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

Heavy Rotation is a monthly sampler of public radio hosts' favorite songs. Check out past editions here.

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KING, 'Mister Chameleon'

The Prince-approved R&B trio KING recently released its second official single, "Mister Chameleon," and it paints a warm picture — somewhere between hip-hop and dream-pop. This gem's soft chord progressions and lullaby-like melody could create the perfect setting for a sexy backyard BBQ, or even a simple romantic picnic. On the brink of the group's full-length debut, these women don't seem likely to fold under the pressure. —Wallah Umoja,

• Download "Mister Chameleon"

Azekel, 'New Romance'

East London producer and musician Azekel turned heads with last year's Circa EP, which featured his soulful R&B vocals over impeccable electronic production. He's back with a new single, "New Romance," which captures attention right away with a diabolical bass line and percussion snap. Azakel's vocals jump seemingly effortlessly from high-octave falsetto to a low tenor. So much is going on in "New Romance" that it rewards you in fresh ways with each listen. —Chris Campbell, WDET's The Progressive Underground

• Download "New Romance"

The Acid, 'Fame'

The Acid consists of three players: Steve Nalepa, a producer, composer and professor of music technology in California; Adam Freeland, a Grammy-nominated English DJ, remixer and composer; and RY X, an Australian singer-songwriter now based in Berlin. Serendipity brought the three together, and each has brought different expertise and experiences to the table. The result is gorgeous. —Anne Litt, KCRW

• Download "Fame"

The Wytches, 'Crying Clown'

The influences sprinkled into The Wytches' disorienting psychedelic stew aren't new: Take a bit of wiggy eccentric Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, some Spacemen 3 sonic chaos, a touch of Jesus and Mary Chain aggressive noise and feedback, shake well, etc. But the young Brighton trio puts it all together with so much enthusiasm, attitude, energy and volume that you'll feel like you've never taken this trip before. Plus, as evidenced by "Crying Clown" — in both its album and live acoustic versions — the band never skimps on the melodies in the songwriting, either. —Jim Derogatis, Sound Opinions

• Download "Crying Clown"

Beach Day, 'Don't Call Me On The Phone'

The Florida duo Beach Day evokes images of summer with doo-wop harmonies and retro-minded riffs on Native Echoes, out August 19. In the nonchalant "Don't Call Me on the Phone," singer Kimmy Drake keeps the bad vibes at bay and the phone ringer on silent, complete with pointed messages ("Lose my number! Lose my number!"). Recorded in Detroit, the song is an excellent mash-up of garage rock and '60s girl-group sounds. Beach Day is as addictive as The Shangri-Las or Best Coast, and "Don't Call Me on the Phone" ought to have you humming along or trying to mumble the chorus by the time it's over. —Ferris O'Brien, KOSU's The Spy

• Download "Don't Call Me on the Phone"

Strand Of Oaks, 'Shut In'

The new album by Strand of Oaks, a.k.a. Tim Showalter, marks a change of pace from his previous records. Inspired by a string of difficult life experiences, the appropriately titled Heal was a means of catharsis for Showalter. I always look for an emotional connection to songs, and he pulls it off with "Shut In"; with a subtle but driving pace, it builds in instrumentation and urgency you feel to the very end. As of now, Heal and "Shut In" will be my album and song of 2014. —John Richards, KEXP

• Download "Shut In"

Jonah Tolchin, 'Mockingbird'

When the harmonica intro begins in "Mockingbird" — the opening track from Jonah Tolchin's infectious new album Clover Lane — and when his steeped-in-grit vocals lean into the song's classic-style folk-blues groove, it's hard to believe this 22-year-old was born and raised in New Jersey. The arrangement is filled out with an electric guitar, slicing country fiddle and percussion that sounds like a crowd of boys clambering down a dirty old lane. All told, it frames a promising new artist who artfully occupies the gulf between old-school tradition and contemporary appropriation. —Kim Ruehl,

• Download "Mockingbird"

J Mascis, 'Every Morning'

I'll take J Mascis any way I can get him. Heavy, strumming, wailing, hushed — it's all gold. But "Every Morning," the first glimpse into his upcoming album Tied to a Star, is mellow Mascis at his finest. The best part about it is that it's not straining into wildly different territory; he's not contorting to reinvent himself. At this point, why would he? The trademarks are all prominently displayed: strong guitar, vulnerable humanity in his vocals, commiserative lyrics that make this an everyday anthem. It's another page in the beautiful, riveting book that is Mascis' glorious career. —Jessi Whitten, CPR's OpenAir

• Download "Every Morning"

Christian Gregory, 'Count On You'

British musician Christian Gregory started a soul label called Movement Records with his old friend and Mercury Prize winner Michael Kiwanuka; Gregory's own EP is its first release. When I first heard "Count on You," I was taken with its powerful groove, which recalls Bill Withers and other soul singers from past eras. Recorded live in one take, the song suggests that Gregory has the chops and the backing band to make even more infectious music in the future. —David Dye, World Cafe

• Download "Count on You"

Hiss Golden Messenger, 'Brother, Do You Know The Road?'

It doesn't splash whiskey around the way Hiss Golden Messenger's good-time single "Saturday's Song" does, but the country-soul smolder in "Brother, Do You Know the Road" rests in a deeper groove. Songwriter M.C. Taylor's best songs sound born of that Southern paradox where gleaming joy mingles with profound suffering — and he channels that here, too, with a church-style call-and-response that seems to deepen with each repetition. It's not as if you couldn't drink whiskey to this song; go ahead. But take it easy. This one is too contemplative for much more than a slow sip. —Ally Schweitzer, WAMU 88.5's Bandwidth

• Download "Brother, Do You Know the Road?"



Time now for our music project Heavy Rotation, when NPR Music asks public radio music writers to pick a new tune. Today, we hear from Ally Schweitzer of from member station WAMU in Washington. She picked the song "Brother, Do You Know The Road."

ALLY SCHWEITZER: Hiss Golden Messenger is the name used by a songwriter, M.C. Taylor or Michael Taylor, who's based in Durham, North Carolina. And he plays as a duo and he plays also as a band. He's known for this sort of soulful take on country music.


HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Oh, hey there brother don't you know the road? Yes my brother, I know. Oh hey there brother, don't you know the road?

SCHWEITZER: He wrote this song during a painful chapter in his life. This song deals with the idea of an enduring sadness that persists much longer than the actual event that has caused you to feel so miserable. It's the idea that sadness lasts much, much longer than the event itself.


HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) And a big black dog laid beside my door. Yes my brother, I know.

SCHWEITZER: The call and response structure of this song sort of deepens the misery that he's expressing in his lyrics. It's over and over again this relentless repetition.


HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) So I poke that old fiddle with my hands. Yes my brother, I know.

SCHWEITZER: It's a song for contemplation and for a time when you might be feeling the sort of heaviness, but at the same time you're sort of existing outside of it and you're able to sort of observe what you're feeling. (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROTHER, DO YOU KNOW THE ROAD?")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Oh, it took a long time and the...

SCHWEITZER: I love this song because it is so profoundly miserable, but in a way that feels something close to redemptive.


WERTHEIMER: That's Hiss Golden Messenger's song "Brother, Do You Know The Road." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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