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The Best New Songs: Shygirl, Julia Jacklin, Kevin Morby and More

Get the context behind On Rotation, our curated weekly playlist of new releases

On May 17, 2022

Our Best New Songs series is here to give you context on what we’re spinning each week in VMP’s On Rotation playlist — curated by VMP staff, no algorithm needed. Listen and read along below to find out why these artists should be on your radar. 

Shygirl: “Firefly”

London-based vocalist Shygirl has announced her debut full-length Nymph — following her two EPs, 2018’s Cruel Practice and 2020’s ALIAS  and released its first single, “Firefly.” The new track is her first solo release this year, after featuring with Lil Uzi Vert and Pink Pantheress on Mura Masa’s “bbycakes” and FKA twigs’ “Papi Bones.” (Shygirl’s 2021 singles “Cleo” and “BDE” with slowthai are not set to appear on Nymph.) 

According to a statement about Nymph, the record was “created with a close-knit group of friends and previous collaborators including Mura Masa, Sega Bodega, Karma Kid, Arca and Cosha,” and “exhibits a new level of intimacy and emotional depth in her songwriting.”  

“Firefly” is a dance track in line with Shygirl’s previous hits, and reflects on a romantic relationship gone wrong, with her singing: “I guess I need to hear the truth this time / You kept me waiting on a lie / Waiting on a lie / Wasting all my time.” Like the music video for “Cleo” before it, the visuals — directed by Yasser Abubeker, with Shygirl and Mischa Notcutt credited as creative directors — are glamorous and mesmerizing. 

Nymph as a whole focuses on relationships and desire; according to the statement, the album “brings us on the journey of what intimacy is like for a woman who’s seen as ‘too hot to handle,’ someone sought after and overlooked at the same time.” 

Julia Jacklin: “Lydia Wears a Cross”

“Lydia Wears a Cross” is the first single form Melbourne singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s upcoming third album, Pre Pleasure, the follow-up to 2019’s Crushing. The new song, described in a statement as channeling “the underage confusion of being told religion is profound, despite only feeling it during the spectacle of its pageantry,” is accompanied by a video directed by Jacklin herself. The visuals, which definitely have an element of pageantry, were filmed at Splitpoint Lighthouse, the Northcote streets and Tamale studios.

“The song is about a lot of things, but mainly being a 7-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar fanatic attending Catholic school, trying to figure out which way is up,” Jacklin told Rolling Stone. (The song references the musical’s soundtrack directly in the first verse.) 

“A lot of the time I feel like I need to do all the work before I can enjoy my life,” she added. “Whether that’s work on songs or sex, friendships, or my relationship with my family — I think if I work on them long and hard enough, eventually I’ll get to sit around and really enjoy them. But that’s not how anything works is it. It’s all an ongoing process.”

On the chorus of “Lydia Wears a Cross,” Jacklin sings, “I’d be a believer / if it was all just song and dance / I’d be a believer / if I thought we had a chance.”

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Pre Pleasure’ here.

Kevin Morby: “Bittersweet, TN”

Kevin Morby’s seventh studio album, This Is A Photograph, including “Bittersweet, TN,” with Erin Rae, is out now. In an interview with VMP about the new record, Morby said that he found the pandemic to be “a pretty uninspiring time,” but around the time his father had a health scare, he discovered old family photos, and “started turning to the past for inspiration.” This reflection led to the creation of This Is A Photograph.

After recording the bulk of his record in upstate New York, Morby finished the record alone in an extended stay at The Peabody hotel in Memphis. “It’s a city that really spoke to me and continues to speak to me,” Morby said, adding, “When I knew I wanted to go somewhere and write to work on this record, that came to my mind instantly.”

Asked about “Bittersweet, TN” in particular, Morby said, “Erin [Rae] is someone who I’ve long admired. Her music is so great. I’ve seen her sing live before and she’s really blown me away. We met because we had the same booking agent years ago … When I wrote this song, I knew I wanted it to be a duet but I wasn’t sure with who, and then it dawned on me one day that I should do it with Erin. Because it’s called ‘Bittersweet, TN,’ I wanted to make sure to have a Tennessee native singing on it. She lives in Nashville and she was born in Memphis, so it was just perfect.”

You can get the VMP edition of ‘This Is A Photograph’ here, and read the full interview on the Magazine here.

Stella Donnelly: “Lungs”

Australian artist Stella Donnelly is back with “Lungs,” the first single from her upcoming sophomore album Flood, following 2019’s Beware of the Dogs. In a statement, Donnelly said of the music video — which she co-directed with Duncan Wright — “Very loosely based on the Banded Stilts of my album cover, the character I play in red is a wobbly adult, doing their best with their new set of legs and responsibilities, trying to make it look easy but very much on unsteady ground. I wanted this video to celebrate the child, firm in their footholds, intimidatingly honest, not to be messed with, they are the strength and power of this video no matter how much I try to assert myself as the boss.”

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Flood’ here.

Obongjayar & Nubya Garcia: “Wrong for It”

“Wrong for It” is the fifth track on Obongjayar’s debut full-length, Some Nights I Dream of Doors. The Nigerian-born, London-based artist made a notable appearance on Little Simz’s “Point and Kill” in 2021, and has already released three critically acclaimed EPs. “Wrong for It,” with jazz musician Nubya Garcia, is the only track on the album with a feature — Obongjayar already contains multitudes of voices himself. He explained to Esquire, “I try to be tapped into the spirits when I’m making music. I’m not thinking, Ah, this should be a gravelly vocal or should be spoken or should be sung.’ It just happens. And when they come like that, I just take it, whatever it is brain signals, or your subconscious or the universe just connect and let it go.”

Bartees Strange: “Hold the Line”

“Hold the Line” is the latest single from Bartees Strange’s upcoming 4AD debut, Farm to Table. Strange explained in a statement about the track: “I remember watching George Floyd’s daughter talk about the death of her father and thinking wow — what a sad introduction to Black American life for this young person. It was painful to watch her grow up in that moment, like all Black kids eventually do. ‘Hold the Line’ was written over the course of three days during that first pandemic summer. Through this song I was trying to make sense of what was happening in the U.S., my neighborhood and my community at that moment. During the marches people were trying to stop the bleeding, locked arm in arm, doing everything they could to hold the line.”

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Farm to Table’ here.

Kendrick Lamar: “N95”

Despite asserting that he’s not a savior on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar sure looks like one in the video for “N95,” hovering over the water in a crucifixion pose. The visuals — released a day after Lamar’s new album — also feature his cousin and Grammy-winning rapper Baby Keem, who co-produced the track and contributed background vocals. The “N95” video follows the pre-Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers release of “The Heart Part 5,” that latest in his “Heart” series (which does not appear on the album’s tracklist). Both videos were directed by Kendrick and Dave Free, the former co-president of Top Dawg Entertainment and a longtime collaborator with the rapper.

You can read our full Album of the Week review of ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ here.

Danger Mouse & Black Thought: “No Gold Teeth”

Back in 2020, after the release of Streams of Thought, Vo. 3: Cane & Abel, Black Thought said a collaborative album with Danger Mouse was on the way — and had been in the works for 13 or 14 years — and also teased more volumes of Streams of Thought and a new Roots album. With the release of “No Gold Teeth” and its video, that Danger Mouse team up, Cheat Codes, is made reality. The record, due out in August, boasts features from MF DOOM, Run The Jewels, Raekwon, Joey Bada$$, Conway the Machine and A$AP Rocky, among others. Cheat Codes marks Danger Mouse’s first hip-hop project since 2005’s The Mouse & the Mask with MF DOOM as DANGERDOOM.

Leikeli47: “Free To Love”

“Free To Love” is a track from Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47’s latest album, Shape Up — finally here after being announced in 2020 — which follows 2018’s Acrylic and completes the trilogy she began with Wash & Set in 2017. In an interview with NPR Music, 47 said of the album, “Shape Up came and said, ‘You know that girl that you thought you was? Now you really her now.’ Shape Up is the confidence I’ve been praying for. Like my mask, it became my best friend. I lived with it for four [years] ... We tugged, we pulled, but it was a confident pull. It was a different sort of pull from the Wash & Set and Acrylic eras, I really stood on mines with this.”

Death Cab for Cutie: “Roman Candles”

Death Cab for Cutie announced their upcoming 10th record, Asphalt Meadows, with the release of “Roman Candles.” In a statement about the single, the band explained: “Roman Candles is about the crippling, existential dread that goes hand in hand with living in a nervous city on a dying planet. And that the only way to be in the moment is to let it all go.” The band’s Benjamin Gibbard added, “The lyrics were cobbled from a couple of different songs dealing with my general sense of anxiety; the feeling that the fabric that weaves a functioning society together was crumbling during the pandemic.”

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Asphalt Meadows’ here.

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