Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the week’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 13 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
As encouraging as it is to see concerts returning in different parts of the world, it’s hard not to feel jealous as we all look forward to standing in a crowd enjoying the shared experience of a concert.
One effect of the streaming services is that releases tend to reflect more accurately what’s going on here and now. Artists are also counting down the days until they can return to the stage as more tracks are being released that have clearly been created with live performance in mind.
This week’s selections feature great tunes that will make you excited about the return to live music and soundtrack your summer evenings until that happens. Enjoy!
Bleachers | ‘Stop Making This Hurt’
Jack Antonoff is one of the most reliable collaborators in modern music. He has helped to craft some of the most critically acclaimed releases from Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, and St. Vincent and he returns here under his alias Bleachers.
Antonoff described this track as raging against depression, he’s banging on the door of the next phase of his life. It sounds like a yearning for freedom and a joyous celebration that comes with seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The production is steeped in ’80s nostalgia and the Springsteen influences are clear, from the lively saxophone to the familial observations in the lyrics. The fast-paced percussion and brassy synths add texture to the sound but Jack’s energy and sincerity in the vocal delivery drive the track forward.
The new Bleachers album, Take the Sadness out of Saturday Night, is out July 30 and will no doubt be a standout release, but this music is clearly being made with an audience in mind. He has already announced tour dates in the States for later this year and seeing it come to life in a live setting will be a big moment for both the artist and the fans.
Local Boy | ‘Horizon’
While most people have struggled with the confined nature of the last year, Jack Hurley, under the stage name Local Boy, has found that being stuck in his bedroom is not the worst scenario for creative work. His genre has previously been described as slacker bedroom pop and lockdown has allowed him to embrace this persona.
However, his musical ability is the exact opposite of a slacker. He has previously described himself as a megalomaniac—he writes, records and mixes everything himself. There are clear R&B and hip-hop influences, but Hurley has spoken about how central the guitar is to everything he writes. His lyrics are clever and witty and always delivered with a cheeky smile and keen ear for melody.
His new album, Local Boy Helps Himself, is out now and is packed with breezy production and feelgood tracks.
PawPaw Rod | ‘Glass House’
PawPaw Rod popped up last year with the irresistible single ‘Hit Em Where It Hurts’, and now he returns with only his second track—and it’s clear he’s onto something special.
Based in Oklahoma, Rod describes this track as choosing to accept things that are out of your control. This outlook is extended to the production which blends ’70s psychedelic sounds with modern hip-hop beats. The thick bassline grooves under Rod’s melodic voice and there are hints of Frank Ocean in the high-pitched vocals and the structure of the track.
This is a feelgood track, exuding a persona of cool that will make you excited about what’s to come from PawPaw Rod. There is limited information about further releases but, if anything, that adds to the mystery of the artist and the anticipation speaks volumes for the success he’s already had having only released two tracks.
Kota the Friend | ‘Outside’
Brooklyn rapper Kota the Friend has been generous with his releases is recent months, from his solo project last year to his collaboration with Static Selektah last month, but here he returns with a summertime bop just in time for the sunshine.
From the opening chords you can feel the sun on your face, with the marimba loop, vibrant steel drums and chirping birds combining to create a perfect track for barbecues. Kota’s smooth sing-rap style and feelgood bars flow effortlessly over the laidback production. Lyrically he is taking on any doubters and naysayers in a playful way. This playfulness is emphasised though the appearance of his young son in the chorus, credited as Lil’ Kota.
This is the first single from the upcoming third solo album from the famously independent artist.
Odette | ‘Herald’
Australian singer-songwriter Odette released her new album Herald in late February, but it has only recently been getting much deserved attention on this side of the world.
Her sonic palette is noteworthy from the start, with the densely textured production made up of wind instruments, bouncy rhythm harps, piano and insect noises. She has described how she loves adding unexpected sounds into her tracks—that the listener may not even notice—to add to the overall atmosphere. Over the thumping beat, Odette explores the intensity of frustration and the recognition of a desire to change and grow.
This is the title track from her album which is out now and is well worth a listen. It is a deeply personal record, written as she was going through a very dark period of her life, but as this song showcases, she uses the music to navigate her way out of it and find hope at the end of the tunnel.
Cautious Clay | ‘Wildfire’
It feels like Cautious Clay has been around for a long time thanks to a series of impressive releases in recent years, but this is a single from his upcoming debut album. This is another example of his immersive songwriting and he delivers it with a beautifully controlled falsetto.
The production is minimalist but is influenced by his R&B roots with some jazz and blues elements. The track is lifted by an atmospheric symphony of harmonies under his smooth vocals. Lyrically Clay is exploring how intentions can get lost in translation. Subtle signals or cues can unintentionally ignite emotions, similar to a bush fire.
The multi-instrumentalist, based in Cleveland, will finally release his debut album Deadpan Love on June 25, and Clay is also in production for the TV show Godfather of Harlem with Forest Whitaker. Clay’s releases have always been consistently high quality and it will be great to dive into a full-length project—perfect for summer evenings.
Priya Ragu | ‘Forgot About’
Despite limited releases to this point, Priya Ragu has shown that she is genre agnostic. In previous tracks she has showcased her rapping and ability to make you dance, but here she returns with a timeless slow jam. Born and raised in Switzerland after her parents left Sri Lanka, she has found a way of blending her western influences with her Tamil heritage. This track was produced by her brother, Japhna Gold, and the minimal arrangement provides the ideal backing for Priya’s captivating vocal performance.
The production remains subtle, allowing Priya’s buttery vocals and rich harmonies to take centre stage, but then includes sonic flourishes like the savoury trumpet solo. Lyrically Priya is describing being in love with that forever person, who has feelings for you, but it’s not quite love, she is acknowledging that she will always carry them in her heart.
It is very accomplished songwriting for someone new to the game. It will be interesting to hear how her different sounds fit together on a long form album when she decides it is ready to be released.
Allison Ponthier | ‘Harshest Critic’
Often it is the potential of a new artist that makes them so appealing, but sometimes an artist arrives as a fully realised vision. This is the case with Allison Ponthier. She recently released her first single ‘Cowboy’ which dealt with growing up in the Bible Belt of America, struggling with her sexuality, and her journey to New York. Here she returns with a reflective track addressing her insecurities.
Ponthier has described how when you’re an artist everything feels like life or death. But in reality, it’s your happiness and who you are as a person that really matters. You might as well enjoy the ride because no one is going to be as hard on you as you are. The starkness of the production adds to the emotional weight of the song with the thumping drumbeat mirroring her own heartbeat. Lyrically it is uncomfortably intimate and yet deeply relatable on every level.
Through her impressive releases and eye-catching visuals, Ponthier is clearly on the verge of stardom as she prepares to release her first EP. She is also heading put on tour with Lord Huron, with whom she will be releasing a collaborative album. Ponthier is already a fully-fledged star, she is just waiting for everyone else to catch up.