Annotated On Rotation is here to give you context on what we’re spinning each week in our On Rotation playlist — curated by our Head of A&R Alexandra Berenson, no algorithm needed. We’ve annotated each track with some added info to explain why these artists should be on your radar. Listen and read along below:
“Are you unlucky in love? Love isn’t always a smooth road and a ray of sunshine, is it folks?” asks a somewhat cloying voice on the radio at the beginning of the music video for Kacey Musgraves’ “justified,” while Musgraves drives down a sun-soaked road. “justified” is the second single, following the title track, of Musgraves’ upcoming album, star-crossed — which will have a companion film, as well.
If “justified” and “star-crossed” are any indication, we’re in for an honest and vulnerable look at the dissolution of a marriage.
Amber Mark understands “Foreign Things”: the star-on-the-rise grew up traveling internationally with her mother, and cites India especially as an influence on her musically. But the new single from the artist is about things that are foreign to us in a different way: Mark said the song “is about the excitement of new experiences. The thrill of newness. This marks the start of my journey toward self discovery.”
On the surface, and in the visuals, “Foreign Things” is a glittery, smooth R&B-pop bop. Although she’s been one to watch for a while, that anticipation has intensified in the rollout of her upcoming proper debut.
The Canadian composer and musician Dan Snaith (aka Manitoba and Daphni) has taken on his Caribou moniker again, and released the one-off single “You Can Do It” in anticipation of his 2021 and ’22 North American tour. The joyful synths are immediately danceable, and are a perfect lead-in to being able to enjoy more live music soon.
If the lyrically repeated “You can do it” wasn’t enough to increase your confidence and make you feel better, the music video featuring dogs running, playing frisbee and being generally adorable will. The video is dedicated to his father, Victor Snaith, who was a mathematician (Caribou has a PhD in mathematics, as well).
With a music video consisting of home videos from a family party, “Outside the Outside” is visually and sonically warm. Helado Negro, aka Roberto Carlos Lange, said the song is “about being part of communities of outsiders.” He continued: “My family came to this country as outsiders looking for and finding community. People would come to our house & bond through music, food, dancing … This song is a reminder of that memory of growing up with my family’s community and making my own. It’s a song about intimate partnerships and long-loving friendships.”
This track is a single from Helado Negro’s seventh full-length album, ‘Far In,’ which you can pre-order from VMP here.
My Morning Jacket have returned with “Regularly Scheduled Programming,” gearing up for their upcoming self-titled album, the first the band has recorded in six years (they released The Waterfall II in 2020, but it was recorded in the same period as their 2015 album The Waterfall).
“Regularly Scheduled Programming” sees the band take an Orwellian turn: “programming to drown out how we feel / fresh fiction… rewriting how we think / screen time addiction, replacing real life and love / erasing forgiveness / bow down to your overlords.”
This track is the first single from My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album, which you can pre-order from VMP here.
Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut studio album, Sawayama, saw widespread critical acclaim and Elton John said it was “The strongest album of the year by far.” The Japanese-British singer-songwriter, model and actress has effectively blended pop and rock before, and was a natural choice to participate in Metallica’s upcoming anniversary covers album, The Metallica Blacklist.
Sawayama said it best in a tweet: she and her producer, Clarence Clarity, “100000% understood the assignment.” Her version of “Enter Sandman” is beautifully dark and keeps the spirit of the original, filled with enough guitar and drums to match her vocal intensity.
Geese, a Brooklyn band recently signed to Partisan Records, have been poised to release their debut album, with two singles out so far — they just needed to graduate high school first. According to an interview with NME, “The band only had one day per week to learn, practice and record” their album while in school. This pushed them to get comfortable with recording as much as they could live, and fed into their evolving DIY sound.
Now full-time musicians, Geese are a band to watch.
Ramona Gonzalez, aka Nite Jewel, hasn’t released an album in four years. “To Feel It,” off of the LA singer-songwriter and producer’s latest album, No Sun, encapsulates the personal loss at the center of the project: the end of Gonzalez’s 12-year marriage. Gonzalez is working toward a PhD in Musicology at UCLA, and her research focuses on women’s musical lament practices — according to the description of the album on Bandcamp, dating back to ancient Greece, the lament has utilized female voices as a vehicle for expressing communal and personal grief. No Sun is intrinsically linked with Gonzalez’s research, which questions, “What does it mean to be a professional mourner?”
She answers that question with tracks like “To Feel It,” which combine her electronic sensibilities with a nuanced mix of loneliness, pain and assertiveness.
La Luz, the Seattle-based trio who have usually been categorized as rock or indie-pop, have turned to producer Adrian Younge (notably one of the creators of the series Jazz Is Dead with Ali Shaheed Muhammad), who primarily works with hip-hop, soul and jazz acts, to create their self-titled fourth album. “The Pines,” a single from that album, is evidence of this transcendence of genre, and is also visually a collage of disparate influences, with the music video showing the band members performing in front of a rodeo, a classroom, a gas station, all via green screen.
All of these influences come together to make a song that’s essentially a celebration of being high in the woods: “Towering tinsel, I’m so high I’m passing by / Running through the pines.” It’s light-hearted, psychedelic-rock leaning fun.
Sylvie’s “Falls on me,” sung by Marina Allen, has a Carole King-esque retro texture and nostalgia. This makes sense, because the band Sylvie is inherently a nostalgic venture. Mike Collins (Drugdealer) said of the band, formed by Ben Schwab (also in Drugdealer) after finding recordings on cassette tapes from his father’s band, Mad Anthony: “Sylvie is the full return to the musical lineage and spirit that lived in all those lost yet beloved cassettes and reels. True to Mad Anthony’s form, Ben and his friends also sat around in a garage in LA to make these recordings.”
Their forthcoming self-titled EP is packed with songs like “Falls on me,” songs that sound like “a song from the past that’s incredible but for whatever reason, is basically unknown.” Schwab said “[‘Falls on me’] is about deliverance and a returning home that took me many years to arrive at.”
Scruffpuppie, aka singer-songwriter JJ Shurbet, is the fourth signing to Saddest Factory, the Phoebe Bridgers-run label imprint. Phoebe Bridgers’ co-writer and drummer, Marshall Vore, worked with Shurbet on “Assignment Song,” a clear story of Shurbet’s path to sobriety, with lines like, “It’ll take a bit of patience / To get back on our feet again.” The song release date marks one year clean for Shurbet, according to a profile on Scruffpuppie in The Line of Best Fit, and was first written during rehab as a literal “assignment” from one of her counselors, then reworked with Vore, adding new verses and choruses later on.
Despite the heaviness of the subject, detailing how recovery isn’t always linear, the song has an uplifting, driving feeling to it. In that same profile, Shurbet said, “[‘Assignment Song’] was the song Marshall and I were most excited about on the record.”
Although “Aquamarine,” the first single from Fun House — the new album from Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits — was a bit of a shift into electronic sounds, “No Difference” is what we expect from Duffy’s alias, solidly at home in folk-rock.
“No Difference,” and the rest of Fun House, was born out a situation of musical collaboration: Duffy moved into a house with Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff, and Sasami in 2020. In an interview with Paste Magazine, Duffy said of living with the two artists: “Every day, in this house I was spending all of my time in, I was hearing them make music. Finally, I was like, ‘Damn, that sounds good. I guess I have to make another record.” (The three of them did put out an EP, dirt, earlier this year.)
Duffy said via their Instagram: “Excited to share my personal favorite track on Fun House, ‘No Difference.’ With this song, I was trying to capture the cyclical essence of projection and how it can really block authentic connection.”
You can pre-order ‘Fun House’ from VMP here.
RF Shannon, the stage name of singer-songwriter Shane Renfro, made three albums in three years — 2017’s Jaguar Palace, 2018’s Trickster Blues and 2019’s Rain On Dust — before dropping out of the public eye. He’s back with “Dublin, Texas,” a laidback folk- and blues-laden track. The music video sees Renfro performing in idyllic rural settings, accompanied by tall costumed people who look like performance art out of place, draped in feather-like foliage with their faces covered.
Renfro said of the song and its visuals: “I just want the song to make a person want to move their bodies, sway out of time, hum with the joy of planting your bare feet on green grass, wherever and whenever they are … I cooked up this idea of having ‘ancestral spirits’ attached to Jeff [Renfro] and I, without us ever really noticing them, and the plan was to explore all of these transitional spaces — bridges, cemeteries, crossroads and the like, with mysterious and symbolic appearances from the “Mother Mary” character, with her acting as a sort of psychopomp as we cruised back roads in the old chevy here on the earthly plane.”
Shannon Lay debuted as a solo musician in 2015 with Holy Heartache, and her latest album, August, came out in 2019 via Sub Pop. “A Thread to Find” is the latest of three singles that Lay has released from her upcoming album, Geist. In a statement, Lay said, “‘A Thread to Find’ is about finding pieces of yourself in unfamiliar places. It is about watching the people around you grow and evolve and admiring the chaos and the beauty of discovering new worlds within ourselves. It is recognizing the courage and strength in each other even in the face of great challenge. And it is a reminder for when you get lonely on your journey that we are in this together. You’re on your own but not alone.”
The music video echoes the soothing messaging, showing Lay performing in a simple setting along with video footage that seems to be of Lay’s home and studio.
“Bessie, Did You Make It?” is the first single and opening track from Marissa Nadler’s ninth solo album, The Path of the Clouds. In this track, Nadler inverts the canon of the murder ballad, crafting a narrative of female empowerment and survival, according to a statement.
The story the song lyrics are based on is the disappearance of newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde, who were presumed dead in 1928 when they went missing during a honeymoon trip down the Colorado River to California. The lack of conclusive evidence of what happened to them (their boat was found upright and intact, with supplies strapped in, but the couple have never been found) has led to legends, rumors, a novel and features in other media — according to a statement, Nadler watched reruns of Unsolved Mysteries during quarantine in 2020, and the Hydes’ story was included in an episode that originally aired in 1987.
Nadler’s upcoming album, ‘The Path of the Clouds,’ is available to pre-order from VMP here.