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:
Christine and the Queens, the pop project from French musician Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier, is back with a surprise EP, Joseph, with two tracks: a cover of George Michael’s 1990 hit “Freedom” and a version of a song popular in France in the 1970s, “Comme l’oiseau.” The two-song EP follows Christine and the Queen’s 2020 surprise EP, La vita nuova, which was accompanied by a short film — both also featuring Caroline Polachek.
“Freedom” reimagines Michael’s track with more powerful vocals and ups the moody ambiance. It’s more anthemic — like the original, the harmonies at the chorus gesture toward Aretha Franklin belting “Freedom” repeatedly in “Think” — and takes full advantage of sparse piano and pulsing synths.
The release of Joseph follows speculation about an upcoming collaboration between Christine and the Queens, Charlie XCX and Polachek, after Charlie XCX posted a photo on Instagram that appears to be the three of them filming a music video.
Amber Mark has finally announced her upcoming debut album, Three Dimensions Deep, which will arrive early in 2022. About the latest single, Mark said in a statement, “‘What It Is’ low key is the title track of the album without it actually being the title track. It comes from going through negative experiences which end up being the gateway to a question I think I’ll be asking for the rest of my life. What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”
For a song with such heavy subject matter, “What It Is,” like the previous singles, is danceable R&B that disguises gloom with groove. The album as a whole is poised to take on these existential questions in three acts: WITHOUT, WITHHELD and WITHIN. Summing up the album’s concept, Mark said, “Three Dimensions Deep is a musical journey of what questions you begin to ask yourself when you start looking to the universe for answers. I can only go as deep as the third dimension as that’s how we see the world, but what about when you start looking to the universe within for answers.”
After an appearance our playlist last week with a Kali Uchis collaboration, Amaarae is back again, featured on the new single from Dua Saleh, “fitt.”
Saleh, a former VMP Rising artist for their debut EP, Nūr, has recently risen to a different kind of fame: You can watch their acting debut in the most recent season of Neflix’s Sex Education.
On “fitt,” Amaarae adds her infectious Afropop sensibilities to the hypnotic song — with mesmerizing visuals, as well. “fitt” is the first single from Saleh’s upcoming EP, Crossover, which they described as “7 songs that represent all the transitions happening in my life right now.”
Lou Roy’s latest release, “Valkyrie,” was called “water bottle birthday beat” for months, according to a statement, since Roy said it “began with me tapping my water bottle while listening to my buddies have a conversation around me.” It turned into “Valkyrie” when Roy “got high and decided to just put the beat on loop and improvise lyrics.”
The LA-based singer-songwriter acknowledged, “Apparently, I was feeling angry and vengeful — the rest of what came out was all about embracing rage” (evidenced by lines like, “Slay all those fuckers that have hurt you in the past), but, “Then in a sudden shift of perspective, I noticed I wanted peace and quiet and asked myself, ‘Hey man, watcha doin’? Come on back, I need you movin’!’ It was a gentle request to please not be so upset, I’m scaring me!”
“Valkyrie” is Roy’s first single for the label Balloon Machine. Produced by Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties, the song is an alt-pop blend of folk (à la Mountain Man) and R&B influences.
With its neon cover with retro text and dominating synths, Kadhja Bonet’s latest single, “For You,” transports listeners right back to the ’80s. The track is Bonet’s first solo release in three years — after the 2018 release of Childqueen — and her first release with Ninja Tune, the label home to Hiatus Kaiyote, Kamasi Washington and Little Dragon, among others.
“For You” is warm and personal, and Bonet said it is about “showing up for yourself in any form that may take.” Although Bonet hasn’t had a solo release since Childqueen, she’s collaborated with many artists in the past few years, appearing on albums from the Free Nationals, SiR, Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino and more. Hopefully “For You” is the sign of another full-length project from the singer and multi-instrumentalist on the way.
Gabriels’ may have a tiny discography so far, but have generated an enormous amount of buzz. The LA-based trio have been praised by Elton John, performed on Jimmy Kimmel and signed to Elektra records — off of the strength of a few singles (especially their hit “Love and Hate in a Different Time”). With their latest single, “Blame,” Gabriels — consisting of lead singer Jacob Lusk and producers Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian — have again tapped into a timeless soul sound.
Hope and Balouzian are classically trained musicians and soundtrack artists. Lusk, formerly of American Idol fame, has an undeniable gospel-rooted appeal to his voice.
About “Blame,” the band said, “When examining our life’s problems, we hastily assign blame. ‘This happened because of this…’ Our song ‘Blame’ seeks to examine the construct of not only fault and shame, but take a deep dive into the world of addiction, and indulgence.”
The latest track from Lucky Daye, “Over” is the lead single for his sophomore album, due out in 2022. His upcoming album is highly anticipated, following his Grammy-nominated debut, Painted, and his duets EP, Table For Two (which saw matchups with women in R&B like Yebba, Ari Lennox and Tiana Major9).
“Over” heavily samples Musiq Soulchild’s “Halfcrazy,” and covers similar thematic ground: Daye also find himself unable to stop obsessing over his love interest, even though he says she’s “so toxic to me.” The music video sees Daye struggling with the pressures of fame and the pain of a complicated relationship he thought was over — with his paramour played by Jordyn Woods.
The new single comes shortly after Daye collaborated with Earth, Wind & Fire and producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds on “You Want My Love,” a reimagined version of the group’s 1975 hit “Can’t Hide Love.”
Chicago rapper CupcakKe is no stranger to cartoon character references (see “Cartoons,” “Squidward Nose” and “Garfield”), and has now turned her attention to the Simpsons matriarch. The music video for “Marge Simpson” has animated elements, money everywhere and CupcakKe in full Marge Simpson cosplay, blue beehive and all. The wig is key here: “Big, big pimpin’ / Money stack up so tall, look like the hair on Marge Simpson.”
In comparison to the lyric treatment of Squidward (“His dick smaller than my toes / I’d rather ride Squidward nose”) and Garfield (“This pussy heavy just like a barbell / I got a, fat cat, fat cat, fat cat … lookin’ like Garfield”), the reference to Marge is almost proper.
CupcakKe’s most recent studio album, Eden, dropped in 2018, and “Marge Simpson,” along with recent singles “Mickey,” “Mosh Pit,” “Moonwalk” and “Huhhhhh” could be hinting at another full-length on the way soon.
“Mystery Boy” is the latest single from Sassy 009’s upcoming mixtape, Heart Ego, her first project following 2019’s KILL SASSY 009 EP. Two other tracks from the new EP — “Blue Racecar” and “Here Comes The Weekend” — have already been released.
There’s been a focus on visuals and multimedia elements for the project so far, and Sassy 009 has an extensive interactive website that even includes a racing game for the single “Blue Racecar.” The music video for “Mystery Boy” sees Sassy 009 snowboarding with her colorfully dressed crew, Sensesse.
Oslo-based artist Sassy 009, aka Sunniva Lingård, said of the upcoming EP, “Heart Ego is the most ambitious project I’ve done so far in my career, yet the project I have had the most trouble defining. Framing it as a mixtape was like finding home. The actual structuring and understanding of my compositions is simply a result of how I think it should feel, and not necessarily in line with a structure someone else completely understands.”
Deerhoof — currently composed of Satomi Matsuzaki, Ed Rodriguez, John Dieterich and Greg Saunier — is poised to release their 18th album, Actually, You Can, with three singles out so far, each with animated music videos: “Department of Corrections,” “Plant Thief” and “Scarcity Is Manufactured.”
“Scarcity Is Manufactured” originated with the band’s guitarist Rodriguez, and is a very guitar-driven composition. Rodriguez said in a statement, “Every note I play is Mexican music. This song is a celebration of the community who gave me the confidence to say that out loud, and it’s a call to support each other in embracing our true selves. The anthem’s spirit comes from Ritchie Valens’ rendition of the traditional song ‘La Bamba.’”
Rodriguez added, “I’ve struggled with my identity, being raised by parents who embodied their culture yet pushed me to be more American, hoping to shield me from the racism they endured ... At our shows, people began to tell me it meant a lot to them that there was someone of Mexican descent playing in Deerhoof. Community gives us the strength to accept and celebrate ourselves in a way that we may not be able to on our own.”
Featured recently in Annotated On Rotation, Geese have released a third single and title track from their upcoming debut album, Projector. The young Brooklyn rockers have also announced a tour supporting their debut.
“Projector,” following singles “Low Era” and “Disco,” is a little rougher around the edges, and leans more psych-rock than the first releases but maintains the band’s post-punk sensibilities. Lead singer Cameron Winter said of the song in a statement: “The opening riff on ‘Projector’ was the first thing we ever wrote for the record. When the song was finished, it became a jumping off point for the rest of the album. We liked it because it was something decidedly different from the music we had been writing up to that point.”
We can expect the rest of the record to sound like “Projector,” as Winter added, “Though we didn’t know it then, it’s fitting that ‘Projector’ became the title track on the record; it’s the song that ushered in the album’s sound.”
After releasing his cover of “Lady Luck,” Bartees Strange has released the single “Weights,” recorded with producer Will Yip.
“Weights” has a runtime under three minutes, but packs a huge emotional punch, with Strange pleading, “When can we try?” In a statement, Strange said of the song, “This is about the ones that got away. Going back and forth in my head about relationships that could have happened, missing that it didn’t, and finally realizing I gotta let the weight of it all go.”
Full of angst and driving guitar, with Strange nearly yelling at times, it’s definitely a tone shift from the more laidback “Lady Luck,” but is a return to form for Strange — fittingly, “Weights” will appear on the digital deluxe edition of Live Forever.
The last single for Andy Shauf’s new album, Wilds, out last Friday, “Jaywalker” is another talk-singing story-song from the Canadian singer-songwriter. Wilds picks up where his concept album, The Neon Skyline, left off: It includes single “Spanish On The Beach” (discussed in an earlier edition of Annotated On Rotation) and features songs from the same writing session as The Neon Skyline.
“Jaywalker” also references the character Judy from that previous album, as the titular jaywalker seems to have been hit by her car. “Jaywalker, with your head hung low, you never saw it coming,” Shauf laments.
According to his website, Wilds presents Shauf’s songs “in their most nascent shape” with “Shauf playing all the instruments, coming up with the arrangements on the fly, and recording it all himself to ‘a little tape machine’ in his studio in Toronto.”
Hana Vu’s latest single from Public Storage — her upcoming full-length debut — “Keeper” is a lyrically simple, high-drama track about the pain of being contained and misunderstood. The music video accentuates the frustration and sadness of not being visible by placing Vu struggling, unnoticed, as she moves through a family home.
The video’s director, Maegan Houang, said in a statement, “When I listened to ‘Keeper,’ I thought about how we’re all trapped by different societal expectations — whether it’s from work, family, friends or the devil inside ourselves. I wanted to make a video that expressed the feeling of not being seen when all you really want to do is explode.”
The concept of “Keeper” and containment more broadly is perfectly aligned with Vu’s conception of the upcoming album as a whole, which is titled Public Storage after the public storage spaces Vu and her family would regularly use when moving every few years. Vu said in a statement that she sees the art of making and releasing songs in a similar way: “[Releases are] these public expressions of thoughts, feelings, baggage, experiences that accumulate every year and fill little units such as ‘albums.’”
You can pre-order Vu’s debut full-length, ‘Public Storage,’ from VMP here.
British band Penelope Isles, the brother-sister duo of Lily and Jack Wolter, released their debut album, Until The Tide Creeps In, in 2018. They have released three singles so far — “Sailing Still,” “Iced Gems” and “Sudoku” — from their sophomore album, Which Way To Happy, due out this November.
“Sudoku” is a dreamy, pop-tinged indie rock song, and the music video is also a family affair, seemingly filming a day in the life of the band’s father, from the morning as he brushes his teeth to the afternoon when his toy airplane just won’t take off. Jack Wolter said in a statement: “‘Sudoku’ is probably the oldest song on the album. We used to play it in our old band, Your Gold Teeth, back on the Isle of Man when Lily and I first started making music.”
He added, “Dad loves a sudoku puzzle whilst he’s sat on the loo. So this one is for him! It’s a special song for us and we wanted to bring it back and play it with Penelope Isles.”
About the album as a whole, which was written and recorded by the siblings in a cottage in Cornwall, he said, “It was a tiny cottage and we all went a bit bonkers, and we drank far too much, and it spiraled a bit out of control. There were a lot of emotional evenings and realizations, which I think reflects in the songs.”