Heavy Rotation is a monthly sampler of public radio hosts’ favorite songs. Check out past editions here.
Dana Falconberry, 'Palmless'
A few months ago, Austin's Dana Falconberry sent a skeleton of a song to Jim Eno, drummer for Spoon and producer at Public Hi-Fi. The two had bumped into each other at an Atoms for Peace show, and Falconberry wanted to tap into that organic-yet-futuristic experience. Eno worked around the delicate framework of the song, adding touches of synth and a skittering drum machine to highlight the nervous tension. It's all in service to Falconberry's ghostly voice, which floats high above. A folk ballad with studio magic, an electronic track with an earthy atmosphere, "Palmless" emerges as a true collaboration in every sense of the word. — Art Levy, KUTX
tUnE-yArDs, 'Water Fountain'
"Water Fountain," the first single from tUnE-yArDs' forthcoming Nikki Nack, sounds deceptively simple. Brash metallic beats and buoyant basslines usher in Merrill Garbus' singsongy melodies, hearkening back to playground clapping games of yore. But listen closer, and real issues get tackled here — the water's run dry, a fist is clenched around her neck, the money's soaked in blood, her dad's off shooting a bear — with real anger and violence getting reconciled under those sparkling loops. tUnE-yArDs' world sounds like it needs fixing, but "Water Fountain" makes us want to live there anyway. — Andrea Swensson, The Current
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, 'Real'
Gibbs and Lib have made one of the best albums of the year, a happy marriage of Madlib's deep-space crate-mining and Gibbs' cognac snarl — a lovingly crafted set of harrowing gangsta rap in the grand tradition of prime-time Scarface and Ice Cube. "Real," then, would be the "No Vaseline" of the project, in which Gary, Indiana's finest — after a brief nonspecific intro and a basement-fire beat switch — spits bile on the paperwork that once signed him to Young Jeezy's Corporate Thugs Entertainment label. Gibbs dissects his former boss in a Makavelian manner, specific and swift — hanging shame on a thousand Snowman tees. Thug Molestation 101. — Larry Mizell Jr., KEXP
Memory Map, 'The Celebrated Summer'
It's hard to mention Memory Map without also acknowledging the famed "Internet cat" (what a world we live in, where that phrase exists) Lil Bub. Guitarist Mike Bridavsky is her owner, and the band spent the past couple of years working around her schedule. But, while it's hard to avoid the presence of Bub — she is so cute, after all — Memory Map's songcraft, hooks and quirky guitars stand on their own merits. "The Celebrated Summer" is proof enough of that. After a three-year break, the band returns with a new album called The Sky as Well as Space on June 10. — Sean Cannon, WFPK
Dan Croll, 'In/Out'
U.K. artist Dan Croll took me by surprise when I had the chance to meet him: His earnest, bookish demeanor belied the shimmering, synth-heavy pop that came out of the speakers. Although "In/Out" is a centerpiece of his new album, Sweet Disarray, the entire record has a through line perfectly summarized by the title and is solid all the way through. Keyboards with a hint of African rhythms and effervescent vocals add to the sound of "In/Out," co-written with former Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong. Croll recently went to South Africa to collaborate with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on a 10" for Record Store Day, further cementing the Afro-pop sensibilities highlighted in this song. — Anne Litt, KCRW
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Bass Clef, 'Self-Perpetuating Fun Loop'
London electronic artist Ralph Cumbers likes to jumble, jostle and shred. His releases under various monikers — including Bass Clef, Some Truths and RLF — haven't always been easy on the ears. Many have sounded like wails extracted from a circuit-bent CRT television, but they're the work of a musical mind that seems as bustling as Heathrow Airport. The latest Bass Clef EP, Raven Yr Own Worl, brings more of that cerebral intensity to the table, and channels it into something intoxicatingly manic. "Self-Perpetuating Fun Loop" behaves like a psychotic whirligig; leaking battery acid, it spins and cycles through light and dark passages, held together with relentless hand claps. It's easy (and rewarding) to get sucked in. When the fun loop finally peters out, don't resist setting the whirligig back into motion — that's what the repeat button is for. — Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's Bandwidth
As the lone singer — and woman — of hip-hop heavyweight Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA isn't quite R&B, nor can she fit squarely into the constantly morphing box of pop. But her ambiguity doesn't prevent her from striking a chord of familiarity. In "Ur," the opening track from her new project Z, she floats, sighs and ghosts her way through the stealthy radio static and drugged-out horns laid down by rapper turned experimental producer Mac Miller. With mellow, uncredited assistance from TDE's Ab-Soul, the track inches along as SZA playfully questions the notions of reality, human nature and free will — "Freedom ain't real, who sold you that lie? / I ain't buying that, no matter what the price." — Kiana Fitzgerald, I'll Take You There: R&B From NPR Music
Arc Iris, 'Money Gnomes'
After Jocie Adams left the Providence, RI., folk group The Low Anthem, I was anxious to hear what the talented Brown University graduate would do next. Her new band, Arc Iris, made the album I wish Tori Amos would make. The word "cabaret" immediately came to mind. Adams denies that influence — she studied classical music — but Arc Iris carefully uses dramatic elements to hook you. In "Money Gnomes," Adams' sweet vocals blend with easygoing melodies reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens. I love her voice, especially that subtle lisp, which reminds me of Joanna Newsom and Kate McGarrigle. With Arc Iris, Adams proves that she's an exciting young talent in her own right. — Cindy Howes, WYEP
Ernest Ranglin And Avila, 'Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro'
At 81, Ernest Ranglin is still one of the greatest and subtlest musicians on the planet that you might not have discovered. The man credited with inventing ska — that's his arrangement in Little Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" from 1964 — is still making vital music. His specialty is inserting his sweet, gently astonishing guitar lines into all styles. The latest example is Bless Up, an album coming out May 20. It was recorded with Avila, a trio of musicians originally assembled to accompany Ranglin in concert. Listen for the interplay between pianist Jonathan Korty and Ranglin in this Abdullah Ibrahim classic, "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro." — David Dye, World Cafe
PHOX, 'Slow Motion'
PHOX got together in a small town outside Madison, Wis., but its low-key beginnings speak nothing of the band's musical ambition. Its forthcoming self-titled album is full of interesting arrangements and lyrics sung with heart and sincerity by the next great frontwoman, Monica Martin. When she sings the line, "You may taste the salt that rolls off my cheekbone, but you don't know why I cry," it's a killer. "Slow Motion" is perfectly crafted — sure to be one of our songs of the summer. — Russ Borris, WFUV