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:
Mitski is back, and she’s still the cowboy. “Working for the Knife” is her first single after her three-year hiatus following Be the Cowboy (VMP Essentials No. 68 back in August 2018). In an interview with VMP at the time of her last record’s release, Mitski told us: “You don’t really get that in the rest of your life, but when you go to a show, for just that little moment, you can experience your dream, you can sort through your emotions, and that’s always been really important to me. And I take my job really seriously.”
“Working for the Knife” is still very much in line with the things Mitski was thinking about in 2018: fame, performance as a job, experiencing dreams. The visuals for the song have Mitski dancing alone at a performance venue, ending with the music cutting out, the only sounds from her labored breathing and physical choreography as she collapses on the stage.
Definitely high on drama and theatrics, Mitski said of “Working for the Knife” in a statement, “It’s about going from being a kid with a dream, to a grown up with a job, and feeling that somewhere along the way you got left behind. It’s being confronted with a world that doesn’t seem to recognize your humanity, and seeing no way out of it.”
Take it from Kali Uchis, who said in a statement: “This is Latin R&B. This is SZA singing Spanish for the very first time, this is spooky season, this IS the moment.” “fue mejor” is the perfect way to kick off October, with the queen of TDE now expressing vulnerabilities in two languages. Uchis, about to tour with Tyler, the Creator (the two collaborated on “After The Storm” from Uchis’ 2018 album Isolation), is still coasting on the strength of her 2020 Spanish album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) — which includes the smash hit “telepatía.” The original version of “fue mejor,” featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR, also appeared on Sin Miedo.
“fue mejor” now has a music video as well, featuring SZA as well as Uchis’ real-life partner Don Toliver. It’s not exactly a remix of the song, essentially just swapping PARTYNEXTDOOR’s verse for SZA, and layering her vocals with Uchis in the back half of the song. SZA feels like a smoother addition to the song, and less like an interruption — this new version of “fue mejor” feels like the hypnotic song has reached its sultry peak.
Remi Wolf, the 25-year-old artist from LA, has already released seven songs from her upcoming debut album, most recently “Front Tooth” and “Anthony Kiedis,” following “Guerrilla,” “Sexy Villain,” “Quiet On Set,” “Grumpy Old Man” and “Liquor Store.” She’s generated a huge amount of anticipation for the full-length project, and has been called a “star-in-waiting” by The New York Times.
The visuals for “Front Tooth” are characteristically colorful — Wolf is a visual artist as well — and full of wacky patterns. Wolf told NME in a recent interview, “I’ve always been pretty adventurous in my writing, but in the songs I wrote during the pandemic there’s definitely a little more mania. My career was taking off, I had recently gotten sober, I just got a dog and I moved three times during the pandemic. It was a lot.” (Her debut album, Juno, is named after her French bulldog, who sat in on every writing session for the record, according to that interview.)
Wolf also told NME, “I’m fucking ready for this album to come out,” and so are we.
British duo Wet Leg have followed up their debut single, “Chaise Lounge,” with “Wet Dream,” a angst-filled continuation of their post-punk and pop sound. Wet Leg — the partnership of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers — according to the bio from their label, Domino Records, came together when: “Amidst a night of hazy scenes in their native Isle of Wight, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers found themselves at the summit of a Ferris wheel. They decided to start a band.”
“Wet Dream,” as described in a statement by Teasdale, “is a breakup song.” She added, “It came about when one of my ex’s [sic] went through a stage of texting me after we’d broken up telling me that ‘he had a dream about me.’” The music video is full of… lobster claws? In the slightly puzzling video, directed by Teasdale, most people have boxing-glove-like bright red claws on their hands with which they try to eat lobster.
With each single, “Chaise Lounge” and now “Wet Dream,” Wet Leg seem uninterested in demystifying their project; we’ll all just have to wait and see what exactly the duo is building toward.
“Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To” is the third single — following “Rae Street” and “Before You Gotta Go” — from Courtney Barnett’s new album, Things Take Time, Take Time. The Australian singer-songwriter’s last album, 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel had a diary-like quality to it, and this latest single continues the frank, indie rock we expect from Barnett.
The video, directed by Christina Xing, features undeniably wholesome footage of Barnett receiving a postcard and packages, culminating with an unrealistically packaged guitar, and sending mail herself. It’s a soothing companion to the single, with ’70s hues and the calming (and COVID-safe) act of correspondence to maintain connections.
Barnett said in a statement about the latest single: “I found a deeper communication with people in my life – deeper conversations. And a new level of gratitude for friendships that had been there for so long that I had maybe taken for granted.”
Singer-songwriter Bedouine, aka Azniv Korkejian, takes us along for a scenic fall drive with the music video for “It Wasn’t Me,” the second single from her upcoming sophomore album, Waysides, following “The Wave” last month. The video, like the song itself, has a mellow, timeless quality, supported by moments of lower-quality clips, with a haziness that gives it a vintage feel and atmosphere of nostalgia.
In a statement about the “It Wasn’t Me,” Korkejian revealed that it has been a long time in the making: “This song represents a special stage to me. I was just starting my habit of bedroom demoing. Locking myself in for hours at a time to put away a feeling was the most rewarding thing. If I felt that I captured what I was feeling, I’d send it to whomever it was about, like an elaborate letter. It was thrilling. That was 15 yrs [sic] ago and not much has changed.”
She added, “The song itself is about spending an evening with someone, thinking it was this incredibly romantic time, only to find out I was alone in that feeling. It’s a reflection of that bewilderment and the denial that can follow. It feels good to share after so long. It makes me nostalgic for bygone days, which is one of the threads that runs through Waysides.”
2018’s Jassbusters saw New Zealand artist Connan Mockasin and his band performing as a fictional group of school teachers from a made up TV show. Keeping the premise of that record, Mockasin has announced Jassbusters Two, and released the lead single, “Flipping Poles.”
Mockasin said in a statement: “Jassbusters was the first record I’d done as a band. I really enjoyed it, and wanted to make more music while we were still in character as this group of music teachers. I was playing the role of the guitar teacher in the band, who was pushed into being the singer who didn’t have lyrics. So, like the first Jassbusters record, the lyrics were improvised, blurted out.”
Recorded live in Brooklyn at Gary’s Electric Studio, Mockasin’s band for Jassbusters Two includes Nicholas Harsant on bass, Matthew Eccles on drums and Rory McCarthy (aka Infinite Bisous) on rhythm guitar — with Mockasin credited for lead guitar, vocals, children’s voices, school bell and bass guitar.
La Luz, the indie-pop trio, have already released several singles for their new self-titled album, including “The Pines” (featured in Annotated On Rotation in early September), “Watching Cartoons,” “In The Country” and most recently “Oh, Blue.” Like the rest of the upcoming record, the latest single is produced by Adrian Younge, who typically works in other genres like hip-hop, soul and jazz. He said in a press release: “We both create music with the same attitude, and that’s what I love about them. They are never afraid to be risky and their style is captivating. I don’t work with many bands, but I love taking chances on people that share the same vision. We both love to be ourselves, and it was an honor to work with them.”
“Oh, Blue” does seem the most jazz influenced of the singles released so far, and has a meandering melancholy to it. The band said in a statement that the song is “a love song from a long distance. About the kind of longing that keeps you in a constant daydream.”
La Luz also released a lyric video for “Oh, Blue,” which is basically a subtitled, very straightforward performance of the track.
Arca, aka Alejandra Ghersi Rodriguez, who was just nominated for a Latin Grammy for her project KiCki i, has announced the followup KICK ii and released the single “Born Yesterday” featuring Sia (following the standalone single “Incendio”). On “Born Yesterday,” an electronic pop anthem, Sia — the pop star known for tracks like “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” — shines. Arca makes full use of her vocals, producing a dynamic track with more depth than the singer's other hits (and, as noted by Stereogum, the track is based on a leaked Sia demo).
The music video features Arca lip syncing in a dark room, alone and often shadowed, fitting the moody catharsis of the song. The chorus repeats: “I wasn’t born yesterday / And I’m not your baby anymore.”
The multitalented Venezuelan artist has previously collaborated with Björk, Kanye West and FKA twigs, and has announced that the forthcoming KICK ii will feature contributions from Cardopusher (who co-produced Arca’s KiCk i track with Rosalía), Boys Noize and Mica Levi, among others.
The Alchemist has already had a prolific year of collaborations — including joint albums with Boldy James and Armand Hammer — and put out an EP, This Thing of Ours, featuring Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blue and Pink Siifu, among others. Now he’s announced This Thing of Ours Vol. 2 with the release of “Miracle Baby,” featuring the rapper MAVI (who has already released his own EP this year, END OF THE EARTH).
The music video is mostly close ups of the charismatic experimental rapper, along with what seems to be a collage of found footage from the internet.
The upcoming EP is set to feature a stacked rap roster, including Vince Staples, Danny Brown, Mike, Zelooperz and more alongside MAVI.
British rockers IDLES have announced their fourth album, CRAWLER, and shared its first single, “The Beachland Ballroom.” (The song title comes from a music venue in Cleveland, Ohio.) They’ve released a music video — full of angst and mostly close ups on a sweaty, expressive face — with a title including “(Official Video, Pt. 1),” so more visuals must be on the way.
The entire album is co-produced by Kenny Beats and IDLES’ guitarist Mark Bowen. Kenny Beats is a hip-hop producer best-known recently for work with Vince Staples and Denzel Curry, among countless other collaborators.
Bandleader Joe Talbot said in a statement: “[“The Beachland Ballroom” is] the most important song on the album, really. There’s so many bands that go through the small rooms and dream of making it into the big rooms. Being able to write a soul tune like this made me go, fuck — we’re at a place where we’re actually allowed to go to these big rooms and be creative and not just go through the motions and really appreciate what we’ve got.”
He added, “The song is sort of an allegory of feeling lost and getting through it. It’s one that I really love singing.”
San Fermin, the Brooklyn-based band led by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, have announced a new collaborative EP, In This House, with their new label Better Company — started by Ludwig-Leone and lead vocalist Allen Tate, and their manager Thomas Winkler, which was founded “with an emphasis on collaboration.” The first single from the project, “My First Life,” is a collaborative track with Wye Oak that began with a poem written by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Other artists set to join the compilation are Wild Pink, Thao Nguyen, Nico Muhly and Attacca Quartet, The Districts and more.
In This House, like Better Company as a whole, was conceptualized as a way to foster connection. Ludwig-Leone said in a statement, “When the pandemic arrived, the idea of a shared space was drawn in even more absolute terms as something more valuable and fragile than many of us had imagined. To battle the growing feeling of isolation, I tried to embrace the sentiment of the times, and invited some of my favorite musicians to write with me, long-distance, in an effort to bring back a feeling of community and shared experience.”
He added that looking at the compilation as a whole, “there’s a throughline that emerges,” with “themes of community, home, lives left behind.” “My First Life” definitely leans into that nostalgia. The subtle song has an equally subtle visualizer, all simple animation in black and white by Marty McPherson.
The Baltimore rock group Angel Du$t (featured recently in Annotated On Rotation for their single “Big Bite”) have released the quasi-title track, “Truck Songs,” from their upcoming project YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs. “Truck Songs” leans a little more bluesy than the indie-pop “Big Bite.”
Singer Justice Tripp said in a statement: “This is one of my favorite recordings of a song that I’ve written. Plus, all my best homies got all up in this track’s ass and sent it home. Was listening to Tom Petty a grip. If you don’t know who that is check him out, I guess.”
Angel Du$t, currently on tour with Mannequin Pussy and Pinkshift, released an EP, Bigger House, earlier this year with Pop Wig Records, and will release YAK on Roadrunner Records.
Electro-pop trio Wet — back to their original lineup with Marty Sulkow, Kelly Zutrau and Joe Valle — have already released four singles for their upcoming album, Letter Blue (including “Clementine,” featured in a previous edition of Annotated On Rotation). The latest single, “Far Cry,” is produced by Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi, and is a melancholy but groovy track.
Like the other singles so far, there’s a [music video] directed by Andrew Theodore Balasia, that features a collage of found viral video clips.
Letter Blue will be Wet’s first album via AWAL, after their earlier releases — Don’t You in 2016 and Still Run in 2018 — with Columbia Records. Their upcoming album is a reintroduction of sorts, since Marty Sulkow was not involved in their sophomore release.
London artist Martha Skye Murphy is three EPs into her career — 2018’s Heroides and two in 2020, Yours Truly and Heal — and has been named “one to watch” by The Guardian. Murphy has been performing since childhood, recently scored a movie, The Late Departure, co-founded a theater company and starred in the one-woman show Two Body Problem. On top of that, she is now working on an opera project and just announced a “triptych” of songs called Concrete via Practise Music, with the first two songs already out: “Found Out” and “Stuck.”
Her interdisciplinary interests help explain the drama and emotional depth that tracks like “Stuck” have. Murphy said in a press release: “‘Stuck’ explores online relationships. I wanted to write a song that was triumphant and uplifting despite its subject matter, like an apology after a fallout; a lizard losing its tail to escape its prey, a euthanasia coaster… to create the feeling of spinning endlessly and the euphoria of dizziness as the subconscious mind anticipates nausea.”
The syncopated sounds, dissonance and electronic accents in “Stuck” build tension and contribute to the dizziness Murphy set out to create. It’s not easy listening, but an emotional experience.