Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the week’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 11 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
In the last year, some artists have been frantically making music, while others have sat still and bided their time.
Sometimes artists are surrounded by people setting expectations, or trying to tell them about current trends, what’s moving the needle, or even what’s an acceptable format for a single. But sometimes an artist is alone in the studio, meditating and figuring out exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it.
These are the artists that identify the narrative that they want to convey, and they build a world around it.
This week’s playlist features some of these artists executing their ideas and delivering thought-provoking new music. Enjoy!
Royal Blood | ‘Boilermaker’
UK duo Royal Blood recently spoke about how they began making their new album at the start of the pandemic and how they didn’t want this album to sound like a lockdown album—they wanted to create music to soundtrack the reopening of society.
It’s not surprising that Josh Homme produced this track, as it’s reminiscent of the last album from Queens of the Stone Age. Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr described how seeing Josh Homme create his own lawless world in the studio inspired him to find their own place, lock the doors and work out exactly who they are, and the results are spectacular.
The track itself is powered by an undeniable beat and a swaggering guitar riff and is written from the frontlines of self-destruction. Lyrically, Kerr is chasing all things toxic, but his charisma makes it endearing. It is no surprise that this track was a fan favourite when they previewed it on tour in 2019, it has a real live energy that would be perfect for a festival.
The new Royal Blood album, Typhoons, is out April 30 and, based on everything they have released so far, it is going to be a real highlight of the year.
Arn. | ‘Hard To Believe’
Lockdown has given many of us the opportunity to try new things and pursue passions that we had been putting off. Aaron Shaw, based in Letterkenny, took the opportunity to start releasing his own music under the name Arn.
Considering he has only started this journey, the music already sounds very accomplished. This infectious track is far from a one-dimensional pop song. Built around a repetitive bass loop and a whirlwind of guitars and synths, it changes shape to follow Shaw’s dynamic vocals. The production varies from laidback R&B with a lazy sing-song melody to an upbeat pop record while Shaw provides an endless supply of melodies, each of which could be a chorus in isolation.
Shaw has committed to releasing 26 singles in 2021, one coming out every 2 weeks. Based on his ability to create these rich arrangements, it will be interesting to see how his talent grows as he takes on this impressive challenge.
BabyJake | ‘Do I Fit In Your Shoes?’
Having an early hit record as a new artist can often lead to you being misunderstood by a lot of people. This is the case with BabyJake, who had some early success with his single ‘Cigarettes on Patios’. However, this led to his record label misinterpreting his direction. Now he is rallying against the music industry gatekeepers’ greed and gluttony.
The track itself is an eclectic mix of different genres. Old-school ringtones, handclaps, a gospel choir and tight raps are all accounted for here. The production is dynamic and memorable. The beat dropping after the gospel choir with the funky, high-register vocals is a particular highlight.
BabyJake has grown as an artist and a producer and is clearly comfortable switching genres with confidence and ease, it will be interesting to see what comes next.
easy life | ‘skeletons’
This track may sound like your classic rapper/producer combination, however it’s actually a five-piece band based in Leicester. Each member plays multiple instruments, and this leads to extremely dynamic live performances.
Frontman Murray Matravers described this track as the anticipation of starting a new journey with someone. It is more confident and anthemic than their previous releases. The driving beat and groovy instrumental creates a backdrop for Matravers’ vocals which weave between spoken word and singalong. The track also has a communal feel as the other voices join him in the chorus, and you could imagine this adapting to a live performance very easily.
Their debut album, Life’s a Beach, is due June 4 and there will be immense interest in the project. Matravers has said that the album is a record that wishes it was anywhere else but here, yet at the same time fixates on a dreary middle England existence. Based on the high-energy releases up to now, this album is likely to be on heavy rotation all summer.
Gus Dapperton | ‘Palms (with Channel Tres)’
Gus Dapperon originally released Palms on his 2020 album Orca, but it was recently reworked by in-demand rapper and producer Channel Tres.
Although the original is a strong offering, the addition of Channel Tres elevates the track creating an indie/hip hop hybrid. It is a perfect lazy summer afternoon track with glittering synths and a light guitar riff. The soaring background vocals provide a textured foundation for Tres to flow over with his rhythmic and thoughtful verses. The two artists met on tour and hung out, and they have since linked up for Dapperton’s playlist series where he asks friends to contribute hand-picked songs.
Dapperton’s album Orca was a highlight of last year and it’s great to hear his work being expanded and reimagined. Tres is on a roll releasing exciting music with an eclectic list of collaborators. It will be interesting see if any further material follows this collaboration.
Robert John Ardiff | ‘The Lion’s Share’
Dublin singer songwriter, Robert John Ardiff is known for his work with his band Come On Live Long, but he recently released his second solo album The Corridors of Love which features this single. The album deals with emotional themes such as despair, love, anxiety and hopelessness, but Ardiff’s nuanced songwriting presents these perspectives through his own unique prism.
This track is a standout from the album, the lyrics are poetic and thoughtful while the production is electronic mixed with folk. Referencing landmarks in Dublin such as Dalymount Park in his lyrics grounds his work in his home city and adds to the romanticism of the song.
His new album is essentially a collection of stories based on his experiences and is an accomplished piece of work from this intriguing Irish singer songwriter.
Aziya | ‘Heaven For Me’
Sometimes that hardest part of getting out of a toxic relationship is actually realising that you’re in one. British artist Aziya tackles this situation here as she details being in a relationship with someone plagued by inner demons and seeking solace in the imperfections of the relationship.
This theme is continued in the production of the track as the dreamy soundscape represents how easy it is to immerse yourself in this toxic atmosphere. Her lifting voice tries to convince herself, as much as the listener, that the relationship isn’t that bad. This is a high-concept record and Aziya executes it perfectly. The psychedelic production creates this kaleidoscope of sound that leads to a satisfying guitar solo, performed by Aziya who has played guitar since she was ten.
There are hints of Rihanna in Aziya’s music. Her first single, ‘Slip!’, was a masterclass in pop music and this track shows the extent of her range. Her first EP is expected this summer and it will be interesting to hear a full-length project.
Little Simz | ‘Introvert’
From the opening horns you can feel that this is a special track. This is the sound of an artist that has taken the time to figure out exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it.
The production alone is an extravaganza, from the intense horns to the appearance of the choir, every note is there for a reason and serves a purpose. It is difficult to hold a listener’s attention for a song of this length, over 6 minutes, but the lush cinematic fanfare and hard-hitting drums will keep you wanting more.
Lyrically, Simz is detailing her experiences coming to grips with revelations about her own identity, and the world as a whole, during a time of crisis. Her words are hard hitting and thoughtful over the pounding drumline. Sonically, it is reminiscent of Jay Z‘s American Gangster and, thematically, of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Her new album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is coming out September 3 and this has certainly raised expectations for the project even higher. The video for this track, filmed at the Natural History Museum in London, is also an incredible piece of art and is well worth checking out.