Carly Rae Jepsen, Whoop-Szo, Kennedy Rd. and more: songs you need to hear this week
8 fresh Canadian tracks to add to your playlist right now
Here at CBC Music, we're always on high alert for new songs by Canadian artists, especially during this time of social isolation, when music continues to provide entertainment, comfort and distraction.
This week, we're listening to new tracks from Carly Rae Jepsen, Kennedy Rd., Sleepless Nights, Carlos Vives featuring Jessie Reyez, and David Strickland featuring Maestro Fresh Wes, Que Rock, Leonard Sumner and Soufy, as well as a cover by Joseph Shabason of an iconic classical piece, and an exciting new remix of a Whoop-Szo track. Scroll down to find out why you need to listen, too.
What new Canadian tunes are you currently obsessed with? Share them with us on Twitter @CBCMusic.
'Felt This Way' and 'Stay Away,' Carly Rae Jepsen
Few artists have a B-side vault as robust as Carly Rae Jepsen's. The Canadian pop star is much more prolific than her albums let on: between 2015's Emotion and last year's Dedicated, Jepsen wrote approximately 450 songs, which were later whittled down to more manageable tracklists. This abundance of extra material has now yielded two B-side releases, with the latest Dedicated Side B arriving as a surprise album drop last week.
B-sides often show off discarded gems, giving listeners an insight into what else was in the works. On Dedicated Side B, Jepsen takes that idea even further by revealing two different takes on the same set of lyrics on "Felt This Way" and "Stay Away," two tracks that play back-to-back (and clock in with identical runtimes). The former molds Jepsen's words into a tender pop melody, swelling with a sweet sense of pining as she sings, "If it was only a distraction/ how come I can't stay away?" But as soon as "Felt This Way" fades, "Stay Away" swoops in with the opening line, "How can I stay away?" as if she couldn't resist coming back for more, but to a different tune. A beat kicks in, harder and more assured, as synths pulsate underneath her voice. The structure on "Stay Away" transforms the pre-chorus of "Felt This Way" into the chorus, making statements feel bigger and more explosive as she shouts, "My home is your body, how can I stay away?" It's a masterclass in pop songwriting and an absolute flex for Jepsen. — Melody Lau
'Afraid Of,' Kennedy Rd.
If you fancy early '90s R&B, then Toronto's Kennedy Rd. is your one-stop shop for its present-day incarnation. She's been carrying the torch for a few years now, dropping a string of consistently sexy slow jams that channel the spirit of golden-era Destiny's Child, Aaliyah and Sade. On "Afraid Of," Kennedy Rd. asks, "Why do you make excuses for the way you really feel?," her breathy vocals cascading into her low register, inviting you to drop your inhibitions and become her "water and sun." Those basic elements are echoed in the song's restrained production, with just bass drum and synthesizer setting the achingly romantic mood. — Robert Rowat
'Cut Your Hair' (Zoon remix), Whoop-Szo
Whoop-Szo's 50-show tour was cancelled almost immediately after it kicked off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but bandmates Adam Sturgeon, Kirsten Kurvink Palm, Joe Thorner, Andrew Lennox and Eric Lourenco have not been idle upon their return home: they've recorded an EP of remixes from their critically acclaimed second album, 2019's Warrior Down. "At times it felt like nobody would touch the finished album," says Sturgeon via press release. "'It's too heavy' from the indies and 'It's not heavy enough' from the metalheads. We've never really played into either of those narratives and so when the pandemic hit we decided to switch gears entirely." Sturgeon adds that the band decided to work with "contemporaries who also do their 'own thing' in the electronic world," leading to remixes by Zoon, Doomsquad, Ice Cream, Zachary Gray and AG47 (of nêhiyawak). "Cut Your Hair," a song about Sturgeon's grandfather's experiences in a residential school, is the first release from the project, remixed by fellow Ontario band Zoon. The haunt of the original cut is deepened with echo and string-like synths, giving Whoop-Szo's plaintive strum and wistful keys a headier feel.
All sales from the EP will be donated to LIFE*SPIN, a London, Ontario-based charity that launched a community food program during the pandemic. Warrior Down Remix EP will be out June 5. — Holly Gordon
'Gymnopédie No. 1' (Erik Satie cover), Joseph Shabason
In uncertain times, it's important to find music that calms you. For some, that might mean an electronic album that can put you in a trance, or perhaps something loud and cathartic. Sometimes it can be literal, as is the case with saxophonist Joseph Shabason's cover of composer Erik Satie's eternally soothing Gymnopédies. Shabason is a Canadian staple who has worked with everyone including Destroyer, Austra and Hannah Georgas, and is a member of the Toronto band Diana. On his take of Gymnopédie No. 1, he wields his sax with such power and control, delivering those iconic piano notes beautifully on his instrument of choice. String instrumentalist Drew Jurecka joins Shabason here as the track builds thin, silky layers to create something wildly atmospheric, almost eerie at times; something that feels simultaneously relaxing but also potentially sinister in a way that makes it sound perfectly twisted for a Safdie brothers film. — ML
'Greatest Hits,' Sleepless Nights
Mask. Gloves. Lysol wipes. The first three shots of Sleepless Nights' video for their new track, "Greatest Hits," wastes no time setting itself within the pandemic, but the opening lines throw us back to a freer time: "I stood in the Northumberland/ waist deep in my underwear/ dreading the dive/ but certainly alive." Shot "in a bubble to highlight why it's important to stay in the bubble," according to filmmaker Nathan Boone, the video closes in on the claustrophobia of self-isolation, following the same person shot to shot, alone in his apartment, in increasing close-ups. The matching tension in the keys and synths — made lighter with the occasional backup vocals singing "ba-ba-da-da"— is broken with an unleashing drum roll, and the result is a cathartic jam perfect for these times. "Greatest Hits" is the most recent single from the Toronto-via-Halifax band's upcoming album, Every Word is a Trap, out May 29 via Acadian Embassy. — HG
'Hechicera,' Carlos Vives feat. Jessie Reyez
Latin music star Carlos Vives kicks off his latest album, Cumbiana, with the help of Canadian R&B artist Jessie Reyez, whom Vives described to Billboard as "the new generation" of Colombian singers. "This is a song about a very powerful woman," Vives said, of the opening number "Hechicera." "In Colombia they teach us about Bachué, the goddess who emerges from the water, and I wanted to find a woman who personified her. I wanted Jessie to sing in English, but she wanted to sing in Spanish as a question of pride." The result is a grooving number that highlights both artists' strengths: Vives' more traditional take on Latin pop adorned by Reyez's bright, bold flourishes. "Hechicera" is an essential addition to your summer playlists. — ML
'Truth,' David Strickland feat. Maestro Fresh Wes, Que Rock, Leonard Sumner and Soufy
Toronto's David Strickland has produced beats for hip-hop royalty, from Method Man to Drake, but next month he'll release an album that is the culmination of his decades-long career. The Spirit of Hip-Hop will connect his experience in the booth with his Indigenous culture, and will feature an array of guests over his beats that perfectly combine drum machines and drum circles. "Truth," the latest single, begins with a drum circle vocalization before introducing a sparse melody and trap snares as Maestro Fresh Wes, Que Rock, Leonard Sumner and SouFy do their thing. The veteran Maestro truly shines here, turning in a verse that shows he's in peak form, while the chorus provides a message we'd all be wise to heed: "Shine bright, be the light in the clearview, do right for the ones that need you." — Jesse Kinos-Goodin