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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 8 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
This week, St. Vincent shared a theory on music’s role in society and how art reacts to what is happening culturally. In essence, she described how when things are going well economically, music tends to take a dark turn, reminding people there is still an underbelly in society.
But when things have gone as badly as they have over the last year for everyone, music tends to meet people where they are and they both really need each other. Music shows up to reassure and relate to what is happening.
That is where we are now and this week’s selections feature relatable songs addressing mental health and some escapism to delve into. Enjoy!
Shungudzo | ‘There’s only so much a soul can take’
Through her limited releases to date, Shungudzo has shown that she is equal parts activist and artist. Here she soundtracks the limitations of the soul dealing with race, gender and a number of other relevant social issues, but she is clearly having fun and smiling while flipping off the white supremacist patriarchy.
The production is lively and vibrant, with a scene-stealing psychedelic guitar solo rounding the track off. But the Zimbabwean-American artist, Shungudzo, is clearly the star. Lyrically she is addressing these important issues, but she has a confidence and a swagger throughout. It is easy for a song to sound stuffy or overly self-serious, but Shungudzo never loses that carefree aspect to her delivery that is so appealing.
Up to now she has had limited releases and there has been an air of mystery around her, but her excellently titled debut album, I’m not a mother, but I have children is finally out on June 18, and based on these releases, it is going to be well worth the wait.
girl in red | ‘Serotonin’
Trying to categorise her music into a certain genre is clearly not a concern for Marie Ulven, the Norwegian-born girl in red. This sonic experiment starts with a bassline that hints at pop punk, before introducing a dirty trap beat with synths and then progresses into an anthemic, stadium-filler chorus. But this in-your-face production works perfectly to deliver her poignant message.
Lyrically, Ulven is exploring what it is like to be human and confronting the scariest parts of yourself. This transparency and sincerity in addressing her own mental health issues is an attempt to normalise these conversations through her music and encourage others to share. Despite this heavy subject matter, the song is exciting and infectious. Her fast-paced delivery in the first verse, which eventually devolves into gibberish, is reminiscent of classic Eminem and will make you smile.
Her new album, if i could make it go quiet is out on April 30 and, with this genuine songwriting and production from the likes of FINNEAS, it should be a highlight of the year.
Conchúr White | ‘Vocation Vacation’
There is more than a hint of nihilism on this new track from Conchúr White, with the title suggesting life can be boiled down to 2 things—being in work and not being in work. Unfortunately, this has become a relatable observation for many recently.
But White balances this reflection with whimsical thoughts on influencer culture and disingenuous images online. His delivery is clearly inspired by the last album from Arctic Monkeys and his songwriting is comparable to Father John Misty. For a new artist this isn’t bad company to be in. The production comprises a bluesy piano and a bubbling bass which allows White to become the troubadour with astute observations on modern society.
White, based in Armagh and formerly of the band Silences, has a new EP in the works called Dreamers. Based on his anecdotal flair and vintage production style, it is going to well worth keeping an eye on.
Cannons | ‘Bad Dream’
Cannons gained significant, and deserved, attention for their single ‘Fire for You’ last year, and now return with this glossy track.
Similar to many of their previous releases this is the perfect late-night driving music, the ethereal production with ’80s synths and hypnotic guitars makes this so recognisable. There is more than a passing resemblance to ‘Walking on a Dream’ by Empire of the Sun, which is a very high-level compliment.
It’s a beautiful track that will invite the listener to get lost in their sonic universe. The band have teased a full-length project to be released later this year and if they can deliver a full album sounding like this, it will be well worth waiting for.
Rostam | ‘4Runner’
Rostam is a generous collaborator, based on his work with HAIM and Clairo among others, but his solo work is always intriguing and this track is no different.
Lyrically, Rostam captures the intimate thrill of embarking on a road trip with a loved one. This is a simple premise, but reflecting on these simple moments with his significant other is charming and endearing. The production is warm and inviting, a subdued guitar and muffled drums lead to a euphoric chorus.
Rostam used this track to announce his new album Changephobia, a thought-provoking title which he thoughtfully described as not celebrating a fear of change, instead it is about who we are capable of becoming if we recognise these fears in ourselves and rise above them. The album will be released June 4, and already promises to be a special one.
Ashe & FINNEAS | ‘Till Forever Falls Apart’
Some duets can feel forced, or part of a mutually beneficial business transaction, but this track clearly needed two distinct voices. Regardless of the narrative, the payoff for this comes in the cinematic crescendo when all subtleties are dropped and both singers are screaming into each other’s faces without a care in the world.
Written at the start of the pandemic, the song paints an apocalyptic picture but accepts the hard truth by reflecting on the importance of having the chance to love rather than staying in love. The big drums, dreamlike synths, and warm harmonies provide an apt backdrop for the singers. An earnest ballad like this can easily feel cliched but it is testament to the chemistry of the singers and the folk-inspired production that it maintains an authentic edge.
Ashe has had huge success with her limited, genre-defying releases to date, and FINNEAS is getting more attention as a solo artist, in addition to his renowned work with his sister Billie. It will be interesting to watch what these artists do next.
Jensen McRae | ‘Starting To Get To You’
A large part of the craft of songwriting is the ability to recognise exactly what a song needs. That means not over embellishing it and not underservicing it, but providing the exact ingredients to convey your message.
This is a skill that you notice most artists learning as they get older, however Jensen McRae has clearly cracked it without even releasing her first album yet. The beauty of this track is in its minimalism and its attention to detail. Every fluttering drum beat or confessional lyric is precisely placed and serves a purpose.
McRae gained attention in an online exchange with Phoebe Bridgers regarding a COVID-themed anthem humorously taking on Bridgers’ distinct style. Clearly likeable and engaged with her fans, McRae’s confessional songwriting is what will set her apart. Her ability to deliver a buoyant yet restrained track such as this will build anticipation for her debut album.
Charlotte Lawrence | ‘You’
Charlotte Lawrence has had success with soundtrack work, and a breakout moment with ‘Navy Blue’ last year, and now she returns with an EP exploring her strong pop sensibilities.
The standout moment is this track which showcases her eclectic array of influences and her evocative songwriting. The production, a beautifully restrained arrangement with folk textures, is subtle enough to allow the gorgeous vocal to take centre stage.
It is a slow burning track but Lawrence’s confidence is clear throughout and the neat Elton John reference is well placed. The new EP Charlotte is out now and features more of this honest songwriting over immersive production.