The Best New Songs: Bartees Strange, John Moreland, Pusha T and More

Get the context behind On Rotation, our curated weekly playlist of new releases

On April 26, 2022

Our Best New Songs series is here to give you context on what we’re spinning each week in VMP’s On Rotation playlist — curated by VMP staff, no algorithm needed. Listen and read along below to find out why these artists should be on your radar. 

Bartees Strange: “Cosigns”

“Cosigns” is the latest single from Bartees Strange’s upcoming sophomore album, Farm to Table, the follow-up to his 2020 debut, Live Forever. According to a press release, the first record “introdouced the experiences and places that shaped Bartees,” while “Farm to Table zeroes in on the people — specifically his family — and those closest to him on his journey so far.” Farm to Table will be Strange’s first record with 4AD, and will also feature the single “Heavy Heart,” released when he announced signing with the label in March.

In the music video for the track, directed by Pooneh Ghana, Strange presides over a literal table, hosting a dinner party in a field. What looks proper and pastel soon turns surreal and rabid, with the dinner guests eating ravenously and Strange running from the table. At the close of the video, there’s also a loose recreation of “The Last Supper,” after Strange crawls through a tunnel made of flowers.

The initial shift in the video, from idyllic to grotesque, is mirrored in the song itself: The beginning is more playful, melding rap and rock as Strange name drops the titular cosigns (Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Barnett, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). By the outro, he sounds strained, singing, “How to be full, it's the hardest to know / I keep consuming, I can't give it up / Hungry as ever, it's never enough.” (The lyrics in the outro, according to a press release, are sourced from poem Strange wrote in his early 20s.) 

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Farm to Table’ here.  

John Moreland: “Ugly Faces”

Oaklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland has announced his sixth LP, Birds in the Ceiling — the follow-up to 2020’s LP5 — with the release of its first single, “Ugly Faces.” Speaking about the record as a whole, Moreland said, “When I first started singing, I was very self-conscious about it. I think I tried to affect my voice more. Singing loud could be a security blanket sometimes. On the new album, on a lot of the songs I was definitely making a conscious effort to sing quieter — almost whisper.” 

Birds in the Ceiling is the second album Moreland has produced with Matt Pence, a Denton, Texas-based engineer, producer and drummer, whom Moreland sees as “an ideal musical partner.”

Like Moreland began introducing on LP5, “Ugly Faces” incoporates a drum break and percussive electronic chirps, in another evolution away from his trademark acoustic sound. About the single’s arrangements, Moreland said, “I got used to shutting off parts of myself and feeling like, ‘Well, I’m this kind of artist, so this part of me and that part of me don’t fit — I’m going to leave them out. On this album, I really just wanted to throw that rule out completely. Anything I’m into or that has moved me is fair game.” 

Moreland also cited Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, ’80s and ’90s sampling and Janet Jackson hooks as influences on “Ugly Faces,” and said, “I feel like I’m old enough now to say, ‘I love pop.’” 

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Birds in the Ceiling’ here.

Pusha T, Malice & Labrinth: “I Pray For You”

The Brothers Thornton are back together again, within a month of appearing on Nigo’s “Punch Bowl.” The Clipse-featuring “I Pray For You” closes out Pusha T’s It’s Almost Dry, his first record since 2018’s DAYTONA. (Prior to these 2022 collaborations and featuring on “Use This Gospel” from Kanye West’s Jesus Is King in 2019, the brothers hadn’t released a track together since “Shame The Devil” from No Malice’s 2013 solo album, Hear Ye Him.)

Pusha T and No Malice have always been devout Christians, and “I Pray For You” puts the religious themes present across their catalog at the fore, opening with Labrinth — best known as the mastermind behind Euphoria’s score — softly singing “I pray for my enemies, I pray for my friends … Pray for the killers, I pray for the saints / Please pray for me now / ’Cause, darlin’, I pray for you.”

“I Pray For You” sees Pusha T reminiscing about the brothers’ career as Clipse (“Lightnin’ struck twice on four classics”) and alludes to the track he did with Anderson .Paak, “Brother’s Keeper” (in which he raps about applauding No Malice for “finding salvation”). No Malice — credited as Malice here, in a true Clipse throwback — quips at one point, “I greet you with the love of God, that don't make us friends.”

With production credits to Ye and Labrinth, and Labrinth’s falsetto “ooh” interjecting throughout, it’s a collision of worlds, Euphoria-esque fantasia meeting Virginia Beach realism. The result is a surreal, surprisingly effective four-minute track — with definite echoes of Labrinth’s recently released score for Euphoria’s second season, especially tracks like the gospel-inflected “I’m Tired.”

You can get a copy of Clipse’s sophomore album, ‘Hell Hath No Fury,’ a former VMP Hip-Hop Record of the Month, here.

You can also join the waitlist for the season one ‘Euphoria’ original score here.

Ravyn Lenae: “M.I.A.”

Ravyn Lenae has released her second single of 2022, “M.I.A.” — after “Skin Tight” featuring Steve Lacy — and announced her highly anticipated debut album, Hypnos. The upcoming record will be Lenae’s first release following her Lacy-produced 2018 EP, Crush. “M.I.A.” has a backing track by IAMNOBODI and Sango. In a statement about the single, Lenae said, “‘M.I.A.’ is about feeling free and comfortable in your skin. It’s a peek into my world—the duality of knowing the energy you bring to the world but also being confident in riding dolo.”

Silvana Estrada: “Clandestina”

Silvana Estrada has released two tracks with Spotify Singles — her first new music following her debut album, Marchita, earlier in 2022 — a new version of her song “Tristeza” and a cover of Manu Chao’s “Clandestino.” In an interview with Quadratín México, Estrada said, “These words that tell the story of a migrant [that] touched my heart … Naturally I changed the lyrics, without thinking I said ‘Clandestina instead of Clandestino’ and so singing the song I knew I had found myself inside it. Migration is a subject that has always touched my soul. That act full of hope and strength, leaving the beloved land in search of a better future.”

Daniel Caesar & BABADNOTGOOD: “Please Do Not Lean”

Daniel Caesar performed his new single, “Please Do Not Lean,” live at Coachella on April 22 and released the track the same day, which is his first single as the lead artist since 2019’s CASE STUDY 01. The song marks the latest collaboration between Caesar and fellow Toronto-based artists BADBADNOTGOOD — the expansive jazz ensemble have only released one other track, “Open Channels,” since their latest record, Talk Memory, in 2021. In a statement, Caesar said, “‘Please Do Not Lean’ represents a deeper understanding of myself and acknowledging the responsibilities I currently hold, respecting them and knowing my limits of when I can take on more. This is an introduction to the sound and tone of the next chapter in my career.”

Joshua Hedley: “Country & Western”

According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Joshua Hedley’s Neon Blue is an homage to ’90s country created with “only one guiding principle: make a record to be played on a pontoon boat.” In Hedley’s own words, “After these last couple years we’ve had, I felt like I didn’t want to hang my sad-sack, typical brand on people. I wanted to make a record that people could party to.” “Country & Western,” the second track on Neon Blue, is a straightforward meditation on genre, in which Hedley proclaims: “I’m what they used to simply call country music / I’m a singin’ professor of country and western.”

You can get the VMP edition of ‘Neon Blue’ here.

Spiritualized: “The A Song (Laid In Your Arms)”

“The A Song (Laid In Your Arms)” is the penultimate track on Spiritualized’s ninth studio album, Everything Was Beautiful. (The band’s 1997 masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, is a former VMP Essentials Record of the Month.) A review by Ben Cardew for Pitchfork drew parallels between Ladies and Gentlemen... and Everything Was Beautiful; Cardew wrote, “[Jason Pierce] called on lessons learned when mixing Spiritualized’s classic third album … notably the power of carefully constructed layers. The two albums share a spellbinding mixture of astral ambience, artfully tailored musical density, and occasionally sharpened live fury.”

You can get a copy of the VMP edition of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ here.

Laufey: “Everything I Know About Love”

Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter Laufey’s “Everything I Know About Love” begins with Bach (played by Laufey alongside her mom and sister), before the sweet melody abruptly cuts off with a record scratch — then her own sweet melody comes in, with a sunny romantic music video to match. Laufey told FADER via email: “I wanted the ‘Everything I Know About Love’ music video to be like taking a walk inside a fairytale book. The video starts with me sitting in a tree opening up a big book of 'Everything I Know About Love,' which we come to discover, is not very much!” Laufey added, “I truly hope that the other hopeless romantics can relate!”

Baby Queen: “Colours Of You”

Baby Queen’s latest track, “Colours Of You,” was written for Netflix’s upcoming teen romance series Heartstopper. Baby Queen said in a statement: “To be asked to be a part of a story as beautiful and culturally important as Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper was unbelievable, and still feels completely surreal.” She added, “‘Colours Of You’ is a song I wrote about one of the lead character’s journeys through the discovery and acceptance of his own sexuality. The song means a lot to me and is different to a lot of the music people have heard from me before, so I feel like I get to show a different side to myself as an artist and a writer.”


Honorable Mentions

 

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