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:
KAINA’s debut album, 2019’s Next to the Sun, was full of pop songs bathed in sunshine. With her first release since that record — and her first release after signing to the label City Slang — “Casita,” is still airy and warm, but covers darker subject matter. KAINA said in a statement, “‘Casita’ is about all the people I miss. I miss sharing space in my home, staying up way too late talking shit and laughing — I miss sharing my mother’s cooking with friends and family. It is heavily inspired by early-2000s pop & R&B music and I tried to lean heavily into the dramatics of the song by channeling that feel. Some music I referenced was made by The Cheetah Girls Movie and Oscar D’Leon.”
The Chicago artist added, “The background vocals feature my mom, my aunt, and my dear friend Nnamdï.” The inclusion of friends and family aligns perfectly with a song so focused on connection.
You can still get a copy of KAINA’s debut album from VMP here.
“SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY - Official Remix” takes the already slinky and satisfying “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” from Amaarae’s debut album, THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW, and amplifies it with the addition of Kali Uchis. Uchis’ verse fits right in, adding a Latin American edge to Amaarae’s expansive Afropop. Outside of the new verse, the remix is on the lighter side, keeping most of the atmosphere of the original.
In a press release about the remix, Amaarae said, “‘SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY’ was already a magical song with myself and Moliy but Kali takes it to a new dimension. I’m excited to have her on the remix. I’ve loved her music since I was 19 in college so to be able to work on this with her was amazing and she kills her verse!”
“You Lose!” is not just a single from Magdalena Bay’s upcoming debut album — it’s also a video game you can play online. The synth pop duo’s website is a cacophony of .gifs and chaotic found images from the internet, but you can find the game and music video for the single there, too. Magdalena Bay’s Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin are true multimedia artists, creating a whole world of TikToks, other videos, websites and, of course, pop songs.
“You Lose!” is, well, about losing, with the video showing the two experiencing various mishaps; the band said in a statement that the song is “about trying to be a musician and feeling like time for success is always running out. It’s definitely melodramatic, describing ourselves as aging and nearing death, but sometimes it really feels that way.”
Lindsey Jordan, aka Snail Mail, has released “Valentine,” the title track for her upcoming album and first release since her 2018 debut album, Lush — which led to sudden indie rock fame for the then-18 year old, resulting in some time away from making music and a stay at a recovery facility.
“Valentine” is, like its music video, dramatic and violently cathartic. The video comes with a content warning on YouTube, unsurprisingly, because Jordan’s character murders a man and gets covered in blood. About being so emotionally raw, Jordan told Pitchfork, “There’s definitely consequences to being open as hell … But writing about very real things that hurt or feel good takes me back to the actual reason I do it, which is catharsis.”
“Dig” is the first release from Barrie, the now-solo project of Barrie Lindsay, after her 2019 album Happy To Be Here as part of a five-piece band. According to a statement about the making of “Dig,” one night in a moment of grief — after the loss of a parent — Lindsay couldn’t bring herself to set up the mic properly in her studio and instead opted to shout across the room “in a true ‘fuck it’ moment.” Lindsay liked this effect on her vocals, and kept it as the chorus of “Dig.”
In a recent Instagram Live for VMP, Barrie said, “Being able to kill your darlings and not have too much preciousness is a really valuable skill.” She also said music she’s drawn to is “not overwrought, I have a fear of going too far in that direction.”
“Dig,” self-produced by Barrie, definitely maintains organic elements despite leaning perhaps more pop than her previous work.
Rolling Stone described Bomba Estéreo’s Deja as a “party record for a world in crisis,” and that is perfectly captured with “Como Lo Pedí.” The Columbian duo, Simón Mejía and Liliana Saumet, have proven their ability to blend vocals with electronic music to hypnotic effect. “Como Lo Pedí,” fast-paced and more rapped than sung at times, demands “como lo pedí,” or “as I asked,” repeatedly.
Mejía and Saument spoke with The New York Times about Deja, which hints at what Mejía termed “an Indigenous futuristic kind of civilization.” He added, “Obviously we’re not going back to living as an Indigenous tribe lives in the Amazon. We already live in cities, and we have computers and phones and whatever. But we can find a level of mixing our technology and respecting and being with nature. It’s like having one bare foot in the roots, while the head is looking to the future.”
Bomba Estéreo’s first full-length in four years, ‘Deja,’ is available in the VMP store here.
Pa Salieu, the Gambian-British rapper and singer, gained recognition in 2020 with his debut mixtape, Send Them To Coventry, and recently collaborated on a single, “Glidin’,” with former VMP Hip-Hop artist slowthai. “Style & Fashion” is the centerpiece of Salieu’s latest EP, Afrikan Rebel. The EP features Obongjayar on that track, as well as Tay Iwar and Zlatan. Obongjayar, a Nigerian artist based in London, made a high-profile appearance recently on Little Simz Sometimes I’m Introvert (and on a previous On Rotation playlist).
About his EP, Salieu said in a statement, “Fundamentally, Afrikan Rebel is about being proud and loud about where you come from. For me, that is Africa.” Salieu added, “I see the word ‘Rebel’ only in the most positive sense. Those figures through history that have fought against the odds to stand up for what they believe in have always intrigued and inspired me. ‘Rebel’ is a mindset that helps keep me strong and I hope I can encourage others to be vocal about their beliefs and stand up for what they feel is right. My Afrikan Rebel series is a movement which I hope can allow me to connect with others with a similar mindset and gives a platform for me to experiment with influences and inspirations from my culture and others from the great continent of Africa.”
The release of “Lady Luck” is part of the 25th anniversary celebration of Secretly Canadian, a reissue campaign called SC25 Editions, which includes SC25 singles. Releasing singles is part of the celebration, the label said, because, “Every good thing we’ve ever done has started, in some fashion, by asking an artist we adore whether they’re down to make something with … and on the very best of days we get to bring old friends and freaks together with new ideas and obsessions.”
Bartees Strange, whose debut album, Live Forever, came out in 2020, is one of those “friends and freaks,” who agreed to cover a song as part of the SC25 singles. “Lady Luck” was originally a single in 2009 from the late singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Richard Swift. Strange said in a statement, “This is a great song and one of my favorites from Richard Swift, god rest him. I was really not sure how to approach the song because normally I don’t do direct covers, but I just love the arrangement and how the song was recorded so much that I just tried to do something that was true to the original but slightly different. I did some hard pan drums but still wanted it to feel very personal.”
“Autumn in New York,” aka “Spring In Chicago,” is the second single from Makaya McCraven’s upcoming remix album, Deciphering The Message, which reimagines Blue Note classics by artists like Art Blakey and Dexter Gordon. The original, a romantic ballad by Kenny Burrell from his album Blue Lights, Vol. 1, is a laid-back smooth tune from the guitarist. McCraven amps up the energy just a bit with the addition of muted horns.
McCraven, the self-proclaimed “beat scientist,” drummer, producer and “sonic collagist” released two LPs in 2020: Universal Beings E&F Sides and We’re New Again, which reimagines Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here.
McCraven told NPR in 2020, “I think of ‘jazz’ — in quotes — as an aural tradition that you learn from playing and being around other people. And like aural traditions, they evolve and they move; it's not a stagnant thing for preservation. Like with an aural tradition, there's an actual physical touch. And that's where I feel fortunate to have been around a lot of elders. I always think of that as like trying to get a touch of the music and the history and the past that I can take with me as I create music, now, from my vantage point.”
Arthur Moon, the avant-pop group fronted by award-winning composer/singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud, has released their second full-length album, Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!: Side A. Arthur Moon has been “queering pop” since their self-titled debut, which was a former VMP Rising pick. Compared to the dissonant and complex title track on the new record, “Sagittarius” is almost easy listening. The vocals have a lackadaisical edge, with Åshuvud musing, “I’d like to stay / But I love to go.”
Speaking with VMP for our VMP Rising artist feature, Åshuvud said, “In terms of harmony and melody, there are a lot of rhythmic elements in particular which I feel sort of speak to my queering of music, which is just about making people feel disoriented in whatever it is that they expect to hear, and turning music on its head, and giving people the feeling of being outside of whatever it is they’re expecting to hear.”
Although that was in reference to their debut, with “Sagittarius” and Chaos! Chaos! Chaos! as a whole, Arthur Moon have continued to defy expectations.
“Famous Last Words” is the third — and likely last — single from James Blake’s upcoming album, Friends That Break Your Heart. His first full-length since 2019’s Assume Form, his latest album was supposed to come out in September, but has been pushed to October due to vinyl manufacturing delays.
“Famous Last Words” is lyrically sparse and a bit repetitive, but emotive, detailing being unable to let go of someone, even when you’re supposed to (“I can’t believe I’m still makin’ excuses for your crimes / I’ve truly lost it, I’ve truly lost it this time”).
Friends That Break Your Heart boasts features from SZA, JID, SwaVay and Monica Martin, but the singles — “Say What You Will,” “Life Is Not The Same” and “Famous Last Words” — are all Blake alone. The release of “Famous Last Words,” first on the album’s tracklist and likely never intended to be a single at all, feels more like an appeasement of fans than anything else. But, a compelling appeasement.
“This Enchanted” is the first release from Hatchie — the moniker of Australian musician Harriette Pillbeam — after her debut album, 2019’s Keepsake, and her first single since signing with Secretly Canadian. The single is energetic pop, but still retains a little shoegaze. The music video visualizes the contradiction of the cheerful beat and moody undertones, featuring Hatchie wearing angel wings, but alone on the street.
Hatchie said in a statement, “‘This Enchanted’ encapsulates everything I wanted to do moving forward from my first album. It's one of the more lighthearted, lyrically vague songs of my new recordings about falling in love; it's not a perfect relationship, but you're enthralled by one another and it's an easy love.”
She added, “It's one of the most fun songs I've written, so it was a no-brainer to pick it as my first solo release in almost two years.”
Absolutely Free haven’t released a full-length album since their self-titled debut in 2014. Building on the momentum of their 2019 EP, Geneva Freeport, the band has shared two singles for their upcoming LP, Aftertouch: “How to Paint Clouds” and “Remaining Light” — as well as “Still Life,” originally released in 2018.
With a core line up of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Michael Claxton and Matt King, the new music sees the Canadian pop experimentalists range into folk and indie rock territory.
In a statement about the latest song, Absolutely Free explained, “‘Remaining Light’ expresses the frustration felt towards invincible and corrupt institutions that uphold structural inequities, including police brutality and manufactured poverty experienced primarily by racialized communities. Written during a heat wave in the summer of 2016, the song dishearteningly remains as relevant as ever today.”
Even without the single, Webbed Wing drummed up a decent amount of anticipation for their upcoming album by titling it What’s So Fucking Funny? and putting a clown holding a bloody knife on the cover. That, and the prolific, Grammy Award-winning Will Yip producing the record has only increased the hype — if you don’t know who he is, just take a look at his website, an intimidating grid of the many albums he’s had a hand in.
Given the album’s title and cover, the lead single, “Make A Dime,” is surprisingly sincere. The refrain of “I don’t mind if I never make a dime / as long as someone can recall me as a friend” is downright sweet. Well, sweet disguised in the sonic texture expected of Webbed Wing, the project of Taylor Madison, formerly of the grunge band Superheaven.
The music video for “Make A Dime” is similarly divorced from the memeable album art, giving a straightforward and almost intimate view of the band.
In another single from Marissa Nadler, anticipating her upcoming album, The Path of the Clouds, Nadler is again preoccupied with drowning. The first single (featured in a previous On Rotation playlist), “Bessie, Did You Make It?” tells the story of newlyweds who disappeared on a honeymoon trip down the Colorado River. The music video for the second single also features Nadler underwater, with a similar ethereal quality to the visuals for “Bessie.”
Nadler said in a statement, “When I wrote ‘If I Could Breathe Underwater,’ I was contemplating the possibilities of possessing various superhuman powers: teleportation, shapeshifting, energy projection, aquatic breathing, extrasensory perception, and time travel to name a few. As a lyrical device, I married those powers with events in my life, wondering if and how they could change the past or predict the future. I loved working on the melody for this song and bringing the choruses to their climaxes. Mary [Lattimore]’s layered, hallucinatory shimmers really echo the netherworld of the story.”
This track is the second single from Nadler’s upcoming album, ‘The Path of the Clouds,’ which you can get from VMP here.