The Best New Songs: Cécile McLorin Salvant, Charli XCX, Bartees Strange and More

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

On March 8, 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. 

Cécile McLorin Salvant: “Dead Poplar”

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s debut on Nonesuch Records, Ghost Song, is our Album of the Week — a masterful record of covers and originals by the acclaimed jazz artist. About Ghost Songs, Salvant said in a press release: “It’s unlike anything I’ve done before — it’s getting closer to reflecting my personality as an eclectic curator. I’m embracing my weirdness!” 

“Dead Poplar,” one of its most captivating tracks, puts music to a love letter that Alfred Stieglitz wrote to Georgia O’Keeffe during their marriage. Stieglitz’s words are quite poetic, describing the tumultuous love they had for each other before shifting into a purely imagistic space (and the source of the song’s title): “Then I got up and watched the grasses / With the raindrops and the dead poplar / Illuminated by the early sun / And against a very dark sky.”

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe wrote letters to each other from 1915 until 1946, sometimes two or three times a day, exchanging roughly 25,000 pieces of paper over the course of their relationship, according to NPR. (My Faraway One, edited by Sarah Greenough, is the first published volume of their correspondence, featuring 700-plus pages of their early letters.)

Salvant, also a visual artist, composed “Dead Popular” with a somewhat sparse arrangement, allowing her voice and the lyrics to be the primary storytellers. Speaking with the New York Times about the process of conceiving Ghost Song and the artists that inspire her, Salvant said: “Some of my favorite stuff to read is always the letters and the journals and diaries. I love to see where the thinking happens, and I think I wanted, in a way, to share that. I wanted to translate that feeling to an album.”

You can pre-order a copy of the VMP edition of ‘Ghost Song’ here.

Charli XCX: “Baby”

In an interview with Rolling Stone UK, Charli XCX said her latest single, “Baby” is “a sex anthem, basically.” She added: “I was feeling myself that day in the studio and that song just makes me feel so sexy and confident and was an important song for the foundation of this album. I made it with Justin Raisen, a big contributor to my first album True Romance, so that was a cyclical thing of going back to work with him.”

“Baby” is the newest track from Charli XCX’s upcoming album, CRASH, following “Beg For You,” “New Shapes” and “Good Ones.” She performed both “Beg for You” and “Baby” on Saturday Night Live this past weekend (which also featured her in a sketch about singing meatballs). 

In that same interview with Rolling Stone, Charli XCX spoke about a blurring between herself and the persona of the project: “I almost just feel like this album title is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel very explosive right now. I feel very on the edge, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.” Regarding these tendencies toward self-sabotage, she also said to the interviewer, “It’s hard for me to not sit on this call with you and destroy everything I’ve built because I’m feeling really reckless. It’s actually really a challenge in self-control, press, at the moment.”

Bartees Strange: “Heavy Heart”

Bartees Strange has signed to 4AD, and released the new single “Heavy Heart,” his debut with the label and first new music of the year. The single is also the first original song from the artist since his 2020 debut, Live Forever  — although he released covers and a deluxe edition of that record in 2021. Strange’s first EP, Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy, was a collection reimagining songs by The National — now his labelmates at 4AD.

According to a press release about the track, “Heavy Heart” is about guilt in multiple forms: guilt over the recent passing of his grandfather, time on tour away from his partner, the sacrifices his father made to build a better future for his family and experiencing success after the release of his debut album amid the first year of the pandemic. Building on these themes, in the visuals, Strange wears his father and grandfather’s clothes as a tribute to them. At the song’s opening and bridge, Strange sings, “There’s reasons for heavy hearts / This past year I thought I was broken.”

Despite all these contributing factors to the heaviness Strange feels, “Heavy Heart” has an optimistic twist, the realization that he relies too much on his heavy heart (“And that’s a shame”), setting him up for a lighter future. Strange sings at the chorus, “I never wanna miss you this bad / I never want to run out like that,” picturing a different way forward.

KAINA: “Friend of Mine”

Multi-hyphenate Chicago artist KAINA has released her sophomore record, It Was A Home, via City Slang. “Friend of Mine,” among many tracks on the album, is full of affirmations: The track opens with KAINA singing, “I could do better / Takin’ my own advice / If I would listen / I know I would be alright.” It Was A Home sees KAINA returning to aspects of her youth, especially kids TV shows, as sources of playful inspiration. In an interview with VMP ahead of the album’s release, she said, “[Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers] did such a good job at showing kids that you can simplify really complex emotions, whether big or small, but either way, they are manageable.” 

You can get a copy of the VMP edition of ‘It Was A Home’ here, and read our full interview with KAINA here.

Tinashe, Channel Tres: “HMU for a Good Time”

“HMU for a Good Time” is one of four added tracks on the deluxe edition of Tinashe’s 333. Featuring hip-house artist Channel Tres — whose self-titled EP was a VMP Rising feature in 2019 — the track is an indulgent four-minute dance track. “All it take is one ring, she gon’ pick up / Sometimes I get bored and then I’ll switch up,” Channel Tres starts the track off at a low grumble. Tinashe is a self-proclaimed “R&B disruptor, singer, writer, and dancer” who also has her hands in production, engineering and editing. The original version of 333, Tinashe’s second independent LP after parting ways with RCA, came out last fall.

Your Old Droog & Mach-Hommy: “Scooby Snacks”

Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-raised rapper and producer Your Old Droog has released his first solo LP of 2022, YOD Wave, following his collaboration with Tha God Fahim on Tha Wolf On Wall St 2: The American DreamTha Wolf On Wall St was the first of four full-lengths Your Old Droog released in 2021 (his other three records of the year were Tha YOD FahimTIME and Space Bar). “Scooby Snacks” features Mach-Hommy and is produced by Nicholas Craven, the Montreal beatmaker who produced the entirety of YOD Wave.

Barrie: “Concrete”

“Concrete” is the latest single from Barrie’s upcoming album Barbara. In a statement about the track, she said, “[‘Concrete’] is about taking the time and energy to figure out who you are. Learning to take up space and be yourself, unapologetically. This process can feel selfish and even sinister, depending on how you are conditioned socially… but the major modulation in the final chorus is about finding power and confidence in that self-actualization.” The single is accompanied by a lo-fi video directed by Barrie and her wife Gabby Smith, and features the couple dancing with Jordyn Tomlin.

You can pre-order a copy of the VMP edition of ‘Barbara’ here.

Nilüfer Yanya: “shameless”

“Under it all I’m shameless / Until you fall it’s painless” Nilüfer Yanya sings on “shameless,” from her recently released sophomore album, PAINLESS. In an interview with VMP, Yanya spoke about deconstructing the myth of a tortured artist: “You always have to push yourself and it’s not like it was easy to make a record — it never is — but it doesn’t have to be a drag,” she said. Elaborating on the record’s concept — although she doesn’t term it a concept album — Yanya said, “We do want to live a life that’s not painful and we’re always trying to find an easier way to do things and things that won’t hurt … but it doesn’t always work.”

You can get a copy of the VMP edition of ‘PAINLESS’ here, and read our full interview with Yanya here.

Jenny Hval: “Freedom”

“Freedom” is the latest single from Norwegian musician and novelist Jenny Hval’s upcoming record Classic Objects. In a statement about the track, Hval said: “I don’t know what freedom is. This song doesn’t either. The lyrics are bombastic and silly, as if written by a political folk song generator. Nonetheless the song was needed on my record — I needed something short and sweet after a series of long, layered reflections … This is the only way I can describe ‘Freedom’ — as a kind of performative moment that breaks up the structure, language and ambivalence of the rest of the record.”

You can pre-order a copy of the VMP edition of ‘Classic Objects’ here.

MICHELLE: “POSE”

“POSE” is the final single from AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS, the latest album from born-and-bred New Yorkers MICHELLE. It’s accompanying music video starts with a quintessential NYC moment: leaving your purse on the subway and then watching it pull away from the stop without you. The sextet is about to join Mitski on her spring 2022 tour, which one of the band’s four vocalists, Jamee Lockard, described as “our pipe dream” that came together with a DM in “a pinch me moment.”

Honorable Mentions



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