Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the month’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 17 below, or scroll to the end for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
In August we were spoiled for choice with mammoth releases from two of music’s biggest stars in Kanye West and Drake. On top of that, The Killers released an incredible album showcasing their storytelling nous and Halsey released her most compelling work to date. And that’s without mentioning the return of King Kendrick.
This month’s selections include some of the highlights from those projects, as well as some tracks that you may have missed in the chaos.
Songs of the Month
The Killers | ‘In The Car Outside’
The Killers’ new album, Pressure Machine, arrived with little fanfare, but it is a fascinating study of Brandon Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, Utah. Full of personal stories from the residents of the town, reminiscent of Springsteen’s Nebraska.
If the band’s earlier album Sam’s Town summarised the singer’s palpable disdain of his hometown and his eagerness to escape the small town, this album takes a more reflective tone, attempting to understand and explore the lives of the people that stayed in this town for their entire lives.
This track is a clear centrepiece, delving into a couple’s marital issues and the protagonist’s reckless outlook. The entire album is a masterpiece in storytelling and is well worth exploring.
Jungle | ‘Talk About It’
Continuing their roll of soundtracking the summer, Jungle released this pulsating track.
This is the kind of song that brightens your day and makes you want to move. A classic drum break and some catchy vocals make this one of their most accomplished tracks.
Their album Loving in Stereo is out now and is full of bright and memorable tracks with brave production.
SonReal | ‘right before my eyes’
SonReal grabbed a lot of attention in 2017 when he released his tribute to his father, ‘My Friend’. Here he returns with a feelgood track reflecting on what’s important in life.
SonReal blurs the lines between hip hop and soul and lyrically he manages to explore his insecurities about how his life has turned out while maintaining an upbeat outlook.
His new EP i can’t make this up is out soon.
Foxing | ‘Beacons’
The St. Louis trio Foxing have shown they are not afraid to take sharp left turns between projects. This track is a great example of the festival-ready pop hooks they are experimenting with these days.
It’s an exhilarating song with the production pushing and pulling the listener in different directions and a captivating chorus. It’s a great track for the final leg of a run to get you over the line.
Their new album Draw Down the Moon might be polarising for some of their fans, but it is an excellent example of what they are capable of and is possibly their best work.
Bakar | ‘The Mission’
Bakar is becoming an increasingly familiar artist following a string of impressive releases. Here he returns with a track that touches on a dark subject matter but is filled with optimism and hope.
It’s certainly a poppier and more polished sound than what he’s released up to this point, but he is just as compelling a narrator as he’s ever been.
He’s currently putting the final touches on his new album, and it sounds like he’s aiming even higher with this release.
Sam Austins | ‘JOY FOR YOUTH (with Sir Chloe)’
Detroit born, Los Angeles artist Sam Austins teams up with Sir Chloe on the celebratory track ‘JOY FOR YOUTH’.
Walking the line between nostalgic disco and alternative R&B, the track builds to a carefree, infectious crescendo that will stick in your head.
Austins’ debut project HOMELESS STAR is expected to be released this autumn.
Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar | ‘family ties’
Those triumphant horns at the start signal the importance of this track. Keem has been showing promise with his early releases, but here he finally links up with his big cousin Kendrick.
Keem’s verses are impressive in their own right, but Kendrick’s appearance clearly steals the headlines. In ways it feels like ‘Control Part 2’, Kendrick is returning with a chip on his shoulder and has put the rap game on notice again.
Keem’s album The Melodic Blue is out now, and we know Kendrick is preparing his final album with TDE but his next move is anyone’s guess.
Benny The Butcher | ‘Fly with Me Feat: Conway the Machine’
The never-ending string of releases from the Grisleda crew continued this month with Benny the Butcher up to bat. He released a stellar 7-track EP called Pyrex Picasso and, though it’s intended to fill the gap between his proper studio albums, it’s still full of quality that other rappers would envy.
On this track he teams up with his Grisleda family Conway the Machine and they bounce off one another like old friends. The soulful production is the perfect backdrop for the pair.
Ahmed, With Love. & KhakiKid | ‘Full Plate’
Ahmed, With Love is an incredibly talented wordsmith based in Dublin. Clearly inspired by Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator, he returns here with a refreshing take on a post break up story with fellow Dublin rapper KhakiKid.
The production is beautifully laidback and mirrors the sentiments of the song as Ahmed realises that he is not responsible for dealing with someone else’s issues after a breakup.
We’ve had a few interesting releases from Ahmed, and hopefully can expect more in the near future.
BLASCKSTARKIDS | ‘JUNO’
BLACKSTARKIDS have been releasing intriguing and experimental music for some time now. They have recently been signed to Dirty Hit Records, which is the home of The 1975 and are preparing a new album under the label.
This track feels like a real step forward for the group, full of nostalgia and rap-rock influences. Most notably, you can hear the influence of early Kid Cudi throughout this track.
Their new album, excellently titled Puppies Forever, is set for release this autumn.
PawPaw Rod | ‘Thin Lines’
Ever since hearing PawPaw Rod’s first song ‘Hit Em Where It Hurts’, I’ve been following all of his releases and he has yet to disappoint.
This track is another soulful song that mixes in hip hop elements expertly. As usual, his lyrics provide added depth and maturity without sacrificing the catchy melody.
PawPaw Rod is finally releasing his debut project PawPaw Rod EP on September 17.
Somebody’s Child | ‘Stubborn’
Dublin band Somebody’s Child return with this infectious offering from their new album.
Lead singer Cian Godfrey described it as an honest reflection of any relationship: “Everyone has that stubbornness in them and can relate to this.”
Their new EP Staying Sane is out on September 17 and is based on a long road trip along the coast of Ireland.
Amyl and The Sniffers | ‘Security’
Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers return with this endearing and hilarious new track.
Lead singer Amy Taylor simply wants to be let into the pub after a few too many pints. Her desperation and disdain for the security man is palpable, all while she is managing to make a wider point about preferential treatment.
Their new album Comfort To Me is out now and features a track called ‘Don’t need a C**nt (Like You To Love Me)’. That seems like reason enough to check it out.
Orla Gartland | ‘Zombie!’
Orla Gartland released this track earlier in the year, but her debut album Woman on the Internet was released last month and it is an excellent project.
This track is a clear standout and her observant lyrics are captivating throughout the album. She nonchalantly takes on toxic masculinity and the battle between self-doubt and self-assurance with razor sharp wit.
In a month filled with impressive releases, this deserves your attention.
milk. | ‘You’re So.’
milk. are a four-piece based in Dublin releasing impressive indie anthems. It’s amazing to see the influence that The 1975 have had in such a short time, but this track would fit right at home with Matty Healy and friends.
Milk are preparing their upcoming release E.P.2 and based on this it will be well worth checking out.
Yebba | ‘Boomerang’
Yebba continues to build anticipation for her upcoming debut album. Here she is showing her vengeful side as she is hoping a former lover gets what’s coming to them.
The soulful track has a cinematic vibe to it that could feel at home in a James Bond soundtrack.
The debut album Dawn is out now and is shaping up to be an album of the year contender.
Ber | ‘Feels So Easy’
There’s not much information about Ber online, but if this track is anything to go by, she has a bright future ahead. The easy breezy energy of the lyrics is matched by a comforting and addictive beat.
This track feels like those moments sitting down after work on a Friday in the sun. Ber is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.
Drake | ‘Champagne Poetry’
If you can ignore the subplots and the petty words exchanged between Drake and another artist that we will get to later, Drake released his much-anticipated album Certified Lover Boy on September 3.
It’s a long record with plenty of negatives and positives that will take time to explore, but an early highlight is the intro track that finds Drake in reflective mode over an enchanting Beatles sample.
It’s the kind of track that reminds you what is special about Drake and what he is capable of when he steps outside of his comfort zone.
Tiwa Savage | ‘Tales by Moonlight Feat. Amaarae’
Nigerian artist Tiwa Savage returns with this track featuring Ghanaian-American singer Amaarae.
The production here is entrancing as it mixes afrobeat, R&B, and southern rap. Both singers glide over the beat complementing each other vocally.
Savage’s new EP Water & Gari is out now and is well worth a listen.
Album of the Month
Kanye West | DONDA
After all the hype, the delays and the controversies, Kanye West finally released his 10th studio album in August, titled DONDA after his late mother. With 27 tracks and countless subplots, it’s fair to say it’s a complex project with plenty of nuance to delve into.
The first track on the album, ‘Donda Chant’ features singer Selena Johnson chanting the name of Kanye’s late mother. The rhythm that she uses to repeat her name mirrors her final heartbeats before she passed away. Donda’s voice also appears in a few other tracks on the album, but it is noteworthy that an album dedicated to his late mother does often get distracted with other themes and features surprisingly few female voices.
Kanye’s decision to include the voices of alleged rapist Marylin Manson and the controversial DaBaby has also been reason enough for many to completely disregard this album. That reaction is completely understandable and his decision to include these figures on an album dedicated to his late mother is completely reprehensible.
The album itself is bloated, with countless filler tracks that sound unfinished and a few Part II’s that were neither deemed good enough for the main tracks or significant enough to call bonus tracks. This is perhaps a symptom of crowdfunding opinions on an album in three stadium-filled listening parties.
But despite all of this, there is a masterpiece of an album here. Despite the issues with the track listing, there is a redemptive arc that flows through the album as Kanye deals with the loss of his mother and the ending of his marriage. By the end of the record there is a sense of clarity that hasn’t been seen on a Kanye album in recent years. The final two tracks, ‘Come to Life’ and ‘No Child Left Behind’, are as emotional as they are beautifully arranged.
In the age of streaming this album is primed for some tracklist editing in playlists, and there are an impressive 12 – 14 tracks that can be considered career highlights for the artist. For instance, the Lauryn Hill-sampling ‘Believe What I Say’ is the kind of track any version of Kanye would be proud of.
People generally have an obsession with human beings that live in the darkness, as everyone can see some version of themselves in that darkness. Kanye West has always been an artist that has been very transparent of his shortcomings as a man, he has never been dishonest about his flaws. This has previously led to beautiful moments like him performing his first ever single while his jaw was wired shut or darker moments like ranting about slavery being a choice. But this transparency has allowed people to relate to his struggles and be inspired by his journey.
As with all great artists these issues come to bear in his art. As fans of Kanye, we want this album to work without the complications, but life isn’t that simple. There’s a version of this album in an alternate universe that was released without any association to Manson and edited down to a clearer thematic narrative, but instead we have to reconcile these things and form our own opinions of his work.
As with so many artists these days, everyone needs to make a personal decision on whether they can separate the art from the artist and enjoy the music without guilt.
Highlights: ‘Jail’/‘Off The Grid’/‘Hurricane’/‘Believe What I Say’/‘Heaven and Hell’/‘Jesus Lord’/‘Moon’/‘Lord I Need You’/‘Pure Souls’/‘Come to Life’/‘No Child Left Behind’