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The Best New Songs: Sudan Archives, Rina Sawayma, Zola Jesus and More

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

On May 24, 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. 

Sudan Archives: “Selfish Soul”

“Selfish Soul” is the latest single — following “Home Maker” earlier this year — from violinist, songwriter, beat-maker and vocalist Sudan Archives. The song, accompanied by a video directed by Trey Lyons, is described in a statement as “an ode to Black hair.”

Sudan Archives explained in the statement: “I feel like there’s an American standard of what beautiful hair is, and I wanted to show in this video that’s not what all beauty is; to showcase different hairstyles and different types of women and their hair. I was inspired by India Arie’s ‘I Am Not My Hair,’ one of the first songs I heard about this subject. She talks about extensions and weaves and natural hair and nappy hair, and that she’s not her hair; she won’t conform to the comparisons that would come up if you had a weave or sew-in or natural hair or Afro — that doesn’t represent her.”

Like Arie’s lyrics, “Selfish Soul” focuses on different styles and how we equate them with beauty and worth. After asking “Does it make sense to you / Why I cut it off?” and repeating “Am I good enough?” at the end of the chorus Sudan Archives concludes, “About time I embrace myself and soul / Time I feed my selfish soul.”

VMP spoke with Sudan Archives about self-care (but more about bath bombs than hair) and her debut album, ‘Athena,’ back in 2019 — you can read the full interview here.

Rina Sawayama: “This Hell”

A novelty belt buckle, cowboy hats and boots, bales of hay and bright red flames — although these feel like more fitting descriptors for a performance from, say, Ms. Gunpowder & Lead circa 2010, they combined into a maximalist country-pop moment for Rina Sawayama’s “This Hell” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Sawayama’s first solo single of 2022, following collaborations with Charli XCX and Pabllo Vittar, “This Hell” is also the first release from her upcoming sophomore album, Hold the Girl.

Explaining the inspiration behind the new single, Sawayama said in a press release: “I had so much fun writing ‘This Hell.’ The past couple of years I’ve been listening to lots of female country singers and wanted to write a euphoric and tongue-in-cheek country-pop song. Country music at its core to me represents comfort, brilliant storytelling and authentic expression of the writer's reality. I’ve been dreaming of working with Paul Epworth my entire career so I knew it was meant to be when we finished this song in a day. I put in as many iconic pop culture moments as I can, but the song is more than that.”

She added, “It’s an important song for me given the human rights that are being taken away from minorities at a rapid rate in the name of traditional religious beliefs, more specifically I was thinking about the rights being taken away from the LGBTQ community when I wrote this song. When the world tells us we don’t deserve love and protection, we have no choice but to give love and protection to each other. This Hell is better with you.”

Zola Jesus: “The Fall”

Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, is set to release her first album under that moniker in five years this June. The upcoming record, Arkhon, has been previewed by three singles, “Lost,” “Desire” and her most recent track, “The Fall.”

In a press release, Danilova explained: “I wrote ‘The Fall’ for myself. It was an exercise in using music as a tool for the sake of my own inner catharsis. I had a lot of turmoil and complicated emotions that I couldn’t process in any other way. I suppose some feelings require you to write a pop song in order to fully understand them. For that reason, this song is very precious to me.”

About the music video for “The Fall,” Danilova said, “Working with Jenni Hensler as a director was such a soul-feeding experience. She’s someone I’ve been collaborating with for 10 years, and a dear friend to me. I value her own artistic perspective so much that at some point I realized there was no one else I could trust with my vision. We connected on an emotional and spiritual level regarding the intent of the song, and then I handed it over and let her make her magic. I’ve never felt so freed by a collaboration. And working with choreographer Sigrid Lauren was such an empowering experience. She was able to interpret and support my idiosyncratic movements in a way that allowed me to feel free in the moment.”

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

070 Shake & Christine and the Queens: “Body”

“Body” is the latest single from 070 Shake’s upcoming album You Can’t Kill Me, and is a collaboration with Christine and the Queens, the pop project from French musician Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier. The New Jersey artist broke through to the mainstream in 2018 after featuring on Pusha T’s Daytona and Kanye West’s Ye (070 Shake’s labelmates at West’s Def-Jam supported GOOD Music imprint). On “Body,” 070 Shake and Christine and the Queens create a glitchy hypnosis, repeating, “I think I got to know your body” before concluding, “I wanted your body, but it came with your soul.”

Jordana: “Go Slow”

“Go Slow” is the final single from Jordana’s Face The Wall, which was out ahead of the album release last Friday, with a music video directed by Luke Orlando. Face The Wall was previewed by several songs already, including “To The Ground,” “Pressure Point” and “Catch My Drift.” In a statement about the last single, Jordana said, “‘Go Slow’ is about facing your self brought battles and acknowledging your imperfections. It’s about taking the time to work on yourself, no matter how much you want to rush it, to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.”

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Face The Wall’ here.

Ravyn Lenae & Smino: “3D”

Ravyn Lenae’s highly anticipated debut album, including “3D,” featuring Smino, is out now. The full-length Hypnos is Lenae’s first release following her Lacy-produced 2018 EP, CrushSpeaking with Okayplayer about the new album, Lenae said, “I went to those places I was really uncomfortable with being vulnerable and talking about love, relationships, breakups, self-love, self-doubt. Femininity, sexuality, [and] sensuality are all parts of me and things I’ve unveiled.” Lenae described “3D” as “a jam” and added, “I love that song, I love working with Smino always.” 

Lupe Fiasco & Nayirah: “AUTOBOTO”

Lupe Fiasco’s “AUTOBOTO,” featuring Nayirah — a fellow Chicago artist — and produced by his longtime collaborator Soundtrakk, is the lead single from his upcoming album, Drill Music in Zion. Lupe claimed he would record his first album since 2018’s Drogas Wave within 24 hours “from scratch,” although the album ended up being made in three days, not one. He also referred to Drill Music in Zion as his Illmatic, then tweeted a correction to share credit with Soundtrakk. He said in a statement about the new record: “Soundtrakk is the swordmaker, I’m the samurai; he’s the mechanic, and I’m the driver.” 

Sylvan Esso: “Sunburn”

“Sunburn” is the latest song from Sylvan Esso, their first new music since 2020’s Free Love, released ahead of a string of upcoming live shows. The duo’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn explained in a statement (in a poem-like format) that “Sunburn” is: “eating candy til you're sick / riding your bike too fast down a hill / when you’re five years old and don’t want to get out of the water, and by the end you’re shivering and all your fingers are pruney and your lips are turned purple / an undertow that sneaks up unsuspectingly / the painful pulsing pink of swollen eyelids leftover after a day lying in the sun / plunging forward without time for second-guessing.”

You can get the VMP edition of Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut here.

Built to Spill: “Understood”

“Understood” is the second single from Built To Spill’s upcoming album and Sub Pop debut, When the Wind Forgets Your Name. According to a press release, the song “is about misunderstandings, and also takes inspiration from Evel Knievel’s failed canyon jump in Martsch’s hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho, that happened when he was a child.” There’s no explicit reference to Knievel in the song’s lyrics, although the scenery of the failed jump makes an appearance: “It’s been a long time since we took a trip / To the bottom of a canyon in a rocket ship.” 

You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘When the Wind Forgets Your Name’ here.

Oliver Sim & Jimmy Somerville: “Hideous”

Oliver Sim, best known as the bassist and vocalist of the xx, announced his solo debut earlier this year with the release of “Romance With a Memory.” “Hideous” is the second single from his upcoming album, Hideous Bastard, and is a personal track disclosing Sim’s H.I.V. status that he has lived with for 15 years. In an interview with the New York Times, Sim said he was inspired by other musicians who have been open about their H.I.V. positive status, like John Grant and Mykki Blanco. “I wrote that song knowing that a lot of this record had to do with shame and fear and I knew I was dancing around something that causes me the most shame,” Sims said, adding, “For me, this is the opposite of shame. If I were deepest in shame I would have made a record not talking about any of this stuff.”

Honorable Mentions

  • Camp Trash: “Pursuit” (pre-order the VMP edition of The Long Way, The Slow Way here)
  • Santigold: “High Priestess
  • Flume: “DHLC” (read our review of Palaces, Flume’s third album, here)
  • Interpol: “Fables
  • FKJ & Toro y Moi: “A Moment Of Mystery” (get a copy of Toro y Moi’s latest, Mahalhere)

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