The Rotation | Volume 3: SZA, Denise Chaila & More
Welcome to The Rotation, a roundup of the week’s key moments in music and why you should listen. Read Volume 3 below, or scroll to the bottom for playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. Previous instalments available here.
The start of a new year can represent a multitude of things to different people. It can be the dawning of a new era, a fresh reset, or a reminder of incomplete goals. It is important to be able to reflect on and to come to terms with the past while maintaining a hopeful outlook to the future. This week’s selections feature introspective songs that will feed any desire to look back, as well as hopeful songs that look forward with optimism. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
Phoebe Bridgers | ‘If We Make It Through December’
Very few artists manage to examine emotion as methodically and convey their findings as succinctly as Phoebe Bridgers. Here we find her covering a Merle Haggard song from 1973 as part of her annual Christmas release. The song is noteworthy for its relevant lyrics but also for the fact that all proceeds go to a homelessness charity in Los Angeles. Her melancholic delivery over the sombre piano is as haunting as it is beautiful. It is no exaggeration to say that Bridgers is one of the most gifted songwriters of her generation, but the way she is able to inhabit Haggard’s words here and convey her own meaning is an impressive feat. She manages to convey the struggles of the present while also advocating for hope in the not-so-distant future.
BERWYN | ‘VINYL’
The feeling of missing out on life’s important moments is a relatable emotion for most people, especially at this time of year. BERWYN captures this feeling on this introspective track while also delivering a memorable melody and impressive vocal performance. Despite being at the start of his career, he has already got a name for honest and emotive storytelling. Following a breakout performance on Jools Holland last year, teachers in the UK reached out for a copy of his lyrics to teach the students. The stripped back, soulful production on this track allows BERWYN to convey heart wrenching stories with a melancholic delivery. His ability to reflect on past mistakes and acknowledge times he could have done better while moving forward makes this a fascinating and moving listen.
Fred again.. | ‘Julia (Deep Diving)’
Fred Gibson has a fascination with recording real life audio from everyday life and using it to construct his music. Gibson stumbled upon an Instagram post from talented singer-songwriter Julia Michaels and used her voice from the video as the basis for this track. Michaels’ fragile yet playful voice is intriguing for the listener and encapsulates the fizzy excitement of first falling in love. The instrumentation of the track is built around a euphoric piano riff and a blend of pop and house production. This song celebrates Gibson’s unique creativity and ability to make beautiful music from the mundane sounds of everyday life.
Denise Chaila | ‘Anseo (Feat. Jafaris)’
Following memorable appearances on The Late Late Show and Other Voices, many people remarked on the charisma and instant likability of Denise Chaila. This track is a remix of the popular song from her debut mixtape GO Bravely, which now features a well-chosen verse from Jafaris. Chaila uses a spoken word cadence over jazzy minimal beats and entrancing synths. But her real talent is her ability deliver every lyric and sound like she is smiling. Jafaris joins Chaila in discussing themes of self-empowerment, race relations, and mental health struggles. Chaila has proven herself to be a deeply thoughtful individual and 2021 looks to be a very exciting year for everyone involved with her record label Narolane Records, based in Limerick.
SZA | ‘Good Days’
SZA recently returned with the song ‘Hit Different’ and teased another new song in the video, this song has finally surfaced as ‘Good Days’. Lyrically this is a melancholic, nostalgic trip exploring SZA’s past. The production is laid back and psychedelic, embracing the neo soul sound that has become associated with SZA. Her laid back delivery with her unique and instantly recognisable voice makes this a memorable track. Interestingly, backing vocals are provided by the talented Jacob Collier, who has recently been nominated for a number of Grammys and is receiving deserved critical acclaim for his own work. SZA reflects on her past with a hope and optimism that is admirable and relatable.
KIAN | ‘Every Hour’
Originally released earlier in the year, but justifiably resurfacing now, this track explores the complexities of coming to terms with each other’s past in a new relationship while creating new memories together. On the surface, this would appear to be a lot to take on for a sixteen-year-old, but KIAN, based in Australia, is more than capable. This smooth laden RnB track features an overarching guitar riff that flows around the hard-hitting drums that structure the song. Despite tackling a complex theme, the vocals appear effortless and the backing vocals in the bridge and chorus add a playful element to the song that will transport the listener to those happier times. Despite the songs rose tinted façade, the lyrics reveal an attempt to reconcile the past within a relationship to create a better future.
Bakar | ‘Having a Good Time, Sometimes’
Bakar stopped using his phone for two years in order cut down on his social media usage and to focus on songwriting. His recent releases have proven that this was a very worthwhile exercise. While his voice is unmistakably based in London, this ethereal instrumental paired with the hard-hitting hip-hop drums showcases his ability to blend genres seamlessly. The sombre lyrics reflect on a past relationship as he reminds himself that he is allowed to have a good time, even if the circumstances appear otherwise. His approach to songwriting is unique and refreshing, his delivery is effortless and relatable. He has the special ability to discuss dark themes but always convey a sense of hope in how he delivers his stories.
Little Dragon & Moses Sumney | ‘The Other Lover’
Little Dragon included a track called ‘Another Lover’ on their recent album. However, following its release they sent it to Moses Sumney to see what he would add to it. The result is this beautiful track that amalgamates their signature tender voices. Sumney took the original lyrics and sent back a stripped-down version with soft horns and a bubbling synth backing. The Swedish band then added their parts to the new version of their song and the result is entrancing. As the song goes on, the two voices become indistinguishable from each other, creating layers of soul over the delicate, ethereal instrumental. It’s fascinating to hear how Sumney reinterprets the lyrics from the original song and creates a new context for them to exist. It’s the kind of exercise that leaves the listener wanting more from both artists—collectively and individually.