Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
Listen above to hear Folk Alley's Elena See, opbmusic's Jerad Walker and WDET's Chris Campbell spin their selections, and read on for the full list.
Amanda Shires, 'The Way It Dimmed'
Two minutes and 11 seconds. That's how long it takes Amanda Shires to look back through her past and explore all the memories, both good and bad, she has of a former lover. Couldn't we all spend hours and hours talking about the mistakes we've made and the loves we've lost? Not Shires. Her songwriting is just that concise; with careful and considered language choices, she's able to create incredibly vivid images that resonate with anyone listening — like "A parade of images I never finished sorting through / Your hands laced in my belt loops," or "Your fingerprints are still burned into my skin." "The Way It Dimmed," the opening track on Shires' new release, My Piece Of Land, is undeniably catchy, thanks in part to husband Jason Isbell's surfy guitar and the incessant rhythms provided by Paul Slivka (bass) and Paul Griffith (drums). While Shires' magnificent fiddle playing is sadly not front-and-center here, this song does give us a chance to fall in love with her voice and the stories she shares with it.
—Elena See, Folk Alley
The Minders, 'Needle Doll'
Note to self: Never piss off Martyn Leaper. The frontman for The Minders has a vicious pen that he wields like a sword on the Portland, Ore., band's new track "Needle Doll." The breakup song comes fast and hard with military metaphors, repeated calls for the use of black magic on an ex and extreme accusations of snootiness. But it's not all doom and gloom: This is a hook-filled jam that reminds us just how good this band, which has close ties to the famed Elephant Six Collective (of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples In Stereo), can be when it actually enters the studio. "Needle Doll" comes from The Minders' first proper full-length album in a decade, Into The River. Let's all hope Leaper has enough shade to throw around for a quicker follow-up next time.
—Jerad Walker, opbmusic
Izo FitzRoy, 'Here I Come (Moods Remix)'
Evoking shades of Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies, one of 2016's groovier musical finds has been London soul singer Izo FitzRoy's track "Here I Come." With production and remix assistance from noted Dutch DJ and producer Moods, the track boasts delicious horn licks, syrupy bass lines and tight percussion patterns. All of this makes for a great canvas onto which FitzRoy paints her powerhouse vocals, resulting in an extremely infectious, future-disco track that's funky and danceable. The tune simultaneously has both an underground vibe and a mainstream sensibility, making it accessible to a diverse audience of music lovers and signaling that FitzRoy may be a major player in the global dance community in the years to come.
—Chris Campbell, 101.9 FM WDET's The Progressive Underground
Bear's Den, 'Red Earth & Pouring Rain'
Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones of Bear's Den didn't expect to release their second album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain, as a duo. But the departure of bandmate Joey Haynes during the album's recording gave Davie and Jones a looser rein. While the two Londoners cite Edward Hopper's solitary painting Nighthawks and Bruce Springsteen as influences, it's the open road — and miles traveled across the belly of America on a tour bus — that propels the title track. Steeped in voluptuous '80s-era synths, the restless twang of electric guitar and Davie's wistful plea, "Red Earth & Pouring Rain" is a daydreamer's highway anthem.
—Kara Manning, WFUV
Atmosphere has created seismic waves on the independent hip-hop scene since 1996, when the duo launched the Rhymesayers Entertainment label. What's kept Atmosphere interesting and relevant for two decades is its core value of honesty — and there's no shortage of that on Fishing Blues, its latest emotionally charged album. In "Perfect," rapper Slug shows no hesitation in ripping into someone "who's the opposite of truth, overproduced," even as he embraces his contradictions as a "Southsider," a "pop lifer" and a "Rubik's cube." There's so much humility here, embodied in a willingness to accept, but not be content with, one's flawed nature. Acknowledging mistakes, shortcomings and the fact that we live in a world that's anything but black and white — it all makes this song pretty much perfect.
—Kevin Cole, KEXP
Psychic Twin, 'Lose Myself'
We've been waiting four years for new music from Erin Fein, the former frontwoman of the Champaign, Ill., band Headlights. Since that project came to an end, Fein has been producing experimental, dreamlike, electro-leaning songs under the moniker Psychic Twin. Her debut is Strange Diary, an album produced in the midst of the dissolution of her marriage and a move across the country to Brooklyn. Those major life changes have resulted in songs that sound like an updated version of Kate Bush or Siouxsie and the Banshees, including the great single "Lose Myself."
—Liz Felix, WNKU
The band formerly known as Viet Cong took on the less controversial name Preoccupations earlier this year, and its new, self-titled album also reflects change — not so much a reinvention, though, as a natural progression. The quartet transitions subtly from the traditional post-punk influences found on its previous full-length to a slightly more polished new-wave sound that evokes elements of early Devo and The Psychedelic Furs and radiates a mature, self-assured warmth. The dissonant angles of Viet Cong and the Cassette EP are smoothed, yet the music still packs the same lyrical and emotional intensity, accented by Matt Flegel's distinctive growl. For a song that features the line "all dead inside / all gonna die," there's a lot of life to be found in "Stimulation."
—Scott Carney, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir
Lo Moon, 'Loveless'
Shimmering, immersive and otherworldly, "Loveless" is a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of song from a new band based in Los Angeles. Lo Moon is Matt Lowell (lead vocals, guitar and keyboards), Crisanta Baker (guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist and principal guitarist Samuel Stewart. After relocating from London to L.A. in 2010, Stewart — the son of Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Siobhan Fahey (Shakespears Sister and Bananarama) — connected with Lowell and Baker, and the trio is currently working on its debut album, produced by François Tétaz and Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla and set for release in 2017. The cascading textures and keyboard and rhythmic crescendos of "Loveless" bring to mind the cinematic lift of Sigur Rós. The song has a big sound that's as intimate as it is anthemic; all seven minutes are worthy of your attention.
—Bruce Warren, WXPN
Foy Vance, 'She Burns'
With suggestions of Paul Brady and Paul Kelly, a hint of Bono and perhaps a kindred musical spirit in Ulster compatriot Van Morrison, Foy Vance has a way of going very deep very quickly. Yes, "She Burns" is another out of millions of songs about love and desire, but the evocative vocals, Celtic chordal underpinnings and minimal production pull you in like a whirlpool. And, as the lyrics suggest, you won't want to come back up: "There are no markings on her country road / No signs that show the way back home / When you get there you won't wanna go." Now that he's signed to Ed Sheeran's label, let's hope it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world gets tangled up in Vance's soulful sound.
—Larry Groce, Mountain Stage
Mick Jenkins feat. BADBADNOTGOOD, 'Drowning'
On the heels of his successful mixtapes The Waters and Waves, the Alabama-born, Chicago based hip-hop artist Mick Jenkins gives us The Healing Component, a poignant debut album ripe with urgent social commentary. In "Drowning," Jenkins steps outside of his commanding rap voice to sing images of despair and anxiety and repeat the haunting, topical refrain "I can't breathe." BADBADNOTGOOD handles the production, composing a brooding instrumental that perfectly frames the song's vivid narrative. Jenkins has long used water as a metaphor for truth, purity and cleansing; in "Drowning," he points to its ability to overwhelm and suffocate. (Perhaps that's a commentary on humanity's capability to both nurture and destroy.) Ultimately, Jenkins tells us that only once we are unified can we combat inequality and save one another from drowning.
—Jesse Menendez, Vocalo Radio