Now Hear This: New music from The Weeknd, Koffee, Arlo Parks and Ozuna, plus spotlight artist Lilla Vargen

Roisin O'Connor
Irish singer Lilla Vargen

This is the last Now Hear This column of 2019 because we’re knuckling down with all our end of year features, and that includes The Independent’s Ones to Watch for 2020 – many of whom will have cropped up in this column a few times.

Until then, I’m listening to this week’s updated playlist, which includes one of two new singles from The Weeknd. I like “Blinding Lights” a lot – it has a pulsing, shimmery electronic theme that feels like he’s leant into the Eighties influences of in his last record, Starboy (there’s a new one on the way in 2020). I’m less keen on “Heartless”, which feels like a rehash of some of his weaker R&B cuts (although, what do I know – it’s already had 25 million streams on Spotify). It’s got a cool beat but he essentially repeats the lead refrain, and a lot of depressingly misogynist tropes; he’s become jaded by fame and money, so he ends up using women.

The brilliant Koffee has teamed up with Gunna for “W”, the last summer vibe of the year, while Puerto Rican rapper/singer Ozuna has released the wistful reggaetón track “Fantasia”. My fave, Arlo Parks, has released her EP Sophie that includes some previously released singles plus this gem, “Paperbacks”. I love its dreamy, psychedelic lyrics (“Cider with the guys/ Having sex in the sky/ I think I hate you but I don’t know why”) and that shuffling percussion that mutters restlessly beneath a mournful guitar line.

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Did you know Bombay Bicycle Club are back? I did, but I only just found out their track “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong” is really good; they’ve got heavier on the synths and the mood of the track is darker than their older, more whimsical material. Then there’s Kilo Kish, who returns with the enigmatic “Spark”, a juddery slice of electro-pop that recalls Banks, and maybe a touch of Rihanna, albeit more avant-garde.

My spotlight artist this week is Lilla Vargen, the fantastic Irish singer I wrote about a few weeks ago. I love her soaring vocals on new single “The Shore” (someone remix this for the dance-floor, please), and its slow, unhurried build. Expect more great things from her in 2020 – for now you can read my Q&A with her, below:

Hey Lilla, how’s your 2019 been?

It’s been hectic but exhilarating. I moved to London from Belfast in January, and since then, I’ve been writing and recording almost non-stop. “We Were Thunder” was recorded across the space of about three months over the summer, and then three weeks ago I set out across Europe supporting Dermot Kennedy, which runs up until the end of 2019. It’s my first tour of this size – we’ve been to 11 different countries so far! It’s been a dream come true for me.

What was the reaction been to your EP, and do you have ideas for where you want to go next with your music?

Very humbling and positive – seeing so many people relate and connect with the songs is always tricky to get my head around as they’re my life and my stories, however it also makes me realise that the themes of the EP are universal. I hadn’t released any music for a little while before “Why Wait” came out, so wasn’t sure what to expect – to have people singing the words to the new songs back to me is wonderful.

I just want to keep writing honest and meaningful songs. It’s crucial to me that the music comes from a genuine place, even if it means reliving challenging periods of my life through the writing process. It’s a form of release for me, to put those emotions onto record – and for as long as that’s at the core of the creative process, I’ll be happy.

What do you have lined up so far for 2020?

There’s another EP coming in early 2020, which contains some of my favourite songs I’ve written to date, and which make up a majority of my live set. I can’t wait to start recording my album next year as well; it feels like everything I’ve done so far has been building towards that. I’ll be out on the road throughout the year as well, doing more of my own shows, and festivals across the summer.