Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
This month's mix includes new music by The Jayhawks, FKA twigs and Birds Of Chicago, among others. Two other artists making an appearance are Bayonne and The Wet Secrets, whose songs you can hear (and, until March 31, download) as part of the Austin 100, NPR Music's guide to the bands to discover at SXSW next week.
FKA twigs, 'Good To Love'
On the heels of her dense, complicated concept EP M3LL155X, FKA twigs reverses course with "Good To Love," a single so open and airy that it wouldn't seem out of place in the hands of Sarah Brightman or Enya. Indeed, the song shares certain assets with New Age — a space to breathe, shut out the outside world, and meditate on love's limits — as twigs' voice, always delicate, soars on clouds instead of churning machinery. A bridge of subtle electronic effects layered over a church organ hints at love's swirling tension, just before subtle bass tones dot the final chorus like an anxious heartbeat.
—Gabe Meline, KQED
The Jayhawks, 'Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces'
Last fall, when David Dye and World Cafe visited Minneapolis for the Sense Of Place series, we caught up with Americana rock band The Jayhawks. During the session, the group played old favorites and premiered several new songs, including "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces." The song is on The Jayhawks' forthcoming album, Paging Mr. Proust, which comes out April 29 and features lead vocalist and guitarist Gary Louris, bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O'Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg. It's been slightly more than 30 years since The Jayhawks first surfaced out of the Twin Cities, and "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" is another immediate classic by a band whose melodies, harmonies and jangly guitars remain timeless.
—Bruce Warren, WXPN
Pete Yorn, 'Lost Weekend'
On March 11, Pete Yorn will release Arranging Time, his first album in six years. With it comes a lesson about time — a reminder that it "only gets faster as you get older," as Yorn says. "Lost Weekend" is a reminder that your perception of time might be ever-changing, but your roots and where you came from remain everlasting. The song hints at a new direction for Yorn: one that's less guitar-driven and more exploratory in its use of synths and other textures.
—Amy Miller, KXT
Radiation City, 'Milky White'
Radiation City's third full-length album, Synesthetica, is a statement piece — a big, bold, catchy album that establishes the Portland band as a pop-music force. "Milky White" is a sleek and sexy song, but its shiny veneer conceals the group's substantial musicianship and gift for intricate songwriting. As the track builds, Elisabeth Ellison's seemingly endless vocal hooks are spurred on by synths, strings and unexpected time-signature changes. Radiation City makes it all sound easy, even when it's not.
—Jerad Walker, opbmusic
The Wet Secrets, 'I Can Swing A Hammer'
Edmonton, Alberta's The Wet Secrets is a colorful, energetic sextet that mines the spirit of '50s rock 'n' roll and '70s punk and runs it all through a 21st-century filter. Picture this: The Wet Secrets' members dress smartly in red-and-white vintage marching-band uniforms, complete with towering hats and shiny brass buttons. They happily pound out fuzzy, warm tunes with a punk-rock spirit and a horn section. We all need songs like "I Can Swing A Hammer" in our day — songs we can crank up, not think about too much and just have fun with.
—Grant Lawrence, CBC Music
Birds Of Chicago, 'Dim Star Of The Palisades'
I've loved the music of both JT Nero and Allison Russell, independently of each other, for years. Nero's poetic songwriting for his band JT & The Clouds and Russell's energy and gorgeous vocals with Po'Girl grabbed me early on. Fast-forward to 2016: The two have not only paired up musically as Birds Of Chicago, but have also married each other and begun touring relentlessly with their 2-year-old road-warrior daughter. Birds Of Chicago's new album, Real Midnight, was produced by Joe Henry and is a clear example of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts. "Dim Star Of The Palisades" beautifully showcases the pairing of Nero's writing with Russell's soulful voice and their impressive vocal harmonies. It combines a melancholy look in the rearview mirror with a little trepidation about the future, and yet it still conveys a joyful, uplifting feel.
—Linda Fahey, Folk Alley
Nada Surf, 'Cold To See Clear'
After first surfacing in 1996 with the catchy hit "Popular," Nada Surf could have faded away like countless other acts who've achieved early and seemingly instant success. Instead, the band has spent the past two decades crafting great album after great album of guitar-driven power pop with a generous spirit. The latest is You Know Who You Are, whose opener, "Cold To See Clear," is an obvious standout.
—Russ Borris, WFUV
Here's an artist to keep an eye on at SXSW next week. Bayonne is the alter-ego of Austin's Roger Sellers, who actually dropped "Spectrolite" under his given name a few years ago. Whatever the release date, this song is timeless. It builds a hook around polyrhythms and bits of electronic pop, like Brian Eno with the dreaminess dialed way up. Onstage, Sellers re-creates the loops like a mad scientist, running between his drums, sequencer and mic in a Technicolor blur.
—Art Levy, KUTX
Overcoats, 'Smaller Than My Mother'
Synchronization could go either way: It can be hauntingly scary, like The Shining's Grady twins, or it can be hauntingly beautiful, like the music of Ibeyi and Lucius. New York friends Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell most definitely fall into the latter, cooler category, creating spellbinding harmonies as the folktronica duo Overcoats. Their self-titled debut EP is a wealth of trip-hoppy loops and tormented tones, especially in the hypnotic single "Smaller Than My Mother."
Declan McKenna, 'Paracetamol'
Declan McKenna is a wonderful artist from Hertfordshire in the U.K. McKenna is only 17, but he's already attracting international attention for songs that are thoughtful and socially conscious well beyond his years. Not long after winning the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition last year, he signed to a major label (after a bidding war) and released this song, "Paracetamol."
—Huw Stephens, BBC Radio 1