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

Every month, NPR Music crowdsources public radio stations across the country for the songs they just can't get enough of. That could be a new release, a pick from their local scene, or a late-to-the-party discovery.
This month, their selections include a new single from indie giants MGMT, an update on a classic spiritual by Moby, and the latest by U.K. singer-songwriter Jade Bird, one of our 2018 Slingshot artists.
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jade Bird, 'Lottery'

The odds of stumbling across a gambling-themed song in the alt-country genre are, well, pretty high. From Presley to Haggard, Dylan to Tweedy, there is certainly no shortage of cards or high stakes in Americana. But now, within that canon of chance, we have a new standout — enter "Lottery" from British singer-songwriter, and NPR Slingshot artist, Jade Bird. At first listen, the song exudes a lovely, youthful innocence. Bird's inimitable vocals come in soft as she tallies the numbers on a first love that's withered and waned: "I was 19 and you were 23 and we stayed in Number 4 Ferdinand Street." Turns out, though, this Bird has a bite, and with a fiery switch we're thrown into a thunderous chorus that carries us from start to finish: "You used to tell me that love is a lottery, and you got your numbers and you're betting on me." It's a treat of a track, complete with playful wordplay, ebb and flow — and that Clapton-meets-Feist style Bird has carved out for herself since the release of her 2017 EP, Something American. With that successful debut under her belt, and this single in her very capable hands, we're pretty sure we'll be betting on Jade Bird for years to come. — Lauren Menking, KXT

Moby, 'Like A Motherless Child'

Moby is back, without The Void Pacific Choir or the ambient sounds he's been experimenting with for a few years. "Like A Motherless Child," the first single from his upcoming Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt, is reminiscent of his work on 2013's Innocents, which featured some excellent collaborations with Wayne Coyne and Skylar Grey. For Moby's update on this African-American spiritual, he worked with Los Angeles soul singer Raquel Rodriguez. — Willobee Carlan, NV89

MGMT, 'Hand It Over'

On this preview of their upcoming album, Little Dark Age, it's like MGMT has drawn you a warm déjà vu bath. To step in is to soak in that slightly pleasant, slightly panic-inducing sense of overwhelming familiarity where you can feel you're revisiting a moment you've already experienced, but... when? Was it the time you got eaten by a kaleidoscope and your body turned into a million jewel-toned rotating trapezoids? Was it the slow-motion summer you spent living underwater with a seahorse colony? That time you fell through the roof of a pillow factory where all the down feathers were really pastel paintbombs? "If we lose our touch, it won't mean much if everyone's confused. Which door should we open?" Andrew VanWyngarden sings over glassy synth brass, bleep-bloops and ooohs. The harder you strain to figure it out, the more disorienting it becomes. So don't overthink it. Just get in and "hand it over." — Talia Schlanger, World Cafe

Sunflower Bean, 'Crisis Fest'

The New York City trio of Julia Cumming, Nick Kivlen and Jacob Faber are the ridiculously talented Sunflower Bean. I've been a fan for a few years now and was really excited to hear new stuff from them. After a slew of tour dates, including some opening gigs with Pixies, I was curious where the new music would take them. "I Was a Fool" was our first taste, but it really couldn't prepare for the next-level feel of "Crisis Fest." It's amazing to see and hear this band's maturation in such a short time. Cumming's vocal is strong and confident, and the classic rock riffs conjure up comparisons to Joan Jett. You can tell the band was influenced by today's political climate when Cumming belts out, "In 2017 we know reality's one big sick show." Indeed. (Look for the band's second album, Twentytwo in Blue, on March 23). — Russ Borris, WFUV

Nilüfer Yanya, 'Baby Luv'

Despite a limited catalogue, London's Nilüfer Yanya has gained a ton attention in her native country (both the BBC and Guardian have highlighted her as an emerging artist to watch). On her single "Baby Luv," it's easy to see what all the fuss is about. Although most of her previous work has been heavily influenced by R&B, with arrangements to match, this track is stripped down to mostly simple electric guitar, which puts the focus solely on her vocals. It's the right call. Yanya's voice is a compelling instrument by itself, and despite her obvious love of R&B, it actually sounds more like another incredibly talented British singer—Annie Lennox. — Jerad Walker, opbmusic.org

Jeff Rosenstock, 'All This Useless Energy'

On Jan. 1, Jeff Rosenstock released 2018's first masterpiece, POST-. Rosenstock's career began with ska-adjacent bands Bomb the Music Industry! and The Arrogant Sons of Bitches in the early aughts. Listening to POST- makes you feel like you are part of something; I'm not sure what that is exactly, but I know we are in it together. "All this Useless Energy" has walls of guitars, distortion and clashing drums that will make you want to put your arm over your best friend, tilt your head back and yell each and every word at the top of your lungs. — Justin Barney, Radio Milwaukee

Francis And The Lights, 'Just For Us'

"Just For Us" is a 1980s smash hit arriving three decades late. (Listen and you can picture it playing over the opening sequence of a lost John Hughes film.) But are Francis and the Lights (aka Francis Farewell Starlite) recycling for an easy win or renewing the spirit of another age? When it's blasting through speakers, you can't argue with results. Amid a cavalcade of kick-drum beats and stuttering clucks, Francis' yelp calls out an anthemic love song for New Wave outsiders. (No wonder pop's Dream Team — Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon — have guested in Francis' recent synthoid fantasies.) Only Vernon appears again here, offering vocoder-mutated warbling during the chorus to kick all the fist pumping into overdrive. The track's synthpop sensibilities, electronic clomp rhythm and keyboard squiggles boast not only the sonic characteristics of yesteryear, but also an era-appropriate ambition. Here's a ditty that wants every listeners' heart to swell. — David Hyland, WPR

Bru Lei, 'Psalms Premier'

Sacramento, Calif., rapper Bru Lei is a laser beam on "Psalms Premier," nimbly moving verse to verse. There's an inherent likability to his lyrical swagger; it's as much in his delivery as the words in the verse. Lei researched the history of the selfie, and throughout the album, we're offered a treatise on its ubiquity as a snapshot of our culture. — Nick Brunner, Capital Public Radio

Jason Scott, 'She Good To Me'

Some of the best song lyrics are open to interpretation. But I'd argue that a simple, straightforward song can be just as fulfilling. "She Good To Me," Jason Scott's sweet ode about his wife, is one such song. The 33-year-old father of two says it takes a special person to put up with a musician's lifestyle, complete with late nights and rooms cluttered with musical equipment. Scott, a former worship pastor, wrote and recorded his debut EP, Living Rooms, in his home studio, giving him the freedom to play around with different sounds. "She Good To Me" is filled with those fun little earworms — the strumming of a mandolin, plucking of an upright bass, swishing of drum brushes, and a sprinkling of Dobro — to go along with a melody and refrain that you'll be humming in your head for some time. — Ryan LaCroix, KOSU

The Wood Brothers, 'Happiness Jones'

The first time I saw The Wood Brothers was on TV in the middle of the night. There was no crawl announcing who they were, so I patiently waited for the end of their set. Having now had the pleasure of seeing them in concert, they deliver nourishment for mind and body with great licks and even greater joy. The Nashville-based trio is back with its sixth album, One Drop of Truth, out in early February. Oliver Wood, Chris Wood and Jano Rix deftly mix it up, and their unexpected changes and kaleidoscopic array of influences make for some serious jamming. And there is something about The Wood Brothers' music that serves to lighten the mood and elevate the spirits. Many of the songs on this album have their inspiration ripped from the headlines. The song "Happiness Jones" came from a news report that Americans are addicted to happiness and conversely are not comfortable with sadness. It serves up a fine toe tapping shuffle with a bit of philosophy that we can all use - a non-prescription, organic mood enhancer. — Jessie Scott, Roots Radio