Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the month’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 16 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
It’s fair to say that July has been a quiet month for music. As festivals and concerts return around the world, artists are figuring out how they can get back on tour at last.
If you’re anything like me, you spent far too much time delving into every piece of news coming from Kanye West’s new home in the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta, as he finishes his much-anticipated 10th album DONDA. All signs point to this being released soon, but as with all Kanye releases, don’t hold your breath.
In the meantime, here is a collection of the best music that did manage to get released last month.
Songs of the Month
Big Red Machine | ‘Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift)’
In a natural progression of their work together on Taylor’s last couple of albums, Aaron Dessner, Justin Vernon, and Taylor Swift join forces again on a Big Red Machine track.
Taylor’s songwriting renaissance is again on show here as she delves into a claustrophobic relationship full of frustration and anxiety.
Although Vernon’s presence is limited here, when he joins Taylor on their vocal harmonies, it is a beautiful and uplifting moment. They sound great together, and we can look forward to another Taylor collaboration on the group’s upcoming second album How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
Dylan Cartlidge | ‘Hang My Head’
23-year-old Dylan Cartlidge is an interesting new voice in the UK. As you can hear on this track, he has the ability to switch up his vocal style on a dime and deliver real emotion.
His delivery in the chorus here reminds me of Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes—you can hear his voice cracking as he sings.
The track is about learning from mistakes and growing from within. This theme of hope is continued on his album, Hope Above Adversity which is out now.
Chet Faker | ‘It’s Not You’
Chet Faker changed his name to Nick Murphy and has now changed his name back to Chet Faker for this release. Although this can be confusing, I’ve always associated the Chet Faker moniker more with the hard-hitting drums, and these are certainly present and accounted for here.
The Australian’s song writing is always emotive, and his vocals are consistent, but the production here steals the show. His new album Hotel Surrender is out now and is a beautiful album to dive into and get lost in his world.
Omar Apollo | ‘Go Away’
Omar Apollo is a Mexican-American artist and at only 23 years old he has already shown a real talent for blending sounds from R&B, hip hop, funk and electronic.
With contributions from Chromeo on the production, it’s no surprise that this track is full of funk and Apollo’s romantic lyrics glide over the instrumental with ease.
Apollo’s last release was Apolonio in 2020, but he has since released a hot sauce based on a family recipe. With a tour planned for the rest of the year it’s safe to assume we can expect more music to come too.
Bog Bodies | ‘The Regime’
There is something elemental about this type of music that hits you in your core. The sound of the bodhrán here mixed with the socially conscious lyrics makes this a memorable listen.
The band is Bog Bodies and, based in Tipperary, they are led by singer-songwriter Dan Maher. The minimal backing here really focuses your attention on Maher’s lyrics highlighting issues around the world relating to clean drinking water access.
This track packs a punch and is an interesting example of taking traditional sounds and using them to make contemporary music.
Wet Leg | ‘Chaise Longue’
Wet Leg are a new band from the Isle of Wight made up of the duo Rhiannon Teasdale and Hester Chambers. This is their first single and it’s fair to say it has gotten them significant attention in the industry—they’ve been signed by acclaimed record label Domino Records and are working with producers that have previously collaborated with Arctic Monkeys.
Based on this track, the attention is well deserved. There is a wry sense of humour in the lyrics and a vibrant energy in the production.
It will be interesting to see what they follow this up with, but for now we’ll have to ponder the meaning of having someone “butter your muffin”.
Sprints | ‘How Does the Story Go?’
Dublin four-piece Sprints only released their EP Manifesto back in March, but they’ve followed that up quickly with this track full of anxiety and raw energy.
The band are reflecting on their decision to pursue a career in the arts and questioning if they are missing out on emigrating, buying houses, and maturing.
Lead singer Karla Chubb’s vulnerability and humour make this track relatable and intriguing. They have promised more music to be released in the near future and have announced live dates around the country and in the UK.
ENNY | ‘I Want’
Southeast London singer ENNY had success last year with ‘Penguin Black Girls’ and the Jorja Smith remix.
She returns here with a bona fide summer banger. She said it was made with just vibes in good weather and that’s exactly what it sounds like. The production sounds like it could have come from Kaytandra, but it was produced by Paya.
Yebba | ‘Louie Bag (feat. Smino)’
Yebba has featured here before and will no doubt feature again—she has an incredible voice and is an immensely talented songwriter.
This track is Yebba’s response to record labels trying to pressure her into signing when she wasn’t ready after the death of her mother. She also notes in the press release that she doesn’t actually own a Louis Vuitton bag, it’s a message for the men that were treating her like that.
Rapper Smino jumps on for a guest feature and with writing credits from Q-Tip and production credits from Mark Ronson, this only builds anticipation for her upcoming debut album Dawn out on September 10.
MIKE | ‘Evil Eye’
There are a lot of reasons why this might not be a good rap song—MIKE’s voice overpowers the beat, his vocals are muddled, his flow is shapeless, and he often strays off beat. However, between the charm of his delivery and a beautiful soul sample, MIKE has ended up with a memorable, invigorating track.
His style is reminiscent of Earl Sweatshirt with the same charisma and offbeat energy.
MIKE’s album Disco! Is out now.
Abstract Mindstate | ‘A Wise Tale’
Abstract Mindstate are a Chicago-based duo that were active in the late ’90s but never made a massive impact. They have since broken up and pursued other avenues. In 2018 Kanye West told them he was a big fan and wanted them to get back together. He’s now fully producing their new album and this is the first taste. It’s old school, conscious raps over an infectious soul sample beat.
The new album, Dreams Still Inspire, is out on August 6 and the group are calling it adult contemporary hip hop.
Hope Tala | ‘Mad’
London-based singer Hope Tala returns with a breakup single produced by Paul Epworth. Tala is spiralling into insanity at the thought of her former partner moving on from their relationship unscathed. The production here is full of energy and will make you want to move.
After the impressive EP Girl Eats Sun last year, it will be interesting to see what’s to come next from the singer.
Album of the Month
John Mayer | Sob Rock
John Mayer is an artist that comes with significant baggage. He has had a long line of high-profile exes, his fair share of controversial headlines, a polarising side gig as frontman of Dead & Co, but it’s hard to deny his talent as a songwriter and guitarist.
“Pretend someone made a record in 1988 and shelved it, and it was just found this year”
This is the ethos behind this album according to Mayer, he adopted a rule that every lyric has to be honest and make him smile. Sometimes this results in near trolling songs like ‘Why You No Love Me’, but more often he falls upon deeply insightful and witty observations.
All of this plays out over a bed of luscious and perfectly crafted rock instrumentals—and of course there is a sprinkling of the technically accomplished guitar solos that he’s known for. The album sounds like a long drive along the coast with a friend, just as peaceful and scenic as it is ridiculous.
There is a layer of psychological analysis that can be done here on a man in his mid-40s with too much time on his hands, pining for times gone by, clearly lamenting past relationships, and perpetually stuck in the friend zone. But there is also a layer of beautifully arranged songs with heartfelt messages that you can lose yourself in. Whichever side of John Mayer you decide you want to spend some time with, you’ll be able to find it on this album.
Highlights: ‘Last Train Home’/‘New Light’/‘Wild Blue’