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Heavy Rotation: The Songs We're Obsessed With Halfway Through 2018

NPR Music works with dozens of public radio music stations around the country, and every month we ask hosts from each of those stations to share a new song they can't get enough of. This month, we tweaked the request and asked them to share the 2018 song their listeners have been loving the most. Enjoy this mix of standouts, from public radio favorites Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff to newcomers like Tom Misch and Drew Banga.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, 'You Worry Me'

There's a familiar energy I hear from the opening notes of "You Worry Me" by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. When this lead single debuted in January from the band's eagerly-anticipated sophomore album Tearing at the Seams, it felt like an instant classic — energetic, soulful and emotional. The camaraderie between the eight members of the band is what makes the song successful, each instrument there to support Rateliff's deeply personal lyrics. There's a bond here beyond bandmates. As Rateliff says, they've become more than brothers since their breakout debut in 2015. Their explosive hit "S.O.B." may have put them on the map, but that was just the beginning. Along with producer Richard Swift, who once again has brought out the band's sound, "You Worry Me" finds The Night Sweats at their very best. — Alisha Sweeney, Colorado Public Radio

Childish Gambino, 'This Is America'

It speaks volumes about Childish Gambino's "This Is America" that the instant-classic video more or less arrived to deafening buzz the morning after debuting on Saturday Night Live and immediately became one of KEXP's most requested songs of the year. The song – equal parts provocative and accessible ­­– combines harmonious multi-tracked vocals, rumbling low-end trap beats and a warbled Young Thug outro all sharing space in a state of fluid chaos that listeners all across the world have responded to, underscoring how its serrated energy has struck a nerve in the zeitgeist that, regardless of your perspective, is impossible to ignore. — Jacob Webb, KEXP

Leon Bridges, 'Bad Bad News'

For any artist, I imagine producing a sophomore work is daunting business. Your own desire to develop your craft coupled with heightened expectations from your audience is a tricky beast. On his second full-length album Good Thing, Leon Bridges has tamed that beast, trained it and has it doing backflips on command. He nailed it. And on no other track is that perhaps more evident than "Bad Bad News." Jazzy guitar, a steady bass line, those distinctive vocals — in a single song, Bridges sheds his "throwback" label, explored a new style, and yet somehow stays completely "on brand." It's good, good news for Leon Bridges fans and music lovers everywhere. — Lauren Menking, KXT

Courtney Barnett, 'Nameless, Faceless'

Let's shun the formulaic approach to a summer hit song and instead go with one that quotes Margaret Atwood! That's what Courtney Barnett does in "Nameless, Faceless," a subtlety subversive track driven by Barnett's grungy guitar work and sing-talk vocals. Her wit is often self-deprecating, but when push comes to shove, watch out. Witness her defanging of a snarky troll's critique of her songwriting: "I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you," he claims. "But you didn't," she deadpans. Barnett treads the indelicate balance between the sexes, using Atwood's line "Men are scared that women will laugh at them, women are scared that men will kill them." All that's missing is a "tra-la-la." — Rosemary Welsch, WYEP

Lord Huron, 'Wait By The River'

It makes sense that a band started by a visual artist would place an emphasis on soundscape. There's a cinematic quality to Ben Schneider's Western-noir that carries through Lord Huron's new album Vide Noir. '"Wait by the River" delivers the band's trademark sonic wash with a loner protagonist confronting heartache and mortality, "By the river/ In the light of the moon/ At the edge of the city / I'll wait for you." But after two albums that conjured up AM radio crackles on a late-night desert highway, this new record "floats higher and higher." Over a spare bass thump and plink-plink piano, the song departs the earthly realm for Vide Noir's cosmic darkness. — Micah Schweizer, Wyoming Public Radio

Parker Millsap, 'Fine Line'

Parker Millsap is just one of those guys who seems destined to be a star. Between his Hollywood good looks and his skills as a musician, it appears it's just a matter of time. That time may have arrived. Millsap has just released Other Arrangements, his strongest album to date. Other Arrangements finds Millsap venturing outside of his established role as an Americana troubadour and into a broader world. The song "Fine Line" is a great example of that journey and may prove to be the song of the summer.


"Fine Line" showcases Millsap's grittier side with a driving guitar riff and lyrics that come off as chaotic and crazy. It's nice to see this side of Millsap. "Fine Line" finds Millsap going to the edge and taking his fans along for the ride. If you're looking for the perfect song to kick start your next party look no further than "Fine Line." — Benjamin McPhail, The Colorado Sound

Natalie Prass, 'Short Court Style'

As a followup to her 2015 self-titled debut album, Natalie Prass had a record ready to go in June of 2016, but after the record got pushed back, and after the 2016 election left her "devastated," she scrapped the album and went back to the drawing board. While there are songs on The Future and The Past that topically reflect her state of mind about the current state of our country, "Short Court Style" is a transcendent funk-pop charm that is impossible to get out of your head. "Sometimes a good riff can do a lot of good in the world," she told World Cafe host Talia Schlanger in a recent interview. Replete with an undeniable riff and melody, "Short Court Style" also throws down a deep, sultry groove, perfectly executed, synchronized, ooh'd and ah'd. On a dance floor somewhere, it brings us together. As George Clinton once said, "one nation under a groove." Indeed. — Bruce Warren, WXPN

Juliana Hatfield, 'Physical'

When Juliana Hatfield takes on Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," coyness gives way to assertiveness, turning the lyric "Let's get physical" from a request into a demand. Hatfield double-tracks her vocal to bring some gloss and depth to the verse, matching the mood of Newton-John's original. But the bracing tumult of the mid-track solo tips us off and by the last chorus, the foreplay is over. Hatfield adds some snarl to her tone singing, "Let's get animal," leaving next to no trace of the knowing seduction in Newton-John's original recording. — Donald James, WGBH

The Decemberists, 'Severed'

The Decemberists has taken a bit of a new path and explored different directions on its eighth album I'll Be Your Girl. Frontman Colin Meloy said the band wanted to get out of its "comfort zone" when working on this album. Working for the first time with producer John Congleton (Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent) they use synthesizers and elicit images the likes of Depeche Mode and New Order. You can clearly hear this synth sound and Meloy's driving guitar energy on the track "Severed." This was written with the election of Donald Trump clearly in mind. — Willobee Carlan, NV89

I'm With Her, 'Game To Lose'

The amount of time folk fans waited for a full-length I'm with Her LP spanned well past the time where we had to explain that the trio had their name before it was a campaign slogan. Aoife O'Donovan (Crooked Still), Sarah Jarosz (mandolin prodigy) and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) are each stand-alone superstars in the Americana world. When they began collaborating in 2014, the folk world was buzzing with excitement. "Game to Lose," the lead single from the trio's debut album See You Around, exemplifies each musicians' strength. O'Donovan's outstanding lead vocals wrap harmonies while Watkins' stellar fiddle playing and Jarosz's thoughtful mandolin technique are encompassed by bringing the passion, intensity and emotion of the tune strikingly alive. — Cindy Howes, Folk Alley & WYEP

Father John Misty, 'Mr. Tillman'

When it comes to the complex character that is Father John Misty, we've been taken on a number of different rides over the last several years. More than ever, the story he tells in "Mr. Tillman" blurs the lines between the character of Father John Misty and the man, Josh Tillman, but with lyrics like, "Did you and your guests have a pleasant stay? / What a beautiful tattoo that young man had on his face," and the unexpected reference to Jason Isbell, I'm not sure that line matters anymore. Father John Misty? Josh Tillman? Either way, we're feeling good, damn, we're feeling so fine. — Russ Borris, WFUV

Tom Misch feat. De La Soul, 'It Runs Through Me'

Tom Misch's highly anticipated Geography album is a masterpiece. The leadoff single "It Runs Through Me," a collaboration with iconic hip-hop trio De La Soul, is a wonderful example of the intelligent, rhythmic craftsmanship that runs throughout the album.

Punctuated by thick and syrupy bass lines, beautifully syncopated multi-layered percussion arrangements and mesmerizing flamenco guitar sounds, the track showcases Misch's musical dexterity and an almost peerless ability to seamlessly blend music genres (i.e. – hip-hop, R&B, bossa nova, adult contemporary), all of which makes this cut one of the best of 2018 thus far. — Chris Campbell, WDET

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 'Not In Love We're Just High'

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's "Not In Love We're Just High" isn't an obvious hit. It starts out sort of downtempo and the track's simple arrangement is mostly just keys and vocals. But the melody is downright infectious. Frontman Ruban Nielson sings with an understated soulful swagger through a lightly distorted vocal processor, truncating each syllable as if channeling a grimy Stevie Wonder. That probably would have been enough to win most listeners over, but the song further exceeds expectations with the addition of a funky backbeat before exploding into a straight-up jam. — Jerad Walker, opbmusic.org

John Coltrane Quartet, 'Untitled Original 11386'

The most astonishing new jazz release of the season — of any recent season, really — is Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, a clutch of previously unissued studio takes by the John Coltrane Quartet. Recorded on a single day in 1963, it captures a miraculous band in top fighting form. We can argue about whether or not the material really does amount to a "lost album," but there's no doubting the glorious properties of the music itself. And in "11386," one of two brand-new discoveries, we have an intriguing original composition of uncertain provenance — a new mystery to ponder, and to savor. — Nate Chinen, WBGO

Drew Banga feat. 1-OAK, YMTK, WADE08 and Amen, 'Multi Color'

Ask artists like Kamaiyah and 1-O.A.K. whom they turn to for beats steeped in old-school, Oakland funk, and they'll say Drew Banga, a rising producer and bassist reminiscent of a young Raphael Saadiq. With "Multi Colored," Banga pivots from the retro-infused sounds of his recent solo releases to a psychedelic R&B song that feels like a lush garden of keys and synths. Amid its enchanting atmosphere, 1-O.A.K. anchors the track with a celestial, Auto-Tuned hook bolstered by Amen's heavenly backing vocals. YMTK and WADE08's smitten verses make a new relationship sound like an adventure worth getting lost in. — Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED

Lindi Ortega, 'You Ain't Foolin' Me'

Ear Worm Alert! Lindi Ortega has delivered a hypnotic song just perfect for summer cruising. In the mode of 60's era Girl Groups, "You Ain't Foolin' Me" recalls the Supremes "Baby Love" as the drum kicks in on the intro; then it swirls, it captivates, and it dishes the dirt. "You Ain't Foolin' Me" is a spun sugar confection, a shark-infested custard take on rebuke. It comes from Ortega's new album Liberty, which has a more modern feel than past efforts, heralding a change from the dark into the light. Me, I can hardly wait for the extended dance mix! — Jessie Scott, WMOT's Roots Radio

The Weight Band, 'World Gone Mad'

The Weight Band started in 2013 inside Levon Helm's famous Woodstock, N.Y. barn. Jim Wieder gathered musicians to play songs of The Band. After four years of touring, The Weight Band released an album of originals, capturing The Band's musical tradition. "World Gone Mad" is a masterpiece of the Woodstock sound. It fits in to the grand, historic tradition set forth by The Band, and yet sounds fresh and new today. Wieder's mandolin harkens back to the Americana sounds first brought to us by The Band. Retro yet modern in both music and words." — Chris Wienk, WEXT

Grace Basement, 'Summertime Is Coming'

Kevin Buckley comes from a folk music family and plays Irish traditional music for a living but when he has time, Buckley is the leader and sole original member of Grace Basement, a pop rock band that has released four albums of richly melodic, infectious music over the last 10 years. "Summertime is Coming," from the band's latest album Mississippi Nights, is among Buckley's catchiest songs. Buckley sings this tune which runs up and down the scales with a grace that stays out of the basement and instead reaches for the skies of pop nirvana. — Steve Pick, KDHX

Lillian Frances, 'Phone Keys Wallet'

Frances's appearance came thanks to her Tiny Desk Contest entry. The effusive energy of the track and her performance knocked me out. Beneath its poppy exterior, Frances says this song is about the things we lose.


"I worked on a farm and got tendonitis harvesting girthy vegetables (read: butternut squash) and I lost my ability to play guitar," she says. "If it hadn't been for this acoustic amputation, who knows how long it would have taken me to get the courage to perform electronic music live." What we've gained as a result is a serious career to watch. — Nick Brunner, Capital Public Radio