Heavy Rotation is a monthly sampler of public radio hosts’ favorite songs. Check out past editions here.
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Liam Bailey, 'Stun Me'
I first heard U.K. artist Liam Bailey, on a 7" called "When Will They Learn," back in 2012. With that one song and its soulful, dubby sound, I was hooked. Since then, I've waited eagerly for a full-length. Definitely Now runs through vintage soul, rock, blues and R&B, with a few psychedelic moments thrown in along the way. The centerpiece of the album, though, and the reason I fell for Liam Bailey, is his voice. His longing melds into pure heartbreak in the chilling "Stun Me," wherein the sweeps in his voice take me to a grittier Roy Orbison. —Anne Litt, KCRW
Merchandise, 'Little Killer'
After the End, the latest album by the Tampa band Merchandise, has been one of my most anticipated new releases of 2014. All year long, the label has been trickling out singles from After the End, and each one, including "Little Killer," has quickly become my new favorite. Despite roots in the underground punk scene, Merchandise polishes its sound into pristine new pop territory on the new record, combining '80s-influenced guitar with the moody crooning of Carson Cox. I can't wait to hear what the band explores next. —Cheryl Waters, KEXP
Nick Hakim, 'I Don't Know'
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Nick Hakim makes soulful music that feels lovingly dreamy and hopelessly bleary at once. "I Don't Know," from his upcoming EP Where Will We Go Pt. 2, is a tear-stained, whiskey-soaked tale of love found and lost. As Hakim repeats a few choice words — "Where did you go? Where will we go?" — his layered vocals swim across each other and send shivers down your spine. Hakim uses the song to recall the best (and worst) feelings of love; feelings best explained by the blues. —Kiana Fitzgerald, NPR R&B
Laura Jean, 'Don't Marry The One You Love'
There's something to be said for a loveless marriage, and Melbourne folk-pop singer-songwriter Laura Jean makes a strong case for it in the second single from her new self-titled album. Isn't marrying for love a little impractical? "Don't marry the one you love / You'll turn into a doormat," she deadpans. Laura Jean builds her argument in a sweet but straightforward, subtly acerbic way, with moral support from an accordion and Norwegian vocalist Jenny Hval. The song verges on too-adorable in spots, but it's tough to peg Laura Jean as a softie after hearing her kicker: "I married the one I love, and sometimes I regret it." —Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's bandwidth.fm
Reigning Sound, 'North Cackalacky Girl'
"North Cackalacky" is slang for Greg Cartwright's relatively new home base in North Carolina, where he moved a decade ago after growing up and flourishing in Memphis as the leader of several roots, punk and garage bands — notably the Oblivians and Reigning Sound. With the latter, he explores the more soulful side of his heritage, and "North Cackalacky Girl" holds its swagger even as Cartwright pleads for something more than a one-night stand. Love the way he rides that organ riff and the concise tangle of guitars as the song winds up. —Greg Kot, Sound Opinions
The Barr Brothers, 'Half Crazy'
When guitarist Brad Barr and drummer Andrew Barr lived in the U.S., they recorded as The Slip, a clean and precise rock band. When The Barr Brothers relocated to Montreal, they stripped their music down to a raw and bluesy core and added a hard-to-figure third element, Sarah Page on harp. Their 2011 debut was vibey and improvisational. Now comes the new Sleeping Operator and the song "Half Crazy," which keeps all the ringing slide guitars and percussion intact — but now Page's harp sounds more like a kora. Elemental, raw and mesmerizing. —David Dye, World Cafe
Field Report, 'Home (Leave The Lights On)'
Field Report's self-titled 2012 debut only hinted at the genius of frontman Chris Porterfield. With Marigolden, he's written one of the warmest, most smartly crafted albums of the year. It's the type of record that warrants further study, and "Home (Leave The Lights On)" is a great place to start. Smart, catchy and fascinating, it's a huge leap forward. —Russ Borris, WFUV
Israel Nash, 'Rain Plans'
It has holy connotations in Austin, but the phrase "outlaw country" was invented by a Nashville record executive. "Cosmic country" is a bigger lasso that ropes in a wide range of stylistic savants: Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, even Canadian Neil Young, all with their boots on the ground but their gaze turned skyward. From Missouri to New York and now Dripping Springs, Texas, Israel Nash has chased this particular stardust, and he's finally found it with his third album. In "Rain Plans," the guitars crackle and burn, the harmonies moan with sadness, and Eric Swanson spins gold with his pedal steel. The song looks both inward and outward — widescreen Americana at its finest. —Art Levy, KUTX
Hippo Campus, 'Little Grace'
It's rare for a new band to emerge with such a fully formed sound. But that's what makes Hippo Campus, a band of recent high-school graduates from St. Paul, Minn., so intriguing. With barely any recorded music out ("Little Grace" is the only single available from its forthcoming EP), the group is already accumulating fans in the Twin Cities on the strength of high-energy shows and set lists full of glistening, jittery, deceptively complex rock songs. —Andrea Swensson, The Current
The DangerFeel Newbies, 'Always With Me'
The DangerFeel Newbies' DJ Mark Angel, Darren "DJ" Wagner (on keyboards) and DJ Jamal Ahmad all specialize in fusing electro-soul, jazz, blues and funk. The Atlanta trio's name is inspired by Dangerfield Newby, who was the only African-American in the John Brown party, so it's clear that the group strives to make music that's as relevant as it is rhythmic. In "Always With Me," the collective pays homage to urban romance while crafting a laid-back progressive R&B summer jam, complete with vocal cameos from J. Piccola and Mashonda Faust. —Chris Campbell, WDET's The Progressive Underground