Sidney Madden | WGLT

Sidney Madden

One silver lining during this isolated reality is that new music is flowing like wine these days. Some artists are moving up album release dates while others are previewing long-held tracks on Instagram Live, Twitter and Soundcloud. Like many things we used to take for granted, the need for good music has never felt more urgent and we're indebted to these creatives who are getting the itch to share.

Mental escapes can take many different forms — settling deep into a calming meditation, binging Netflix's Tiger King in one chaotic seven-hour sitting — but for me, borderless music exploration always conjures up the type of daydreams and adventures my brain really wraps itself around.

When parts of your world seem unfathomable, music always makes sense. Whether it's a comeback from a dark horse R&B crooner, a surprise drop from a storied rap rule-breaker, a subtle warning from a blossoming soul protege or some island-sourced reggae fire, the songs that take us out of reality for a few minutes at a time are more necessary now than ever.

In a week of news updates on COVID-19, social distancing and looming uncertainty, music serves a unique purpose right now. Music has the power to soothe, amplify and excavate our emotions.

After years of simultaneously trendsetting and meandering in a creative purgatory, Lil Uzi Vert finally unleashed his sophomore album last Friday.

I don't know how or when it happened, but it's really March, y'all. That means it's time to wipe the crust out of your eyes (with a tissue) and flip the switch from autopilot. The winter thaw is coming and Q2 is well on its way.

There's an unexpected jolt of energy that comes with getting caught up — whether you're ready for it or not. This week's selects run the gamet of what it means to get caught up — in the feeling of new love, in the pressure of perception, in the grips of temptation or in the cycle of the same old bulls***.

You know what it is. Stream this week's Heat Check playlist via Spotify and Apple Music.


You ever been to a party and, for some reason, it's hard to get a handle on the vibe of the room? I'm not talking about the visual representation of who's there (or who's not), but more the collective energy surging through the space is just ... off.

It's taken me a few years, but through my vast research, I've concluded that eight times out of 1o, this amorphous feeling is a consequence of the DJ switching up their music selection too quickly. You can always spot a rookie DJ by an ill-timed switch up. You gotta be able to transition accordingly.

This is not a drill: Heat Check is back! After a short hiatus and some stellar, late-breaking 2019 releases, Heat Check has returned to recap you on the world of experimental R&B, hip-hop and everything in between.

Damn, y'all. This year has been long. (I have no scientific proof, but I'm pretty sure it's been longer than most.) Naturally, in a time when almost everything feels like it's spiraling out of control, music is the constant mirror to the chaos — both personal and prolific — just as much as an escape to solace.

"No Cap" is yet another phrase that has bubbled up from the hip-hop community to the top of the layman's lexicon. The term is basically synonymous with "no lie" and is applicable in a whole swath of situations, especially when, ironically, there is a lot of lying going on.

Music has a way of adding some glitter to lies – lies we tell ourselves, dreams out of reach, fantasies on replay. Balancing glitchy, pithy pop with raucous reggae, trap and R&B, this week's Heat Check picks capitalize on the fantasy, giving us a moment's escape from the ordinary.

It's the time of year for reflection and gratitude. It offers a moment to look back and take stock in where you've triumphed, faltered and learned along the way. Even if this year has felt inexplicably long or this decade has challenged and changed you in ways you couldn't imagine, new music discovery is something to always be thankful for — a taste-making process that's in your control and wholeheartedly your own.

There's a certain unspoken euphoria in knowing exactly who you are. It's like a tiny party-of-one celebration when you check in with yourself, verifying that you're actually living your truth out loud. And yes, the practice of that check-in is always changing because your truth is subject to change. But the moving target is always worth the pursuit.

This week's Heat Check picks stand out not for sounding different, but for already feeling oddly familiar. Though all of these tracks are new releases, there's something lived-in about each one. Sometimes close to home is the best jumping off point.

Don't be fooled. Spooky season isn't just reserved for the weeks leading up to Halloween. As the season shifts into colder temps, cradling death is just part of the process.

"I can twerk to anything. I'd twerk to Mozart!"

A bold statement. One I overheard through the chatter and bass of a Halloween party this past weekend. From across the living room-turned-dance floor, whose hardwood bore the scuff marks from shoes, scrapes from Ikea couches and a weird, sticky splotch that definitely fell into the category of "We'll worry about that later," homegirl in a Guy Fieri costume (let that part sink in) proclaimed herself to be a cross-genre twerker.

You can stream this playlist on Spotify.

Letting a song take you away has become increasingly difficult. Using music to get through life often means multitasking while you listen; getting ready, commuting, working, studying, showering, practicing, cooking, eating, cleaning...

Letting your thoughts swim in its zenosyne to a curated soundtrack almost sounds like a luxury.

Where FOMO and self-care has become commercialized to justify ridiculous purchases (please don't look at my Amazon Prime history), these songs of catharsis are just what you need to disconnect. Whether you're scorned, scathed and in the midst of plotting or just peacefully seeking a reset, these artists know the feeling.

As always, check out the Heat Check playlist in its entirety on Spotify.


"I been gone for a minute, now I'm back with the jump off."

You can stream this playlist via Spotify.

We recently got a new batch of bright-eyed, music-loving interns here at NPR Music. To get to know the new recruits, we asked them to share the first CD — I know, archaic -- they bought with their own money, to which one hip-hop-inclined cherub answered, "Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak."

Playtime is over.

For me, the last four months of the year always signify a mental flip of the switch. I observe a moment of stillness to realign and take stock of the year's goals, then get a surge of motivating, creative energy to lock in and put those points on the board. Now is the time to kick things into high gear.

A lot of the albums out this week deal with self-discovery and deep reflection on the nature of being human. The members of MUNA look at aging and personal growth on their latest, Saves the World; Lower Dens weighs the madness of a country driven by competition; and the country super group The Highwomen releases its highly anticipated, self-titled album, one that celebrates the power of women while pushing back on the unwritten rules that have allowed men to dominate country radio for so long.

Listen to this playlist via Spotify.

We all love a good plot twist, right? Otherwise you end up in a feedback loop of verse-bridge-chorus monotony you've been spoon-fed for decades and convinced you "like."

In the words of our millennial patron saint, Frank Ocean, "Summer's not as long as it used to be."

Sleater-Kinney took a lot of chances on its latest album, The Center Won't Hold, upending its much beloved sound to experiment with strange sonics, dark textures and surprising forms. The result is one of the most adventurous, exciting – and best – albums the band has ever made. We open this week's New Music Friday with a look at how and why The Center Won't Hold works and what the recent departure of drummer Janet Weiss means for the band at this point in its quarter-century long career.

Settling into summer's swelter, this week's additions to Heat Check include re-surfaced favorites, lovesick tropes, a gut-punch of a wake-up call and, of course, a couple swerving, drink-spilling bops for good measure.

(NOTE: This week's episode was recorded before Bon Iver announced the digital release, three weeks ahead of schedule, of its lovely new album i,i.)

Lil Nas X has officially broken the record for the longest-running No. 1 single on Billboard's Hot 100 list thanks to his breakout hit "Old Town Road." Billboard announced on July 29 that the genre-jumping song has topped the chart for 17 straight weeks. But what's the significance of such a feat?

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