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:
The latest single from Silk Sonic — the superduo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak — is the most delightfully over-the-top track yet from their upcoming debut record, And Evening With Silk Sonic. “Leave The Door Open,” the duo’s first single, inescapable since its release, has already gone Platinum twice over.
According to a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the phrase “Smoking out the window” started as a joke between .Paak and Mars, imagining “some imaginary stressed-out dude blasting cigs while trying to escape anxious circumstances.” It was a bit, until they got to the studio, and it became a hook: “That was the first thing we ever wrote together,” said Mars.
In the words of an anonymous member of our A&R team: “[‘Smokin Out the Window’] is like a dirtbag Teddy Pendergrass single from 1978, which I didn't know I wanted till now.” The accompanying video perfectly captures the dirtbag ’70s energy, down to the prop lit cigarettes on stage.
Charli XCX has released the second single from her upcoming fifth album, CRASH — following the first single, “Good Ones,” which is featured in an earlier week of Annotated On Rotation — along with a European and North American tour.
“New Shapes,” the latest single, is a long-awaited collaboration with Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polachek that, like “Good Ones” before it, fully embraces the sounds of the ’80s. The danceable track serves as a trojan horse for heartbreak, reaching its emotional peak in the bridge as Polachek sings, “But honestly, life would be better if I never met you in the first place.”
Her first record since 2020’s How I’m Feeling Now, CRASH is the fifth and final album in Charli XCX’s record deal with Atlantic. In a press statement about the record, she said, “I was able to possess and persuade an incredible group of producers and collaborators to contribute to CRASH by using my femme fatale powers and a multitude of dark spells and curses.” Other featured artists on the album, alongside Christine and the Queens and Polachek, are Rina Sawayama, Oneohtrix Point Never and A.G. Cook, among others.
If you need convincing, in her words, “If you don’t stream New Shapes or purchase tickets to the tour you will most definitely burn in hell.”
Summer Walker’s recently released second album, Still Over It, is star-studded — from its opener, narrated by Cardi B, to its closer, featuring Ciara. In between, Walker brings in Pharrell Williams, The Neptunes, Lil Durk, JT of City Girls, Omarion, Ari Lennox and, on “No Love,” SZA.
Fans have been looking forward to a Walker and SZA collaboration since an Instagram post from June of this year, with only a cryptic emoji captioning the two artists in the studio together. (SZA joined Kali Uchis for another collaborative track earlier this fall, “fue mejor,” featured in an earlier edition of Annotated On Rotation.)
Still Over It is a breakup album, but a multidimensional and cathartic one that draws on the sound of R&B from the recent past with a calculated mix of nostalgia and sultriness. “No Love” is the third track on the album, and uses its four minutes in an ode to lust over love: “But if I had you back, all I wanna do is fuck / Get drunk, take drugs,” Walker sings in the chorus, asserting, “All lust, there will be no lovin’ you.”
“No Love” may not be the specific call out of other tracks on the record (“Bitter” and “4th Baby Mama,” among others), but it’s still vulnerable in its unapologetic separation of emotion from sex.
Spiritualized — whose 1997 masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was featured in VMP Essentials in September 2020 — have released a new single, “Always Together With You,” which is the first track on their upcoming album, Everything Is Beautiful.
According to a press release about the new record, “[Everything Was Beautiful] is some of the most ‘live’ sounding recordings that Spiritualized have released since the Live At The Albert Hall record of 1998, around the time of Ladies & Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space.”
“Always Together With You” is a “reworking / supercharging of a track originally released in demo quality in 2014.” In our current context, it takes on a new pandemic-tinged emotional gravity as the chorus of backing singers repeat: “if you gotta lonely heart, too.”
“Prada,” released in tandem with “Rakata,” is the latest single from Arca’s upcoming KICK ii — following the first single from the project, the reworked Sia demo “Born Yesterday” (featured in a previous week of Annotated On Rotation).
The futuristic music video for “Prada” includes its B-side, “Rakata,” as well, and features elaborate 3D visuals, avatars and “symbolic gestation.”
In a statement about the track, Arca said of the new track: “prada is about celebrating psychosexual versatility; a song explicitly about transness and nonbinary modes of relating the sexual energy of the collective subconscious as a celebration of life; it is a song about defying shame and healing ancestral wounds; about the futurity of desire and love as a moebius strip; about kink as an engine, about sex and love, and above all else about simultaneity of being able to surrender and submit as well as being able to overpower and dominate within a collaboratively created space of consent.”
Omar Apollo — a 24-year-old Mexican-American R&B artist — has released “Bad Life,” his latest single and second collaborative track with Kali Uchis, after she appeared on “Hey Boy” on his debut album Apolonio in 2020. The single is accompanied by a moody music video featuring Apollo and Uchis, matching the gloomy lyrics of the tune, with a chorus of: “That’s a bad life, bad life that you’re livin’.”
While other recent Uchis collaborative tracks — like her contributed verse to Amaarae’s remix version of “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” — sound like they were recorded remotely and plugged in, “Bad Life” sounds more like a true duet, with the two trading riffs and overlapping vocal lines as the song comes to a close.
In a statement, Apollo said, “To me, ‘Bad Life’ represents putting in energy into a relationship and not getting anything in return. It’s a song about being resentful towards somebody — wanting them to have [a] ‘bad life’ with whoever they’re with now. I posted a snippet in January teasing it and Kali called me telling me she loved it, so I asked her if she wanted to get on it. Her voice sounds amazing on it, I love her tone.”
“321,” with fellow UK rapper Oscar #Worldpeace, appears on BXKS’ recently released Hack The Planet mixtape. The music video for the song features them both rapping from within a cage made of chain link fences.
BXKS just released her debut mixtape, Full Time Daydreamer, earlier this year, and Hack The Planet is preceded by the singles “Bones 2 Pick” and “Mean Amount.”
About the track with Oscar #Worldpeace, BXKS said in a recent interview: “‘321’ is definitely one of my favourite songs on the tape; it’s produced by E-Whizz ... E-Whizz was actually the first producer to tell me to soften my voice on a song and make my tone less aggressive and more smooth like I’m not trying to rap, almost like I don’t care. It was weird for me at first but when I heard it back I was like, ‘this guy is onto something’. As the session went on we only had half a song and I said to him Oscar would sound mad on this and he agreed.”
She added, “I always wanted Oscar on the song, he was only person that was a perfect fit for ‘321’ since him and E-Whizz have made amazing music together before. I emailed him the song and he said he was down to feature which I’m very grateful for because he killed it.”
NNAMDÏ, the Chicago producer and multi-instrumentalist, has released “Backseat,” and announced a new EP called Are You Happy, out this Friday. The featured artist on the track, Chicago electronic artist Lynyn, produced the entire EP, making it the only NNAMDÏ project to date that he has not self-produced. Lynyn, aka Conor Mackey, is also a part of NNAMDÏ’s instrumental jazz-fusion band Monobody.
The last full-length project from NNAMDÏ, BRAT, which came out in 2020, leans downtempo and electronic — in contrast to the following EP from the same year, Black Plight, a sonic outlier under the NNAMDÏ moniker with traditional instrumentation and a grunge-like texture. “Backseat” is a return to the electronic sounds of BRAT, but with a more frenetic pace.
The upcoming project, Are You Happy, is a collection of five tracks, including a remix of the BRAT track “Glass Casket.”
“Car Crash” is the latest single from IDLES, in the lead up to their forthcoming album CRAWLER, produced by Kenny Beats. The first single from the project, “The Beachland Ballroom” (covered in a previous week of Annotated On Rotation), served as a gentle introduction to the record, even though it builds to hoarse, yelled vocals, while “Car Crash” is driving, distorted and borderline abrasive from the start.
The music video is a fitting chaotic collage of video from behind the wheel of, well, car crashes. The footage is credited to “File on Motor Transgression, 2011,” by Matthew Cusick (courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Fine Art), edited by Lee Kiernan.
According to a press release, the song is about IDLES’ Joe Talbot’s own experience in a near-fatal car crash. “We wanted it to be as violent as possible to reflect that event,” added IDLES’ guitarist and co-producer Mark Bowen, “We recorded the drums beforehand and put them on a vinyl acetate. Whenever you replay an acetate, because it is kind of like a liquid, it degrades every time.”
Bowen added, “It touches on things being transient and momentary — even a single drum hit. It’s like a memory, when the moment has passed and you deal with the repercussions over and over again, and they morph and change into something else.”
“Fearmonger” is the first single from Saba’s upcoming album, Few Good Things. The new record will be Saba’s third, and his first following 2018’s CARE FOR ME — although the Chicago rapper has been far from inactive in the last three years, consistently releasing collaborative and solo singles (with “Ziplock,” “Rich Don’t Stop” and “Plead The .45th” earlier in 2021).
On “Fearmonger,” Saba ups his range, both emotionally, delving into confessional territory around deep-seated fears, and lyrically, experimenting with several different tones throughout the song. It’s primarily a Saba track, with Daoud’s feature contribution mainly landing on the chorus and a brief solo moment at the end.
In a statement released with the official audio for the track, Saba said, “At the time of making this record I was beginning to realize how big of a hold fears actually had on me. With big decisions to make, I was never sure if I was doing the right thing. Fearing if I was actually doing enough. I’m saying we’re embedded with this ‘irrational fear’.”
He explained, “The song takes this concept and kind of turns it slightly abstract by assigning a character to ‘fearmonger’. I’ve never made a record that sounded anything like this and part of the fun of releasing music is to create worlds sonically and have people trust you to show them around your own imagination.”
Hana Vu’s Public Storage, the LA-based singer-songwriter’s full-length debut, is our album of the week. “[Public Storage] masterfully toes the line between youth and maturity: It’s mature enough to be taken seriously with all the weight adulthood brings, but still seeps with the soul-crushing power feelings of isolation and misperception have when we’re young,” Theda Berry wrote in our review.
“Aubade” appears third on the tracklist, immediately following the title track. The bassline thrums throughout as Vu repeats, “When I close my eyes / I have a new place / Somewhere you can find me.” It may lean abstract like Vu’s earlier work on How Many Times Have You Driven By, but it’s still deeply emotive.
Irish artist Sinead O’Brien’s latest single “GIRLKIND,” with talk-sung lyrics that seem almost to be punk-influenced prose poem. The new single is O’Brien’s second release in 2021, following the single “Kid Stuff.”
The music video for “GIRLKIND” is part performance video, interspersed with scenes in domestic spaces. In a statement about the single, O’Brien was cryptic and poetic rather than illuminating, and said, “These verses are glimpses into experience. Girlkind and Humanhood Preserving (sic) eternity. Going back and forth. Keep forging a way through.”
Slightly more clarity can be gleaned from the statement of the video’s director, Saskia Dixie. Dixie said: “I wanted to create something that responded directly to the form and patterning of Sinead’s track … The passing of time is a reliable certainty that drives on regardless of what contrasting state you are currently embodying, so this became the base thread for the piece. Simple domestic activities swell into loops that feel absurd and almost choreographic in parts of the work.”
She added, “Whilst action and consequence are mapped out visually, time becomes fragmented, as the action takes place in the neutral arena, and the result, a mark or stain, comes through into the performative sphere.”
Although Snail Mail’s latest record, Valentine, is a breakup album, it’s not just a study of bitterness, and “Glory” is one of the tracks that retains a little bit of love for the object of Lindsey Jordan’s affection. At the chorus, she drones, “You owe me / You own me / I could never hurt you, my love / You know me.”
This is proved wrong on other tracks on the record, like the downright violent title track (covered in a previous week of Annotated On Rotation). And asserting “You owe me” and “You own me” doesn’t exactly spell happily ever after, but the vulnerability in “I could never hurt you, my love / You know me” still makes the chorus of “Glory” a glimpse of tenderness.
Valentine expands beyond the inde-rock of Lush, Jordan’s debut that rocketed her to fame at 18 years old, experimenting with other genres, but tracks like “Glory” remind listeners of where Snail Mail began.
Kristine Leschper, the singer-songwriter and multidisciplinary artist known for leading her other project, Mothers, has announced an upcoming debut album under her own name, The Opening, Or Closing Of A Door, and shared the single “Ribbon.” Leschper’s first single outside of Mothers, “Figure And I,” was released earlier this year. Mothers last released an album in 2018, their sophomore record Render Another Ugly Method.
The visuals for “Ribbon” — directed by Leschper — are as mesmerizing as the song itself, serving as a quirky performance video showcasing the woodwinds and strings on the track with a healthy dose of visual ASMR.
In a statement, Leschper said, “I found myself wanting to explore love songs, and this is really the framework of The Opening, Or Closing Of A Door. ‘Ribbon’ is a love song that holds a certain tension — it is the taut line of attempting to read the intentions of another, built with imagery of opposing materialities: a knife meets a ribbon, asking for a kind of vulnerability. A suggestion of something new emerging at this intersection.”
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have reunited for a new collaborative LP, Raise the Roof, 14 years after their first album together. They’ve shared only two singles from the project, “High and Lonesome” (featured in a previous edition of Annotated On Rotation) and now “It Don’t Bother Me.”
The latest track — and last single Plant and Krauss plan to release before the album drops later in November — is a cover of Scottish folk musician Bert Jansch’s “It Don’t Bother Me,” from his 1965 album of the same name. The original is acoustic and sparse, and on their version, Plant and Krauss add layers of drums that give the track a new driving rhythm.
In a statement about the cover, Plant said, “I’ve been a big follower of Bert Jansch’s work since I was a teenager, and of that whole Irish, Scottish, English folk style that has a different lilt and different lyrical perspective. I was very keen to bring some of that into the picture.”