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Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the week’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 4 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
As we settle into the new year, it’s easy to move forward without fully processing everything. Between the short days, the cold weather, and the overactive news cycle, it can be difficult to slow down and take in everything that’s happening. Great artists have the ability to identify the moments that can slip into the periphery and capture them in their art. This week’s selections feature examples of artists displaying this ability to pause and acknowledge these moments, using them to produce stunning pieces of music. Enjoy!
Lana Del Rey | ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’
There is an undeniable sense of foreboding throughout this track. Although never directly referenced, there is an implication that something is wrong. The reference to chemtrails, a popular conspiracy theory, over a picturesque scene at a country club suggests an attitude of blissful unawareness as Lana appreciates the beautiful scene.
The track feels less arranged than her previous work with Jack Antonoff on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, but this feels intentional, and the richness and lusciousness of the production is still present. The instrumental intensifies as the track continues in a linear fashion, until everything else is stripped away and it fittingly closes with a solitary drum beat.
Lyrically, it features many of the themes we have come to expect from Lana Del Rey, discussing rebellious privilege and forlorn heartache, but the lyrics are more passive than usual, adding to the feeling of mysterious foreboding. Norman Fucking Rockwell! was a masterpiece and this track feels like it is picking up where that album left off. This will only add to the anticipation for her next record.
BADBADNOTGOOD & MF DOOM | ‘The Chocolate Conquistadors’
It is difficult to view this song without the context of its release and the announcement of the passing of MF DOOM. The masked villain was one of hip hop’s great MCs and the nuance in the timeline of his death is in keeping with the mystery of the man during his life.
Although not intended, this track acts as a fitting tribute to the odd and eccentric rapper. The song forms part of the latest release of the Grand Theft Auto Online series. Comfortably stretching to over 7 minutes, it will take you on a journey. Starting with some bilingual bars from the legendary MC painting a picture of imperialism from mythical chocolate conquistadors, the band then takes you on a sunny, upbeat, funk-fuelled journey for the rest of their time.
BADBADNOTGOOD are masters of their craft and it is enthralling to hear them exercise their musicianship with such freedom. This track will act for many as a celebration of the life of the mad villain, although not intended as such, it is a fitting tribute. RIP DOOM.
spill tab | ‘Name’
Claire Chicha, the singer behind spill tab, uses an argument with her significant other to reflect on what love means to her. Giving back your last name is a reference to endearing pet names that are used in relationships. For Chicha, ending a relationship means trading these names back for their real name. These thoughtful and honest lyrics will intrigue the listener, but the thumping drums here steal the show.
Bursting out of the block from the start with bright guitars, the production is upbeat yet engaging. The playful lyrics are mirrored by the rhythm and the strategically-placed vocal distortions. Reflecting on these moments of anxiety and miscommunication in relationships is tricky territory for songwriters, but Chicha captures this expertly with a smile on her face.
Julien Baker | ‘Hardline’
From the opening blast of the organ to the closing notes, Julien Baker paints a vivid picture of a dark struggle in which the listener can’t help but root for the protagonist. The lush and, at times, explosive sound is a departure from her previous releases which were more stripped back. Here, she embraces the dark and heavy elements both sonically and thematically.
The attention-grabbing lyrics create a sense of jeopardy, telling the story of substance abuse with no end in sight. It is a captivating tale delivered with passion and sincerity. The crashing symphony, thumping drums, and emphatic organs create an appropriate backdrop for this story to take place. It will be interesting to see how this sits in her new album, Little Oblivions, out in February.
NewDad | ‘I Don’t Recognise You’
Observing someone you love lose their way, or not being able to recognise them anymore, is a heavy subject matter to discuss. Galway-based NewDad unpack this topic meticulously here. The tender, hushed voice of Julie Dawson captures the internal struggle of watching a loved one lose themselves and not being able to intervene.
Fuzzy, distorted production captures this confusion, and the anthemic chords provide some warmth in the middle of this dark subject matter, while the bubbling bass and burly drums establish a backdrop for the story to unfold. It’s a beautiful track that shows there is plenty to come from this talented Irish band. It also acts as a reminder to check in on the ones you love!
Ocean Heights | ‘Randy’
Ocean Heights describe themselves as an amateur bowling team by day, pop music dream boats by night. This sense of humour translates well in their music. Thematically, this track focuses on heartbreak, but rarely is this subject matter explored with such funk-fuelled confidence. The jangling guitar riffs, luscious bassline, subtle keyboard, and heavy drums create a nostalgic sound that is designed to make the listener want to dance.
Lyrically, it explores the anxiety related to confessing your feelings and the dread of rejection afterwards. But it is delivered with such a smooth, soulful vocal that it urges the listener not to wallow in their sorrows and find happiness on the dancefloor instead. Delivered with smiles on their faces and undeniable musicianship, Ocean Heights are a band worth watching in the future.
Black Country, New Road | ‘Track X’
Previous releases from BCNR have been an unpredictable blend of post punk and jazz. This track finds them in more subdued form. Singer Isaac Wood delivers a passionate, heart-wrenching vocal which focuses on self-referential lyrics and a meandering narrative.
The instrumental here takes the listener on a journey, starting with a sense of unease, using notes of discordance and an off-kilter time signature, but it then opens up into a genuinely beautiful and heartwarming chorus.
The string section adds a sense of gravitas and emotion to the track and the moody saxophone creates a sense of nostalgia. All these pieces come together to create a chaotic yet somehow cosy instrumental. Based on this release, it’s going to be fascinating to see where they go next.
Fears | ‘tonnta’
Reflecting on her relationship with her late grandmother who suffered from dementia, Fears chooses to celebrate the deep connection that remains rather than dwell on the difficulties. Clearly this is a heavy subject matter to cover, but the result is mesmerising. Singer Constance Keane’s ethereal vocals and gut-punch lyrics play out over a mysterious melody. The guitar appears to pluck notes from silent space over haunting synths. This imaginative composition would feel at home on an early album from The xx.
Keane compares dementia to the sea, and the title translates to “waves”. As each wave hits, the disease progresses and it is difficult to stay above water. The outro repeats the phrase “Bim buartha faoina dtonnta” meaning, “I worry about the waves.” Keane’s ability to capture something so deeply personal and convey it in such a universally relatable and stunning manner is an impressive feat.