia won't revel in its quickly shrinking obscurity for much longer. The trio, made up of Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton, all Blunt collaborators, has taken a page from the rapper's gloomy, irreverent and shapeshifting artistic playbook with a sound here that pulls the ear close in a swirl of whispery vocals, opaque poetry and tight, art-rock instrumentals that remind me of Blonde Redhead's more blissed-out moments. If, in a few months, we find out bar italia is some tossed-off, big-brained performance art project, I won't be surprised. But it's a seductive performance to be drawn into all the same.

Kill Rock Stars YouTube

In the many American states where politicians are promoting bills to legislate gender expression, the reality of many trans people's lives — that political resistance is required to merely exist — has been thrown into high relief. Music can crystallize this predicament. Mya Byrne, who is trans, wrote her new rocker as a cry against romantic abandonment; yet in light of current events, it resonates as a declaration of rage and a pledge to fight. You could call "Come On" the "I Will Survive" of early 2023.

"Come On" dropped Thursday, the same day that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed two controversial bills into law, one restricting public drag performances and the other banning gender-affirming care for minors. On that day, many Nashville commuters also found themselves greeted by a banner, anonymously unfurled over an overpass south of downtown, adorned with a swastika and words thanking the governor for legislating queer lives and helping secure "a future for white children" in the Volunteer State.

Though she recently relocated to New York, Byrne is a key member of the LGBTQIA+ community claiming space in Music City in the past few years. She's one of the first signings to legendary indie label Kill Rock Stars' new Nashville imprint — her sound blends the lyricism of troubadour balladry with door-busting rock rhythm and fuzz. Byrne penned "Come On" in a songwriting workshop, prompted by a picture of a bereft figure seated alone at a table. The verses calls out for that lover who's gone missing, but as Byrne's snarling vocal hooks a ride on Aaron Lee Tasjan's dirty, insistent guitar riffing, that surface meaning opens up and becomes universally applicable. "I can't take it no more, stuck inside alone, come on!" Byrne mutters and shouts in a tone that Iggy Pop would recognize. Pure punk in its mix of righteousness and arrogance, "Come On" takes its place as an anthem with a swagger of the hips. Rarely does a song meet its moment so well.

Mute YouTube

Miss Grit wins timeliest album of the year; as Microsoft unveils its Bing chatbot and ChatGPT is growing faster than TikTok, the Queens-based artist has just released their debut, a concept album about a cybernetic organism gaining sentience and venturing out into the world. Told from the perspective of the often-female robot put at the mercy of its male creator, Follow the Cyborg is an examination and dismantling of sci-fi tropes structured around a printed circuit board of looped synths and guitars and Margaret Sohn's rigid, measured vocal delivery.

"Syncing" is the album's grand finale, breaking its established musical structure to center Sohn's voice free of programmed constraints. Built on a lullaby-sweet hum, when they sing, "I've never felt my own toes holding me entirely," their voice rising and stretching the length of notes for the first time, it's both a moment of liberation and an emotional narrative climax: A person, not merely a cyborg, grappling with the awe-inspiring magnitude of being alive in a body at last.

Since 2010, the Chicago-based Joshua Abrams has led Natural Information Society, underpinning original compositions through his undeniable skills on the double bass and guimbri, a North African three-stringed bass lute. From the forthcoming Since Time is Gravity, out April 14, "Stigmergy" finds Abrams and the sympathetic gathering of assembled players improvise a spiraling motif into sheer jazz animism; a slow crackle of each instrument and soloist in an unhurried acknowledgment of the life-force of the actual performance.

Cursory touch points include the moodiest galaxies of Sun Ra, the malleable pieces of Henry Threadgill and the still-underheralded compositions of Horace Tapscott, along with Abrams' long association with Nicole Mitchell, make "Stigmergy" masterful stuff on the level of jazz. Yet the kinetic theme of the song's rewarding 13-minute stroll also pings Abrams' involvement with mercurial post-rock bands Tortoise and Town & Country. Abrams and band don't improvise as much as they coalesce, calibrating "Stigmergy" through an ongoing, call-and-response of tasteful solos, shimmering drones and micro-adjustments of Abrams' ostinato guimbri riff.

This #NowPlaying pick appears on today's episode of All Songs Considered.

Perennial Death YouTube

The year is 1997. Chokers and knee socks are in, but so are capri pants. There are not one, but two volcano disaster movies (Dante's Peak and, uh, Volcano) in theaters. Daria and Buffy are on TV. You turn to the lower end of the dial to find The Sundays and Saint Etienne on college radio, then click up a few notches to find Natalie Imbruglia, The Cardigans and Everything But the Girl. We were living in 1997.

Daisies' "Is It Any Wonder?" — the first single from its forthcoming record Great Big Open Sky, out May 12 — lives in the terrestrial bleedthrough between '90s twee and Top 40, and makes apologies for neither. The song is one of those pop music magic tricks that could only exist with that decade in the rearview: A coffee-shop bop subtly morphs into a countrified singalong before a '60s retro-chic takes us back to a Mellotron melody and a full-on hippie jam. It's a vintage '90s patchwork dress in pop song form, especially when Chris McDonnell's (CCFX, CC DUST, The County Liners) production so brilliantly mimics the era's proclivities, but Valerie Warren's lilting, hiccuping vocal delivery sells the song's bittersweet ennui with a sweet-and-sappy sophistication.

February 28

Eilen Jewell, 'Crooked River'



Eilen Jewell strikes a balance between heartache and triumph in "Crooked River," recounting personal trials made universal through the song. Throughout her career, Jewell has carved a niche between blues and country; here, pedal steel, harmonica and electric guitar provide the backdrop for her story of climbing back up from a life turned upside down. Nicknamed "Queen of the Minor Key" for her penchant for both themes of hardship and her musical key preferences, she lives up to the moniker here with a mid-tempo Americana rocker that draws from her recent split with her husband, who was also her bandmate and manager.

"Crooked River" is both the place that Eilen Jewell sought solace and a metaphor for coming out of despair by following a difficult path that is anything but straight. With a voice as clear and clean as a mountain stream in her native Idaho, accented by a raw ache lingering in each phrase, she sings, "Well ol' loneliness she's haunted me forever / But I've learned to look her straight in the eye / And when she sneaks up on me down by Crooked River / Well she hardly ever even makes me cry."

February 23

Brandee Younger, 'You're a Girl for One Man Only'

WRTI Your Classical and Jazz Source

Brandee Younger has never drawn distinctions between the richness of the past and the possibilities of the future. As a harpist rooted in the lineage of Black music, she draws particular inspiration from Dorothy Ashby, a pioneer on the instrument who bridged modern jazz and classical music, plus the soul and R&B of her time. Roughly half a century later, Younger is chasing the same ideal — never more persuasively than on Brand New Life, her second album for Impulse, due out on April 7.

Executive produced by Makaya McCraven, and recorded at his studio in Chicago, the album features an array of guest contributors: producers Pete Rock and 9th Wonder, vocalists Meshell Ndegeocello and Mumu Fresh. But it also finds moments for Younger to shine alone, and in the company of a few close partners. The opening track, "You're a Girl for One Man Only," places her harp alongside Joel Ross' vibraphone, Rashaan Carter's bass and McCraven's drums, creating a rhythmic pull like a slow-moving undercurrent.

Dorothy Ashby composed "You're a Girl for One Man Only" for an original musical called The Choice, which she and her husband, John Ashby, created for their own theater company in Detroit. The story of a single pregnant girl growing up in a Black housing project, it made a clear political statement when it was staged in 1967 — ending just weeks before the racial uprising that captured the world's attention. But the song itself is an harbor, especially as Younger interprets its drifting theme: a gentle stir of arpeggios, supporting a melody that unfolds as a dream.

RVNG Intl. YouTube

Matthew Sage — who records as M. Sage — not only layers sound but reshapes the passage of time. In listening, you get the sense that stories, sounds, emotions and motions overlap not with a clash but a surprising ease.

Water, then, is a sympathetic metaphor for his music — it's ever-moving, yet ever-present. "Crick Dynamo," from Paradise Crick (out May 26), shimmers like sunlight off a small stream. Much like his contributions to the ambient jazz quartet Fuubutsushi, Sage centers this song's melody around cool, Bill Evans-inspired piano chords, but breaks everything apart with a tender touch: Synths gurgle, glide and pop playfully as dial-up noise swims through underwater guitar and lightly popped bass. Previously, he'd let those disparate sounds hang in the ether, but here, a flickering, glitching motion — not unlike Insen, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto's brilliant 2005 collaboration — nudges everything forward toward an overwhelming, euphoric resolve.


When a long-dormant movie star pops up in a head-turning comeback role, their onscreen performance comes to us entwined with a lot of offscreen metatext, and as human beings it's a fool's errand to pretend we can pull them far enough apart to consider them on their own terms. In the same way, if you're among those who have known the muted joy of modestly chair-dancing to "All of Me" or "Pieces" while clearing your Outlook inbox, there's no shame in feeling a full-body flutter at the news of synthpop duo Tanlines' return before you've heard a single note. But trust us — its new song really is quite good.

Eight years after the last proper album by Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen, and five years after a surprise children's EP put a ring on their respective transitions from indie-rock hustle to stay-at-home parenthood, "Outer Banks" exudes a clear-eyed awareness of the sometimes irreconcilable differences between those lifestyles. There is heavy piano undergirding the familiar synth pulses and gated drums, some wistful delay bending the understated guitar leads into the shape of a weary smile. As a vocalist, Emm has grown into the reflective middle-aged crooner he seemed to be channeling a decade ago, singing as if from a spotlit stool at his neighborhood bar while the regulars shuffle around him in silent tableau. At the center of the track is a classic Tanlines hook — "How can we coexist / With perfection" — whose ambiguous punctuation leaves it to the listener whether to hear that prompt only as a question to ponder, or as an answer in itself.


An initially incongruous concept, a collaboration between producer PinkPantheress, known for her grunge hyperpop, and viral Bronx drill rapper Ice Spice is exactly what we needed. Ice Spice spits over the Mura Masa-produced Jersey club beat with a collected, indifferent delivery, unselfconscious bars serving as a hilarious approach to dealing with a triflin' lover: "Sayin' he home, but I know where he at, like / Bet he blowin' her back / Thinkin' 'bout me cos he knows that it's fat." Completely unbothered, Ice Spice cuts through the facade of PinkPantheress' nonchalant neurosis — the Londoner's cheerful musical arrangement of twinkly game console button chimes obscures devastating insecurities such as, "Every time I pull my hair / Well, it's only out of fear / That you'll find me ugly / And one day you'll disappear" — by highlighting self-confidence in the face of insincerity and disrespect. Most impressive is that, at a little over two minutes, the remix never overstays its welcome.


Only a few days after the hallmark holiday dedicated to love and desire, Mexican singer-songwriter Christian Nodal finds himself drowning the sorrows of a broken heart at the rumbea. The pioneer of mariacheño — a genre that fuses the European influenced polka-based norteño with the emotive entourage of mariachi, two staples of Mexican regional music — celebrates lust-inspired actions of those suffering from a loss of love throughout his arousing latest release, "Un Cumbión Dolido." Nodal replicates the scattered and confused sentiments of heartbreak with a smooth blend of cumbia ranchera — made menacing by persistent, sultry horns — and norteño. " 'Porque así es, mijo, así va' / Lo decía mi nana, el amor puede matar / Por eso solo busco una diablita pa' bailar," Nodal sings in a low growl (" 'Because that's how it is my boy, that's how it goes' / My granny said it, love can kill / Here's why I'm only looking for a little devil to dance with") over evocative percussion as he uses the excitement of motion between bodies to distract from his heart's wounds.


Skrillex & Eli Keszler, 'A Street I Know'


Despite his reputation as a figurehead of festival EDM, a genre notorious for its heavy-handedness, Skrillex's light touch remains highly underrated. At his best, the producer's command of dance music is fluid and dynamic, shot through with messy but considered rivulets of lurching bass to make a kind of Pollock canvas in sound. On one of the most successful and genuinely unexpected collaborations off his sophomore album, Quest for Fire, Skrillex links up with Eli Keszler for "A Street I Know."

Keszler, a composer whose solo work pads out improvisatory drumming with live electronic effects, is an ideal collaborator, a musician equally suited to creating tone poems at breakneck speeds. The mood here is nostalgic and haunted, constructed from glassy synths and distended vocal samples that seem to be circling the lost plot of a cherished memory. Building and collapsing in real time, Skrillex forgoes detonating easy drops to give way to Keszler's spidery, almost ASMR-in-their-tactility drum flourishes and, in doing so, creates one of his most evocative and mournful works to date.


Otay:onii, 'W.C.'

Guangzhou-born Lane Shi Otayonii is no stranger to balancing iniquity with beauty, whether she's wailing against the chaotic sludgegaze of her band Elizabeth Colour Wheel or threading Chinese folk sensibilities through harsh post-industrial on her solo project Otay:onii. "W.C." — the second single off upcoming Dream Hacker — is equal parts dark irreverence and Dante-esque horror, crushed into something resembling an art-pop song.

The subject matter is a raw, somatic evocation of Otay:onii's anxiety about sinophobia, referencing and warping Western notions of an imagined, unsanitary China. Accordingly, Otay:onii weaves together samples of toilets flushing with a stream of otherworldly, pounding industrial; above it, she sings about the residents of the titular restroom in haunting Mandarin refrains, coolly reassuring, "They're not as strong as you / And they're not as doomed as you." "W.C." is crushingly eerie, leaving you at the mercy of Otay:onii's tone as she draws melody from the muck.

Now Playing.


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