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:
As on James Blake’s last full-length, Assume Form, some of the brightest tracks on Friends That Break Your Heart are collaborative songs, and “Coming Back” is no exception. SZA is on a winning streak of features, appearing recently with Kali Uchis on “fue mejor” (included in last week’s Annotated On Rotation and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More.” “Coming Back” sees Blake trying to win back an old love, and lyrically, SZA is the perfect duet partner, skeptical of his professed love and changes: “You say you love me, is it real?” she asks with her trademark blend of insecurity and confidence, “But do you fantasize about the things you really wanna feel?”
The opening piano riff is deceptively cheerful, but Blake adds moodier layers as the song progresses. His performance is relatively restrained, matching the subtle instrumentation and electronic flourishes, which leaves room for SZA’s voice to cut through as the clear standout on the track.
“Coming Back” is emblematic of the album as a whole: A cerebral, cohesive and polished iteration of Blake’s evolving sound. Friends That Break Your Heart builds on the emotional momentum of singles like “Famous Last Words” (featured in an earlier edition of Annotated On Rotation), the first track on the album, which sets up its conceptual premise of myriad heartbreaks.
Despite being addressed to “melancholy girls and nonbelievers,” Magdalena Bay’s “Dawning of the Season” is a summery, cheerful song. The duo’s debut full-length, Mercurial World, now out, delivers on all their synth-pop promise. Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin have released EPs as Magdalena Bay — A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling and Mini Mix, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 — but with the release of Mercurial World, and its accompanying website, they’ve taken their aesthetics and sound to another level.
Certain aspects of Mercurial World and its release could be considered gimmicky — like the video game for “You Lose!” (which you can read about in an earlier edition of Annotated On Rotation) and the actual hotline for “Secrets,” 833-MAGWRLD — but are innovative (and possibly necessary) techniques for artists like Magdalena Bay, who’ve made a growing career out of being incredibly online. They aren’t just musical artists, but multimedia creators of TikToks, other videos, websites and more.
As Tenenbaum told VMP back in 2019, “It’s okay to have fun with things.” That quote was in response to a question about femininity and pop personas, but can be applied to their projects as a whole: Listen to “Dawning of the Season,” bop along to the synths and enjoy fall.
You can join the waitlist for the VMP edition of ‘Mercurial World’ here.
Simon Green has announced his next record — his seventh under the moniker Bonobo — Fragments, and released its first single, “Rosewood.” His 2017 album, Migration earned him his first Grammy nod, with a nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. Fragments is set to feature Jamila Woods, Joji and Bonobo’s labelmates on Ninja Tune Kadhja Bonet and Jordan Rakei (with Rakei as the support act for Bonobo’s North American tour dates). According to his website, “Born first out of fragments of ideas and experimentation, [Fragments] was fused together in a burst of creativity fueled by both collaboration and Bonobo’s recent escapes into the wild.”
“Rosewood” leans heavily on these “escapes into the wild,” with a music video that functions more like a nature image visualizer, swirling through footage of water and trees. Rooted in Detroit house, almost the only lyrics in “Rosewood” are the repeated line: “I won’t leave you.” As a statement described it, the song has “a feeling of both celebration and a deep yearning.”
boylife, the solo project of Ryan Yoo — also part of the band mmmonika — has released his debut full-length album, gelato. Yoo has released several songs from the project as singles — like “peas,” “bummy” and “church” — including “lush,” featured in a recent edition of Annotated On Rotation. Where “lush” put the focus on simple instrumentation and Yoo’s voice, “amphetamine” features more distorted vocals and is structured like classic R&B.
About “amphetamine,” Yoo said, “[It’s] a tribute to women being in the driver’s seat of a sexual relationship, and also Prince.”
The single version of “amphetamine” is only two minutes long, while the album version adds a 45-second outro, which feels more like a separate interlude. The outro seems to be speaking directly to Yoo, in an incredibly personal monologue about how bipolar depression “is just something you should never feel ashamed about.” This turn on the album version adds a deeper, darker edge to the song, which on a first listen seems like a lighthearted ode to good sex, but might actually be about intimacy of a different kind.
With gelato, boylife has proven he’s undeniably an artist on the rise.
Dua Saleh has followed up their recent single with Amaarae, “fitt” (featured in a previous week of Annotated On Rotation), with another collaborative single, “fav flav” with Duckwrth. With this release, Saleh has revealed two out of seven songs set to come out with their next EP, Crossover. Duckwrth, the LA-based rapper, recently released his latest album, SG8, following his label debut, SuperGood (his track “Start a Riot” was included on the soundtrack for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).
“fav flav,” like “fitt,” is danceable and has relatively distorted vocals from Saleh. The official audio video has mesmerizing high-quality close-up footage of spinning fruit, flowers, candy and more.
Since being a Rising artist for VMP in 2019 with their EP Nūr, Saleh has put out numerous singles, the EP ROSETTA and starred in the most recent season of Netflix’s Sex Education.
Los Bitchos, the London-based psych-cumbia rockers, have just signed to City Slang and announced their upcoming debut album, Let the Festivities Begin! The band — Serra Petale (guitar), Agustina Ruiz (keytar), Josefine Jonsson (bass) and Nic Crawshaw (drums) — hail from all over the world, and are described in their bio as “London’s answer to Khruangbin, if Khruangbin spent all weekend getting slammed on cheap tequila in a Dalston dive bar.”
With the announcement of the album, Los Bitchos also released the single “Las Panteras,” which is an instrumental collage of influences that sounds like a cowboy playing disco with an electric guitar. The accompanying music video, directed by Tom Mitchell, is as colorful and dance-y as the track.
In a statement about the single and video, the band said: “‘Las Panteras’ is a song wrapped in intrigue that will keep you guessing till the last second. We wanted to show the mystery of the track combined with sassy dance moves. Inspirations for the video are Kill Bill, Scooby Doo and Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe.’ The huge battle climax at the end is a Bram Stoker’s Dracula inspired fight which will leave you hanging for what’s in store next, between Las Panteras and the girls. A tacky 70s show in which the band must solve the mystery of Las Panteras, taking a break now and then to bust out some sassy choreographed dance sequences to keep their spirits up! To be continued…”
WAYNE SNOW, the Nigerian-born neo-soul singer, has now released the entirety of his latest full-length album, Figurine, but “Nina” was initially the second single for the project — alongside “Seventy” and “The Thrill.” According to a statement about the album, Figurine “is based on a simple question: ‘Who is the real you?’”
The description for the music video reads, poetically: “Nina is a celebration of the body, the self, the mind and nothing else. Do not look for the all-complicated. / Dance to free yourself from the shackles of the society that prefers you rigid and obedient. / Dance and stir as you see fit. / Like Nina do it wherever you like / Dance, lose yourself in the dance as if to find yourself / To dance is to let the soul speak, to let it guide you / Have no fear / Dance.”
We won’t look for the all-complicated; listen to “Nina” and dance.
Twenty-one-year-old reggae sensation Koffee’s goal is simple, albeit lofty: “I want to impact the world.” In a statement, she explained: “My personal success could be ten cars and a big house but that doesn’t influence many people other than myself … I want to be a positive movement and make a positive movement, at the same time. I want to bring vibes and positive change.”
Koffee’s latest single, “West Indies,” is the first release from her debut full-length, due out next year. The message of “West Indies” is straightforward: It’s about her origins in the West Indies, and has a refrain of “I wanna just party.” The music video is filled with that positivity and joy Koffee wants to express — and should be listened to with headphones, as it’s mixed with an immersive, 360 Reality Audio experience in mind.
Despite only having an EP and a few singles out, Koffee is already a Grammy winner — she’s the youngest winner of Best Reggae Album, for her 2019 EP Rapture. Her single, “Pressure,” also got a high-profile remix with a guest verse from Buju Banton, a fellow Jamaican reggae artist, in 2020.
New York rapper Patrick Morales, also a member of Ratking, has released his latest album as Wiki, Half God, with production from Navy Blue. “Can’t Do This Alone” is the last single for the album (an earlier single, “Roof,” was featured previously in Annotated On Rotation).
Navy Blue — featured earlier in 2021 on The Alchemist’s This Thing of Ours, alongside Earl Sweatshirt — raps a verse on “Can’t Do This Alone” in addition to producing the track. Half God also features Earl Sweatshirt, along with MIKE, Duendita and Remy Banks.
In the music video for “Can’t Do This Alone,” fittingly, Navy Blue and Wiki walk together through New York City, rapping, ambling and eating pizza on a stoop. Directed by Ryosuke Tanzawa, the visuals perfectly capture the easy chemistry the collaborators — and seemingly true friends — have with each other.
“City of Mirrors,” off the recently released Talk Memory from BADBADNOTGOOD, is one of four tracks — out of only eight total — on the album featuring Arthur Verocai (an earlier single featuring Verocai, “Beside April,” was featured earlier in Annotated On Rotation). Verocai is a Brazilian composer, known for his sweeping use of strings. As expected with the presence of Verocai, “City of Mirrors” is strings-forward, with a dark, moody James Bond-esque texture.
In a statement, Talk Memory is described as “an album about going back to their roots.” A key part of those roots is live performance, focused on collaboration and improvisation. The statement about the record elaborates: "Rather than focus on credit, this is an album about collective balance and harmony. Even when it includes guests like iconic Brazilian producer and musician Arthur Verocai. Here the energy is about community and ensemble in its true sense. When New Orleans jazz emerged in the early 20th century, the concept of united syncopated rhythms playing as an ensemble group was fundamental to its sound. The birth of 20th century music was intertwined with the concept of collaboration. Here there is something utopic about collaboration, community and music as a special, perhaps even spiritual form of non-verbal communication.”
After releasing an EP, Just Until…. featuring Q Tip and Young Thug, and contributing to a remixed version of Eminem’s “Killer” with Jack Harlow earlier this year, Cordae is back with a single, “Super,” for his upcoming sophomore album, From A Bird’s Eye View. Cordae’s debut album, 2019’s The Lost Boy, received two Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song (for “Bad Idea”). Cordae came up with the YBN collective — a gamer crew turned rap group which FADER called “a new kind of internet rap clique” — before leaving the group in 2020.
On “Super,” Cordae has an abundance of hubris; at one point in the music video he role plays as a teacher, with simply “I am the greatest” written again and again on the blackboard behind him. But, who can blame him: As the song says, “Last year, I made seven million, didn’t have to do a single fuckin’ show.” With “Super,” the 24-year-old rapper adds another example of pure braggadocio to the rap canon, fixated on money, designer clothes, his connection to Twitter’s CEO and his Coke commercial for the Super Bowl.
Fourteen years after their Grammy Award-winning collaborative album, Rising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are at it again. “High And Lonesome” is an original track off of their upcoming full-length, Raise the Roof, which is primarily a covers album.
“High And Lonesome” has notable rock undertones, and starts with Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Krauss’ trademark angelic vocals are present on this track more as a harmonic texture in the background, with Plant’s voice in the fore.
About Raise the Roof as a whole, Plant said in a statement, “It’s such a far cry from everything I’ve done before. I love the whole kaleidoscope of music that I’ve explored, but this is a place where you can think within the song, you can decide how to bring home an emotion. It’s another blend that we’ve got, and long may we have more of them.”
Krauss said in that statement, “We wanted it to move. We brought other people in, other personalities within the band and coming back together again in the studio brought a new intimacy to the harmonies.”
The video for Marissa Nadler’s latest single off of The Path of the Clouds, “Couldn’t Have Done The Killing,” starts with a disclaimer: “The events depicted in the following program have been re-enacted. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast.”
It’s a bemusing opening for what seems to be a relatively serious song and video — it’s unclear who would think the cinematic music video is a “news broadcast,” but Nadler is covering her bases, given that “Couldn’t Have Done The Killing” explicitly takes on murder. The other singles for The Path of the Clouds, “Bessie, Did You Make It?” and “If I Could Breathe Underwater,” are also preoccupied with death, but less directly with murder, as they focus on drowning.
The video’s directors, Tyler Derryberry and Christen Dute, explained in a statement: “When Marissa came to us to make a video for a song on her new album, we were already aware of the album’s themes and her inspirations. While she was writing and recording the album sequestered at home during the pandemic, we stayed in touch, sharing our media diet of true crime and the paranormal.”
They added, “We set out to recreate that moment in time when murders and bank robberies shared an equal plausibility with hauntings and high strangeness.”
Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits, is gearing up to release their latest album, Hand Habits, and most recently shared “Clean Air.” (Their previous single, “No Difference,” was featured in an earlier edition of Annotated On Rotation.) The music video for “Clean Air” is black-and-white footage of Duffy performing and a dancing crowd, often in slow motion. As Duffy crowd surfs, the connection to the audience has distinct pre-COVID nostalgia — especially since it’s filmed in black and white, it feels almost out of time.
The song, which dropped on California’s Clean Air Day, “is about finding clarity, leaning into acceptance, and acknowledging someone else’s experience as truth without blame or resentment, even when it differs from our own,” according to Duffy’s Instagram post.
They added, “I recommend you take a walk or ride the bus or a bike instead of driving and listen to the song in headphones many times in a row.”
That’s our advice as well.
“Sparrow,” the latest collaborative track from Tim Shiel — the Melbourne born and bred producer — opens with a voice that says, “It’s all about dreams, that’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I do: dream. I also drink water.” The first lyric asks, “When was the last time you laughed so hard that you cried?” A hypnotic track follows, with London-based pianist, composer and sound engineer Leah Kardos at its roots, with a pop vocal from Australian songwriter Kaitlin Keegan floating over the top. “Sparrow” is a single from Distractions One, set to release at the end of October.
In a statement, Shiel said of the track, “I have always loved the way Leah plays and how she makes her piano sound so intimate and human. This one started when I heard Leah’s track 'Contact Mic' on a compilation of beautiful music put out on Bigo & Twigetti. I became obsessed with the composition of that song and the way it unfolds with intention but also a sense of wide open space. I felt really compelled to see if I could take it somewhere, and eventually that led me to Kaitlin.” About Keegan, Shiel added, “Kaitlin’s voice has a stunning purity and directness that embeds reality in everything she sings, and as a songwriter she has a gift for elevating the everyday into something majestic, and that’s a rare gift.”
At the close of the song, the voice is back, narrating: “Never laugh at anyone’s dream, oh no, absolutely not. We depend on each other’s dreams coming true. That’s what I wanted to tell you.” Shiel said in a statement that “In the end, I think we have a song that leaves you thinking about what you want from life, about what’s important.” If you listen to that voice, “Sparrow” does leave you thinking about your own dreams.