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Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing

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Each month, we ask music curators at public radio stations across the country to introduce us to one new song they can't stop spinning. In April, these denizens of the left side of the dial loved songs by Brooklyn electric-folk band Big Thief, Philadelphia power-pop quintet Sheer Mag, Louisiana garage-rock outfit Seratones and more. Hear all 10 selections below.


Big Thief, 'Real Love'

Real Love
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Although you likely wouldn't know it from listening to "Real Love," Brooklyn rock band Big Thief's sound is rooted in lyrically dense modern folk music. Founding members Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek actually started out writing as an acoustic duo, but then Lenker discovered the electric guitar. "There's just so many different kinds of sonic worlds [that the electric guitar opens up]," she told opbmusic in a recent session. In "Real Love," the band explores a lot of them. The song features a cascade of quirky guitar parts and tasteful — but off-kilter — use of dissonance and distortion. While the guitar work is immense, Lenker's words steal the show. In the opening verse, she describes an abusive relationship punctuated by an act of domestic violence: "Real love makes your lungs black." It's the kind of devastating line you'd find in the darkest folk songs.

Jerad Walker, opbmusic


Oddisee, 'Brea'

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Beat tapes provide blueprints for songs, but the best can stand on their own. Oddisee showed his mettle on the mic last year with the wonderful The Good Fight, and now the New York rapper and producer is switching back to his instrumental roots with The Odd Tape. "Brea" is a lush, head-nodding orchestration, with Oddisee as the starry-eyed conductor. Each refrain explodes like a fireworks display, as horn and piano melodies dance around one another. You can imagine a voice on top, but you don't need one — the song is already lyrical.

Art Levy, KUTX


Beth Orton, '1973'

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What would it sound like if Beth Orton embraced electronic music again, as she did in 1996 when she established herself with her first album, Trailer Park? Based on "1973," from her upcoming album Kidsticks, the answer is "completely different." Twenty years ago, the electronic squibs and whooshes drizzled a hip icing over Orton's singer-songwriter fare. By contrast, this new production from F*** Buttons' Andrew Hung is an adorably catchy pop song from the first beat. The only nostalgic thing about it is the words; Orton sings about the titular year — when, for the record, she was 3. At less than three minutes long, you won't be able to resist playing it twice.

David Dye, World Cafe


Yaeji, 'New York 93'

New York 93
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Producer and multi-instrumentalist Kathy Lee, a.k.a. Yaeji, has been a recent staple of New York's visual-arts scene, but she's now branched out to releasing music. "New York 93" is a melodic reference to the year she was born, an ethereal tone poem melded with arresting vibes and sensual grooves. Singing in both English and Korean, Yaeji spotlights her heritage while deftly crafting a sound that's both futuristic and atmospheric. Her music, released on the electronic label GODMODE, evokes instant curiosity with its ability to transport the listener.

Chris Campbell, 101.9 FM WDET's The Progressive Underground


Skating Polly, 'Pretective Boy'

Pretective Boy
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Stepsisters Kelli Mayo, 16, and Peyton Bighorse, 20, have been making music as Skating Polly since a 2009 Halloween house party. Skating Polly's fourth studio album, The Big Fit, finds the Oklahoma City (by way of Tacoma, Washington) duo building on its self-described "ugly pop" sound. Loud and aggressive songs abound, mixed in with a grab bag of pop music. The most striking example of the latter is "Pretective Boy," whose title refers to someone being protective of another before having reason to be. It's got a sweet, slow, bouncy build that gets rowdy before seemingly falling apart at the end.

Ryan LaCroix, KOSU's The Spy


The Del McCoury Band, 'The Government Road'

The Government Road
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Some say Del McCoury's voice is an acquired taste; I acquired it the first time I heard it. Now, the bluegrass veteran has become one of the chosen few (joining the likes of Wilco and Billy Bragg) to put music to Woody Guthrie's unused lyrics. To me, McCoury and Guthrie are like pork and beans: They may not be on the rich man's plate, but they've satisfied working people for a long time. As Guthrie's daughter Nora said, "If my dad had had a band, it would very possibly have sounded very much like Del's." With songs like "The Government Road," McCoury and Guthrie have each proven that this land is their land.

Larry Groce, Mountain Stage


Seratones, 'Don't Need It'

Don't Need It
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Hailing from Shreveport, La., Seratones will soon release Get Gone on the widely respected Fat Possum label. The record, the band's debut, is a wild ride of punk sensibilities and sass with a distinct live feel. These are incredible musicians, and singer A.J. Haynes absolutely shreds through each of the songs, melding sweetness and saltiness to perfection. "Don't Need It" serves as a great introduction to the band; it just leaps off the radio.

Russ Borris, WFUV


Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, 'Bronze Worlds'

Bronze Worlds
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Mike Adams isn't afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve, and that's a good thing. When Adams isn't hosting his own talk show, he's crafting indie-pop jams that pay homage to his favorite bands in unexpected ways. This is the case in "Bronze Worlds," the lead cut from his upcoming album Casino Drones. The swirling, dreamy atmospherics and subdued melodies hint at his love of the obscure (Starflyer 59) and the renowned (The Beach Boys), creating something unique in the process.

Sean Cannon, WFPK's The Guestlist


Mark Erelli, 'Look Up'

Look Up
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Life should be more than a series of grueling tasks and unrewarding routines; it should take your breath away with its wonders and joys and beauty. It certainly can do that. (And how!) But here's the catch: You have to be aware of what life is offering. Mark Erelli's "Look Up," from his new album For A Song, is a reminder not to sleepwalk through our daily existence. It also suggests that maybe there's no difference between the sacred and the secular — that maybe, deep down, we all dream the same dreams. "Look Up" is told from the perspective of not one, not two, but three different narrators. Erelli plays all three roles to perfection and shares the spotlight with Paula Cole, who provides some gorgeous harmony vocals.

Elena See, Folk Alley

Sheer Mag, 'Nobody's Baby'

For all the attention that Philadelphia quintet Sheer Mag gets for its Thin Lizzy-style dueling guitar solos, power-pop rhythms and other 1970s throwback elements, at its core the band simply writes great songs. "Nobody's Baby" is timeless — it could work in the hands of the Marvelettes, The Rolling Stones or even Bon Jovi. At a recent show in a tattoo-shop lobby, I watched as singer Christina Halladay belted the song to a dancing crowd of about 100, all of us falling over each other and reveling in the righteous declaration of singledom. Ain't it just like great rock 'n' roll to bring isolated people together?

Gabe Meline, KQED Arts