Courtesy of the artists
Every month, we ask the NPR Music team: What’s that song you can’t escape? What is the only album you will come back to all year long? In July, we found solace in veterans (Billy Bragg) and newcomers (Canary Room), witnessed IDK and WILLOW’s personal transformations, hit some funky grooves with William Parker, and heard angels go deadly in a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine.
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Billy Bragg: “I will be your shield” from The million things that never happened
Just as my anxiety started to fade like the summer sunsets I enjoyed on various patios in Nashville, the COVID Delta variant hit hard. I’m vaccinated, but still feel the whiplash as friends test positive and it just doesn’t seem so safe to resume the relaxed and connected life I love. I needed a song that could shelter me. Just in time, Billy Bragg – the troubadour who has been giving fans virtual hugs since the early 1980s – posted this blood pressure lowering testimonial of lasting love and trust. It’s a track from her first solo album in eight years, released in October. –Anne Powers
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo From Augustine: “Reach out” from A beginner’s mind
“Reach Out” is one of the first releases of the new collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine, A beginner’s mind. The song is loosely based on the 1987 German fantasy film. Wings of desire, where angels listen to the thoughts of Berliners. An angel wanders off and becomes mortal to feel the sensation of being a human: to smell, touch, love rather than just look.
âReach Outâ echoes these themes of isolation and mortality, embodied in lyrics such as âI’d rather be the flower than the oceanâ and soon after, âI’d rather be devoured than brokenâ. And in the most Sufjan Stevens way, he and De Augustine’s voice and delicate instrumentals make these huge themes floral and accessible. –Sophie Hernandez-Simeonidis
Canary Islands Room: “Christine” from Christine
There is a lot of noise in my life: a toddler, an endless inbox, a constant barrage of punk and metal bang from my office speakers. It takes a lot for a singer-songwriter with just an acoustic guitar to break through. Then I heard the song “Christine” from Canary Room. This is a short five song EP recorded outdoors on four tracks; listen closely and you can hear the birds chirping and the leaves rustling in the wind. But most of the time you just hear Maddy Heide’s voice up close, like she’s sitting right next to you, thinking out loud about how the seasons change in a person and how you love them. anyway. The melody rises and falls like rolling foothills – gently, but not without a heart pumping blood. Canary Room has a bunch of songs on their Bandcamp page that are worth listening to, but this one is on repeat. –Lars Gotrich
WILLOW: “don’t save me” from lately I feel EVERYTHING
To quote my esteemed colleague Robin Hilton, WILLOW’s new record really rocks. In case you weren’t careful, this is lately I feel EVERYTHING, the 20-year-old artist’s much-appreciated pivot to pop punk. On the self-produced fourth track, “Don’t SAVE ME”, WILLOW overlays the sonic manifestations of his bellicose psyche. Its first half teases the paradox with anxious guitar chords and restrained drums. His words – delivered with a casual, almost carefree flow – are bare and direct; a conscious but stubborn refrain of “I don’t really think I can do it on my own / But I tell them, ‘Don’t save me'” reveals WILLOW’s internal desire for help battling an external projection of self-sufficiency . It’s a cry for help that lurks in plain sight, ultimately culminating in an explosive bassline of truth in the second half of the track. –The Tesha Harris
IDK: “Hey Aunt” from USE YOURSELF
USE YOURSELF plays as the answer to IDK’s debut album, Is it real? But this one goes a step further: IDK speaks candidly about his upbringing, relationships, religion, and what he’s becoming as a man. There’s a lot of substance here, but none of it matters if it’s not the jamming – and it is. USE YOURSELF is brilliantly produced and sequenced, and packed with features, but IDK maintains its position as the star of the series. DMV, get up! –Bobby carter
William Parker: “Tabasco” by Mayan space station
Seasoned bassist, songwriter and community organizer William Parker is having an incredible year, with a 10-CD box set and authorized biography already under his belt. He released two new albums in July, and one of them, Mayan space station, feels great for long, hot summer days and nights. Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver play right behind the beat, adding funky grain to their hypnotic grooves. And Ava Mendoza’s electric guitar sings and flies in a way that might remind you of the late Sonny Sharrock. –Steve smith