#NowPlaying: Best New Songs From NPR Music Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations.
Now Playing.

#NowPlaying

Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations
July 23

Anderson East, 'Hood Of My Car'

WAMU 88.5

A Low Country Sound / Elektra Records Release YouTube

On the edge of awakening, there's a moment just before the bliss of an extraordinary dream evaporates. Anderson East bottles that sensation into frothy, '80s pop-infused elixir with "Hood of My Car." The neon single from the forthcoming album Maybe We Never Die departs from the Southern soul for which he's known; in lieu of a horn section and tambourines, East reaches for synth pads and a drum track straight out of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire." Yet his hefty vocals seem only more urgent in this subdued setting, evoking the raw desire that accompanies new love. "I wanna take you out there to whatever's past the stars," he confesses. "We can be whatever we want and who we are." At least until we open our eyes.

YouTube

Sarah Tudzin can do it all. As a producer, mixer and engineer, her resume is proof positive. Likewise, Let Me Do One More, her forthcoming record as illuminati hotties (the one we've been waiting for) contains multitudes, from the Song of the Summer stylings of "Pool Hopping" to slick scorcher "MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA."

It's only fitting, then, that on "u v v p," Tudzin flexes again, dialing down the energy and seeking inspiration in surf rock sounds. Featuring Buck Meek on the outro, it paints a cowpoke portrait of a Western rambler. Like the very best of ih's previous projects, "u v v p" isn't afraid to showcase the sensitive side of the story; between big laughs and even bigger riffs, there's lightness matched with self-reflection.

◈ Stream "u v v p" by illuminati hotties

July 22

Leo Sun, 'When You Wake Up'

WJCT News 89.9

Leo Sun YouTube

If summers are made for stories of fleeting love, "When You Wake Up" — the delightfully languid debut of Jacksonville, Fla.-based indie artist Matilda Phan, aka Leo Sun — is a commentary on the resilience needed to soak it all in, the good and the bad. "I don't think I could have tried it any harder / It breaks my heart that we couldn't have gone any farther," Phan casually flutters over an onshore breeze of pedal steel guitar and a late-afternoon shower of auxiliary percussion. Rather than tackling evanescent romance, Phan gently embraces it with steely resolve, encouraging their love interest to "Check if your heart's had enough when you wake up." In so doing, they've reimagined the summer jam for the emotionally intelligent.

Sub Pop Records YouTube

Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are rarely, if ever, self-referential, though you wouldn't blame them: Low's been around almost three decades. They have the range. But when they sing, "Somewhere out on the ocean, across the waves, the rise and fall deep beyond imagination," in harmonies that quell the deepest doubts and soothe the savage heart, I can't help but think of "Over the Ocean'' from The Curtain Hits the Cast. The track typified Low's sound in 1996 — slow, sweet and spare, yet atmospheric — but, in so few words and even fewer chords, gave into the unknown's beauty with unease. "Disappearing," from the band's forthcoming 13th album HEY WHAT, is, if not a direct reference, at least an echo received with wisdom. "That disappearing horizon, it brings cold comfort to my soul," they sing together as backwards guitar billows with a peek into the void, its distorted plume a serene surrender. To paraphrase Heraclitus, no person ever steps in the same ocean twice, for it's not the same ocean and they're not the same person.

Sacred Bones Records YouTube

A polymath and mad genius, Caleb Landry Jones makes music as warped and unforgettable as his performances in films like Get Out and The Florida Project. While we wait to see his new film, Nitram — which earned him a Best Actor award at Cannes last week — the actor, singer and multi-instrumentalist has announced a new album of strange-but-stunning psych-rock called Gadzooks Vol. 1. Its first single, "Bogie," is a dizzying, kaleidoscopic trip with hairpin turns and surreal word-wonders like, "'Cause it all crawls under the fire, in the home, I turn to sail away and through all the pictures of teeth..." I'll have what he's having!

YouTube

Brandi Carlile describes her forthcoming album, In These Silent Days out Oct. 1, as "drama mixed with joy." Carlile knows better than most how to convey wounded grace and strength in slow-building ballads, and "Right On Time" fits squarely into that tradition: The powerful song — and its video, which was directed by none other than Courteney Cox — reflects on conflict, regret and the singer's stubborn resolve to do better tomorrow than she did today.

YouTube

Songwriter Becca Harvey started the musical project Girlpuppy after the pandemic forced her out of her bakery job in East Atlanta last year. But "Miniature Furniture" — the second single off Swan, her debut EP (produced and co-written by Phoebe Bridgers collaborator Marshall Vore) — isn't jaded with the vertigo of the past year. The melody is playful and easygoing, as Harvey paints a hopeful summertime daydream, though you wouldn't know it from merely reading the lyrics. "I'm sitting high crossing through state lines and it all unravels / My state of mind stuck on Eastern time, we'll be talking soon enough," she sings before sidestepping the serious with the heartfelt: "Now you're crying in public and I don't know what to do / And you're promising me that you'll get better soon." If anyone's pandemic side hustle sticks, I hope it's Harvey's.

Anti- Records YouTube

There's no denying the sleek harmonies of Americana singer-songwriters Aubrie Sellers and Jade Jackson, now together as Jackson + Sellers, on the pair's recently released "The Devil Is an Angel." Formed during the pandemic, Jackson + Sellers are off on a much more rock-leaning trajectory than in either of their previous solo works. One of the few covers on Jackson + Sellers' forthcoming debut album, Breaking Point, Jackson + Sellers turn Julie Miller's original into a steadily blistering rock and roll tune; guitars up, drums driving and the combined force of Jackson's and Sellers' Americana swagger front-and-center.

YouTube

South African producer Sun-El Musician couldn't have known when he scheduled the premiere of his transfixing new single, "Portia's Chant," for July 9 that it would be overshadowed by his nation's worst spate of deadly violence since apartheid. But as the unrest in Durban and its surrounding areas spread and uncertainty reigned, the wordless chant and its soothing electronic syncopation (a style known as Amapiano) provided at least a few South Africans a temporary respite from the chaos.

It's merely the latest bliss transmission from Sun-El Musician, a KwaZulu-Natal native whose gift for low-key joyous jams has captured a devoted international audience of pop aesthetes, beginning in 2017 with "Akanamali" up through last year's album, To the World & Beyond.

Thérèse Records YouTube

Karen Peris nestles into the corners of beauty, articulating images and ideas just out of view. The arrival of "I Would Sing Along" follows the last solo album by The Innocence Mission's singer and guitarist by nine years, and here she's joined by a band made up of her husband Don Peris and their children Drew and Anna. Accompanying herself on nylon-string guitar and melodica, the first minute is as gentle as a breeze, capturing a childlike interpretation — singing with elephants "in the low light / in the lowest notes" — of an interview that Peris heard on NPR about the Elephant Listening Project. But then drums, upright bass and strings sweep the rhythm to a windy bluster, in a heart-swelling full-band arrangement that hasn't been heard on an Innocence Mission album in quite some time.

Atlantic Records YouTube

After a four-year wait since its last studio album, The War On Drugs returned on Monday with ... an acoustic ballad? Yep, and it's a glorious welcome back. The tranquil "Living Proof" begins with soft strumming, a handful of pensive, melancholic piano chords, and is thoughtfully peppered with restrained electric guitar.

This first glimpse of The War On Drugs' upcoming album, I Don't Live Here Anymore (out Oct. 29), is a bold and brave move for a band that's known for classic rock-flavored epics. "Living Proof" is more like a post-quarantine hug from the band who gave us the best live album (Live Drugs) during the pandemic that we needed to get through the Fall of 2020. I'm told epics from the new album will be soon to follow. We're talking about The War On Drugs, after all.

Domino Recording Co Ltd YouTube

The worst thing you can do when trying to be "cool" is try too hard. You can't get too excited about things. You can't be too silly. It's a fine balance, and one that Wet Leg perfects right out of the gate. With jittery guitars underneath, the Isle of Wight duo's debut single "Chaise Longue" delivers clever and funny lyrics in an unwaveringly disinterested tone. It's seemingly effortless, yet entirely engaging. They're cool! Oh, and guess what? There's a chance that you, like me, have been pronouncing the words "Chaise Longue" wrong this entire time.

D Glizzy YouTube

Wales, the rural coastal country just west of England, isn't where you'd expect to find one of the year's better bangers, but Juice Menace is here to blow up your Welsh stereotypes. The young Cardiff rapper has been bubbling under for a couple of years and developing one of more adroit deliveries in the U.K. rap and grime scene. On "FUPTHECLUB," she pairs her breathless flow with a beast of a beat that churns like a recaffeinated DJ Screw production. And like all memorable pop songs, it has that lyric you anticipate every time the chorus comes around: "It's still a f****** pandemic, you ain't getting a hug."

MSFTSMusic/Roc Nation Records YouTube

A fresh addition to the long-catalogued genre, WILLOW's "naïve" reminds us that punk's political origins are Black. Over layers of fine-tuned harmonies, melodramatic guitar chords and low-tempo percussion, WILLOW belts the vulnerabilities of her naivety. A ballad set in scenes from life's cinematic dystopia, avoiding cops and running from rubber bullets, she showcases a vocal range that, while initially trained for R&B, is perfectly suited for a pop-punk redux. Along with the rest of Lately I Feel Everything, her fourth studio album out today, the Tyler Cole-produced track proves that WILLOW is a musician with a limitless sound.

Saddle Creek YouTube

It always amazes me how someone can take their pain and turn it into a catchy tune with a positive force. That's just what Indigo De Souza has done with a powerfully titled song "Kill Me." In a note to All Songs Considered, Indigo said: "I wrote 'Kill Me' at a time in my life when I was just kind of chronically drained of my energy and also very deeply spooked by the world, which I still am. It was a couple years after I graduated high school and I was navigating a lot of dysfunctionality in relationships and also just struggling to become a functioning person in society. [It] makes me feel so much less spooked in the world to make art and for other people to actually resonate with things that I have felt. I really just hope to create a feeling of togetherness with my art. And this album [Any Shape You Take] has been really fulfilling in that way."

Keep Cool/RCA Records YouTube

Fine, lesson learned: Don't rush Normani. Thursday night at midnight, two years after 2019's "Motivation" single, the singer-dancer dropped "Wild Side," a sultry video with Cardi B that pushes the Fifth Harmony breakout star one step closer to pop sensation. Hinging on a sample of Aaliyah's classic R&B standard "One in a Million," "Wild Side" was directed by Tanu Muino (who also helmed Cardi B's "Up") and choreographed by Sean Bankhead. The video amplifies the single's debts to the past: dance moves inspired by Janet's Rhythm Nation; visuals reminiscent of TLC, Blaque and Missy Elliot; and a direct nod to Golden Hollywood entertainer Debra Paget. And under all the pastiche is the intoxicating charisma of a star performer, a rare find these days, basking in the shadows of her foremothers.

Yebba Smith LLC/RCA Records YouTube

It's a hard time to be a champion singer in pop – the kind who can really nail a vocal run, hit a high note with golden confidence and interpret a lyric with a stage actor's bravado. In 2021, murmuring ASMR gurus and gum-snapping rappers dominate. But Abigail Smith, who goes by inverted pseudonym Yebba, shows how to do it on this song that's been haunting my ears since June. "October Sky" starts out in that quiet, inward space so familiar in these Eilish days, as Yebba invokes a lo-fi filtered childhood memory of a lost loved one. Slowly, word by word, she builds tension, until she breaks through with one of those runs – and suddenly the song catapults into space. Mark Ronson's strikingly tasteful production allows Yebba to lead as her memory becomes a burden, a treasure and an open door; she flies through it in the end, in full-throated catharsis. What's remarkable is that she never sacrifices the intimacy of those first tentative notes. A master class in conveying complex emotions.

Big Scary Monsters YouTube

Whether it's We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Twilight Sad or the late and lamented Frightened Rabbit, the Scottish rock scene is stuffed with bands well-versed in an expert mix of bombast and heavily accented fatalism. At first blush, We Were Promised Jetpacks' new single, "Fat Chance" — from a new album called Enjoy the View, due out in September — seems to operate within that bleak-but-soaring landscape. Yet "Fat Chance" reveals a surprise partway through, emerging as an anthem about overcoming long odds, doing "a complete 180" and climbing out of the ruins, stronger than ever.

Dead Oceans YouTube

There's a certain kind of dance hit that's so hooky it's irritating. Think "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees or "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson. Like a bump of white powder, these songs hit with a dizzying impact, simultaneously firing up a listener's synapses, hips and feet. "The Way That I Do" by Durand Jones and the Indications is this kind of song, its handclap beats doing whirlies around the swirl of synth-strings while drummer Aaron Frazer's driving falsetto moves like a hand confidently exploring the small of a dance partner's back. This single is another indication that the vintage soul game has a new champion team – and that disco sensuality will never fade away.

Iron Maiden LLP YouTube

After four decades of upping the irons, we may think we know Iron Maiden. Turns out, we don't. Iron Maiden's anthemic rockers don't get nearly as much shine as the metal band's glorious shred fests, so here's "The Writing on the Wall," led by a desert-swept twang that bucks throughout the six-minute epic. Co-written with guitarist Adrian Smith, the track finds Bruce Dickinson – who has always explored the histories, victories and ravages of war, and the dangers of fascism – singing about changing tides and warns what happens to those who get left behind progress. In songwriting that stretches our notions of Iron Maiden, "The Writing on the Wall" signals hope for after the apocalypse, with an animation just as epic, featuring the band's mascot Eddie as a robo-samurai and tons of Easter eggs that warrant multiple views.

Grand Paradise / Hopeless Records YouTube

To recap: In advance of the group's forthcoming record Draw Down The Moon, Foxing's already shared a 7 minute track with WHY? and an interactive series of online games called "rituals." And now, in its latest move, the band's released a video for the title track starring Broadway star André De Shields. It might feel over the top if it weren't simply par for the course – the band already released a song in five languages! – for the St. Louis trio. "Draw Down The Moon," much like previous singles "Go Down Together" and "Where The Lightning Strikes Twice," proves once again that the band is far less interested in tradition than transcending whatever genre camp it came from. And lucky us for that: It's downright thrilling to watch this band go big by making bombastic music that isn't afraid to be unabashedly Foxing.

YouTube

Last year, Soccer Mommy's Sophie Allison told All Things Considered that when she made her album Color Theory, she wanted it to sound like a time capsule, something "shiny and new ... being degraded over time." Her latest song, the one-off single "rom com 2004," continues that aesthetic trajectory. It's got the hallmarks of Soccer Mommy's catchy pop leanings – melodramatic yearning ("what does it say about me / that I rip out my heart for you," she sings), a chorus with big '90s indie-rock energy – but the track also digs into her penchant for eerie production, like when it pauses to get briefly, delightfully glitchy right after the first chorus. Plus, for added effect, the song's video asks what it might look like if Allison's Nintendo Mii took a time-traveling acid trip.

Now Playing.

#NowPlaying

Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations