Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
August's edition of Heavy Rotation, chosen by NPR member stations, features music from Arlo Parks, Japanese Breakfast, Lucy Dacus and more.
All of this month's picks are available to stream on the Heavy Rotation Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page. As always, you can discover fantastic music programming happening across the country in real time by clicking the links to each station's website.
Arlo Parks, "Hope"
In this past year's chaotic storm, London singer-poet Arlo Parks was the musical calm, channeling the tranquil Brit-pop soul of Corinne Bailey Rae and Lily Allen for the creation of a lauded debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. As an ambassador for the British mental health non-profit CALM, not to mention a newly-minted BRIT Awards breakthrough artist, 21-year-old Parks has used her platform (not to mention songs like "Hope") to encourage conversations around depression. In a year plagued by isolation, Parks' music is the compassionate companion we needed (and still need), cocooning our feelings of self-doubt with comforting arms of love, light and reassurance that we are not alone. — Joni Deutch, WFAE's Amplifier
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, "662"
Here in Nashville, we are five hours from Clarksdale, Miss. The Mississippi Delta amplifies its musical heritage much as we do in Tennessee, both to world-wide import. When Christone "Kingfish" Ingram delivered his first album a couple of years ago, we found a new young gun steeped in tradition, and that was reason to rejoice. On his new record, 662, he is even more sure footed, with explosive guitar runs and a commanding voice. 662, of course, is the area code for Clarksdale. On the title track, he paints a hometown picture, which could be Anytown USA, except it's more than that, as it's the Birthplace of the Blues. Kingfish is the newest standard bearer in a long line of exports, keeping it joyously alive. — Jessie Scott, WMOT
Japanese Breakfast, "Be Sweet"
Buoyant and energetic, Japanese Breakfast's "Be Sweet" is an upbeat, mega-dancey, synth-pop song, deserving of radio play everywhere. Co-written with Jack Tatum from Wild Nothing, the song is equal parts Madonna and Cyndi Lauper with synths and grooves tightly underscoring the melody. In the chorus, lead singer Michelle Zauner pleads, "Be sweet to me, baby," a hook so wide you could drive a truck through it. This is the second track on the band's latest album, Jubilee, and it's a musical departure from the darker songwriting themes of their earlier records. Writing this song, Zauner recently told World Cafe host Raina Douris, "helped [her] unlock [her] inner diva. There's a very sassy performance that accompanies it, and [she] just love[s] the song so much." Danceable, bright and euphoric, "Be Sweet," is the sound of Japanese Breakfast levelling up and transcending to a new place in modern indie music. — Bruce Warren, WXPN
Jon Batiste, "FREEDOM"
It's rare to find a figure whose artistry emanates pure elation at every turn, but this certainly characterizes the work of Jon Batiste. Known to many as the effusive bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Batiste has more recently made a splash for his Oscar-winning contributions to the Pixar film Soul, and his latest solo album, We Are. The album's anthemic single "FREEDOM" is emblematic of Batiste's artistic trajectory. The song is a love letter to New Orleans and its rich musical history — one that cultivated his career and a long family line of music makers. More importantly, it reaches into his essence and the percussive second-line sounds of the city, which were predominantly introduced by African, Caribbean and Native American musicians before the dawn of jazz. It's a celebration of love, inclusion and strength from an artist who radiates his own brand of musical mastery, finesse and exuberance. — Michelle Bacon, 90.9 The Bridge
Little Simz (feat. Cleo Sol), "Woman"
Little Simz's new album is called Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. And sometimes, when you're an introvert, your words come out all at once, like a faucet that can't be shut off, especially when they are deeply held sentiments of adoration that you've been holding in. There are over 600 words in this four-and-a-half minute song, and each one is gassing up a woman that Little Simz admires. 600 praises. 600 words of affirmation. It's important for us to play this in Heavy Rotation as a radio station because, with each spin, we pass on Simz's message to women everywhere. And we are happy to return some of her words here: As Simz says, we just want to see her glow. — Justin Barney, Radio Milwaukee
Lord Huron, "Not Dead Yet"
Lord Huron released "Not Dead Yet" as the first single from their latest album, Long Lost. What makes "Not Dead Yet" so great is that it captures at least three different styles of music in the same song. It starts off with a mid-tempo rockabilly style reminiscent of early Elvis. Next comes a dash of psychedelia with the addition of a heavily distorted guitar. Finally, a touch of cinematic flair gives the song a dream-like quality, as if it belongs in a Hitchcockian psychological thriller. Singer-songwriter Ben Schneider drenches the whole tune in a healthy dose of reverb that washes you away. Schneider's enigmatic lyrics only add to the mystery and make you hang on every word hoping for new clues to help give meaning to this magnificent song. — Benji McPhail, The Colorado Sound
Lucy Dacus, "Brando"
Lucy Dacus cleverly revisits a past high school relationship on "Brando" from her third album, Home Video. The whole record is an exploration of her formative years, and this song plays out like an indie rom-com where Dacus stars as the strong female lead who doesn't let the co-star control her narrative in the end. The lyrics and melody work in tandem to evoke a cinematic vulnerability that once again continues to make Dacus a relatable songwriter, as if her experiences were ours too. The emotional maturity of the song's refrain — "All I need for you to admit / Is that you never knew me like you thought you did" — shows our protagonist move on and become who they have always wanted to be. — Alisha Sweeney, Colorado Public Radio, Indie 102.3
Ozomatli, "Mi Destino"
Los Angeles's Grammy-winning Latin six-piece band Ozomatli has teamed up with Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and Cypress Hill's B-Real on "Mi Destino," a superb jam for the end of summer. The first single from Ozomatli's forthcoming album sees the group doing what they do best, mixing Latin cumbia and salsa rhythms with hip-hop beats and rhymes. It's a song about perseverance and hope, with lyrics that switch from Spanish to English and build perfectly off the chorus. Of "Mi Destino," the group says, "Whether you're a Dreamer, an immigrant, or a person of color that challenges people's norms, you're not alone as we each travel this road to fulfill our destinies." It's an inspiring message of unity from a group that has been speaking out against injustice for almost two decades. — Brian Burns, WUNC
SAULT, "London Gangs"
Fresh off of releasing two (!) of 2020's most vital full length albums, SAULT has managed to set the tone of summer '21 with their latest, Nine. Never content to follow a standard album roll out strategy, Nine emerged from the ether on June 25, and into the ether it will return exactly 99 days later. Those days are dwindling, so you should spend all of them listening to "London Gangs" on repeat. There is so much packed into this relatively brief tune. The vocal delivery and overall instrumentation place it squarely within Britain's tremendous post-punk lineage, and yet it's arranged over a hip-hop beat with nods to sample culture throughout. Upon further consideration, maybe get to work on tracking down a copy of the (currently sold out) vinyl so you can ensure your ability to cherish this for years to come. — Marion Hodges, KCRW
Yola, "Diamond Studded Shoes"
It's not hyperbole to say that Bristol-born soul singer Yola has stamped her unique authority on modern soul with "Diamond Studded Shoes." Grooving along with a J.J. Cale-esque 1970's shuffle that blurs the line between Americana and blues/soul, Yola's new single calls for the empowerment of the less fortunate to take a collective stand and demand better from our society. Just a couple of years removed from her attention-grabbing debut, Yola's growth as an artist is tangible here, showcasing not only her impressive voice, but a marvelous degree of control and reserve that tells you she's got a lot more horsepower at her disposal. Once again working with producer-musician Dan Auerbach as well as in-demand songwriters Nataly Hemby and Aaron Lee Tasjan, this up-tempo summer jam makes you want to sing it out loud and join the movement. — Eric Teel, Jefferson Public Radio
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