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

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Every month, NPR Music asks DJs from public radio stations across the country for the songs they're spinning on repeat. These can be new releases, favorites from local artists and everything in between.
This month's playlist includes a new track from an up and coming Austin artist, an upbeat song about white privilege from Tune-Yards, and a jazz instrumental cover of Amy Winehouse.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Mélat, 'Push'

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Born to refugees who relocated to Austin after fleeing their native Ethiopia, Mélat has an unique outlook and life experience for someone her age. Influenced equally by her father's affection for R&B and her own cultural upbringing in an Amharic-speaking household, Mélat's confidence as a singer-songwriter shines through every track she graces with her powerful but smooth vocals. Mélat's propensity for bold vocal performances and overall passion has already culminated in two full-length albums and a day named in her honor by Austin mayor Steve Adler. Mélat's latest offering is Move Me II: The Present, 10 tracks of R&B, hip-hop infused excellence. The second song on the record (which also served as the second promotional single), "Push," provides a perfect platform for Mélat's vocals complete with a Curtis Mayfield-evoking guitar groove. — Jack Anderson, KUTX

Lucius, 'Neighbors'

Following the bright pop burst of 2016's Good Grief, Lucius has opted to lay it bare and go back to basics. The new LP Nudes peels back the layers of elaborate production for a simple, acoustic backdrop that showcases the duo's best assets: their vocals. Most of the album is made up of back catalog revisits and covers, but the first single is a brand new track called "Neighbors." This song reveals just how powerful the voices we're dealing with are as they soar, pull back, go soft, and then rip through the final lyrics: "Signal's loud but it's still busy, baby." These are the (only) kind of nudes I'd be happy to receive. — Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio

Dream Wife, 'Somebody'

The idea for Dream Wife germinated when three friends created a fake girl band, complete with original songs and an accompanying mockumentary, as a performance art school project. The songs turned out great and the London-based trio — one Icelander and two Brits — had so much fun, they decided to keep it going as a real band. Their resulting eponymous debut is an infectious collection of indie-punk songs. The incredibly catchy album standout, "Somebody," was originally released as a single last year on International Women's Day. The band describes it as a ballad for women.

"The song explores the experience of living in a female body within our society. It's a conversation on the reclamation of bodies by the women who occupy them in a tender, yet direct and empowering way," says the band of the track.

The song is bold, confident and makes me want to hear more from this talented young band.— Cheryl Waters, KEXP

Marquis Hill, 'Coming Out Of The Universe'

When it's good, jazz provides the listener a respite from ordinary life (as the great drummer Art Blakey said, it "washes away the dust"). At its very best, though, this music can provide a sort of transcendental experience. The style that so often transcends is typically categorized as the catch-all sub-genre known as spiritual jazz. in Marquis Hill's new Meditation Tape, we have a mixtape-style album that materializes a new fork in the path for this genre. On "Coming Out Of The Universe," Hill's singular style is updated: his trumpet plays through distortion, soaring over the heavy bass groove laid down by Junius Paul and the ethereal synth textures of Brett Williams. It's all held together by longtime collaborator and fellow Chicagoan Makaya McCraven's boom-bap break beat. One final collaborator is heard at the end, in the form of the legendary drummer Marvin "Bugalu" Smith – waxing poetic on the nature of human consciousness and its relationship to our physical universe. — Matt Fleeger, KMHD

Everything Is Recorded, 'Close But Not Quite'

The best of these is "Close But Not Quite," featuring Mercury Prize winner Sampha. The song features a sample of Curtis Mayfield's "The Makings Of You," from Mayfield's classic 1970 solo debut, Curtis. The introduction of the song begins like a soft lullaby with a gentle piano, and an in-the-pocket bass line that keeps the beat as Sampha sings tenderly: "Fate lets you fall into her arms without a word/And only the size of your breath that hurts/I'm not one to go to church/But you made me believe in something more than hurt."

Then the payoff hits hard on the chorus, as Russell blends the Mayfield sample into the chorus with seamless attention to detail where Sampha and Curtis Mayfield's voice becomes one, and a new long song is born. — Bruce Warren, WXPN

Tune-Yards, 'Colonizer'

Like Annie Clark with St. Vincent, Merrill Garbus with Tune-Yards steadily advances her music toward a larger audience without sacrificing her integrity as an artist. Her voice plus her band's propulsive synths, programming and percussion, result in Tune-Yards' signature sound. More focused this time, inspired by her investigations of house and techno music, plus African and Haitian rhythms, the sound supports Garbus' smart, searching lyrics. Halfway through the record, "Colonizer" arrives. The song's repeated phrase "my white woman's voice" is impossible to miss, even to the most casual listener. "Colonizer" has something to say about race, gender, privilege, culture and appropriation.

Garbus is an artist who is aware of what she's doing in her music, and what's going on in our culture, and she wants to let you in on it. But Tune-Yards is here to entertain, not to preach. It's a fun listen from start to finish. — Mark Simmet, Iowa Public Radio

Greta Van Fleet, 'Highway Tune'

The big festival line-ups for summer are bereft of real rock bands but in a recent interview, Jack White said we shouldn't worry, a renaissance is just around the corner. It's being led by a brash band of brothers from Jack's home state of Michigan, with a girl's name: Greta Van Fleet.

"Highway Tune" has been at No. 1 on our chart already, unusual for a debut and for a rock song! They're compared to Led Zeppelin in reviews and last week, Robert Plant signed off on them, even suggesting that Josh Kiszka, the singer, could fill his role, as he's not interested in a reunion! Elton John has also given them a big thumbs up. He throws a pre-Oscar party in LA every year and invites a hot new act to join him (Adele and Ed Sheeran in years past), but this year he's bringing back the rock by inviting GVF! — Mark Wheat, The Current

Inara George, 'Young Adult'

A blissfully sweet fairy tale with a touch of misunderstanding, "Young Adult" is an ode to the passing of Inara George's father, a subject she has long since avoided writing about. In Dearest Everybody, her first album since 2009, George presents a set of songs of self-reflection for everyone listening. Though "Young Adult" carries the process of facing the loss of her father, it's a tune that most every 20-something can relate to. Lyrics presenting the ups and downs, the process of just figuring out who you're supposed to be, yet melodies serving as a reminder that everything turns out well in the end. George shows us that the seemingly simplest of lyrics can bring together the most beautiful moments of healing. — Alexis Palmer, Mountain Stage

Hart, Scone & Albin, 'Rehab'

John Hart is a guitarist who has paid past tribute to jazz touchstones like Billy Strayhorn and Thelonious Monk. Leading The British Invasion finds him in a trio with drummer Rudy Petschauer and organist Adam Scone, taking a glimpse not at The Beatles or The Kinks but rather a series of female British soul stars, from Dusty Springfield to Lorde to Adele to Sade.

Hart breaks down the track perfectly: "We picked up the tempo on the 2006 Amy Winehouse hit 'Rehab,' with a street beat from Rudy reminiscent of some of the great collaboration between guitarist Grant Green and organ great Big John Patton." Yes! Yes! Yes!— Gary Walker, WBGO