July Talk, Evening Hymns, David Strickland, more: songs you need to hear this week
9 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 Lido Pimienta, July Talk, Evening Hymns, Ruby Waters, Ryan Playground, Julyan, Battle of Santiago, Robotaki featuring Billboard, and David Strickland featuring Que Rock and Chippewa Travellers. 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.
'Feathers,' David Strickland, feat. Que Rock and Chippewa Travellers
David Strickland is one of the best-kept secrets in Canadian music. For decades, he's been working behind the scenes as an engineer and producer for some of the biggest artists in hip hop. But you could also trace the rise of Toronto rap through the people he's worked with in the city, from early days with Ghetto Concept, Kardinal and Saukrates right on through to Drake. Strickland's work on Drake's Thank me Later netted him a Grammy Award, and he subsequently worked on Take Care and Nothing was the Same.
Now Strickland is embarking on a new project that embraces both hip hop and his Indigenous heritage (Strickland is Mi'kmaq and Northern Cree). It's called Spirit of Hip Hop, set to be released June 29, and features Strickland's production work alongside a number of Indigenous artists. "Feathers," featuring rapper Que Rock and the Chippewa Travellers drum group, is the second single from the album, following the release and video for "Turtle Island," and features a menacing, bass-heavy beat with staccato keys blended underneath vocalizations from Chippewa Travellers. It's an urgent song about hope and, ultimately, finding yourself in the mess surrounding us.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin
'Holding On,' Robotaki feat. Billboard
Robotaki is the moniker of cell biologist-turned-producer/songwriter Preston Chin, whose new album, The Grand Mirage, deftly synthesizes elements of psychedelic rock ("Now That We've Been in Love"), dream pop ("Passing of Time") and even trance ("Obelisk"). We're especially drawn to the joyous neo-disco of "Holding On," a collaboration with indie electronic artist Billboard (a.k.a. Mathieu Jomphe Lépine) in whom Robotaki has evidently found a musical soul mate. "And you don't even notice/ the higher we climb, the harder I fall," begins the chorus, articulating that powerless (yet somehow wildly empowering?) sensation you get when you're completely at the mercy of someone else's feelings.
— Robert Rowat
'I can Only be Good,' Evening Hymns
'I Can Only be Good' is at once everything and the very last thing that I need. The four-minute song of love at the end of its life is the first new music Jonas Bonnetta has released under his Evening Hymns moniker since 2015's Quiet Energies. Layered and thick, both the music and Bonetta's vocals on this new single take their time. The drums plod, the bass slithers around the guitar, the sax soothes and a Rhodes piano underpins the whole affair. It's heavy, it's dark, it's warm and it's incredibly comforting. If there was ever such a thing as a musical weighted blanket, this is it. The only hitch? I want more. It's the sound of an album cut that gets even better with context. A complete listen; side A, side B and then you're done. Until the full album arrives later this summer, I'm just going to have to put this track on repeat.
— Judith Lynch
'Better off Alone' (Alice Deejay cover), Ryan Playground
There can be a lot of comfort in revisiting old music right now, but there are also great benefits to embracing new tunes. An artist covering a song therefore falls somewhere in between the new and the old, allowing listeners to experience something familiar possibly through a new lens. Montreal musician Ryan Playground has stayed busy lately by tackling some popular '90s hits, including this lo-fi take on the Alice Deejay track "Better off Alone." In place of the song's classic Eurodance synths is a melancholic guitar riff, sombre and echoing as Ryan Playground hauntingly repeats the song's main refrain: "Do you think you're better off alone?"
— Melody Lau
'Te Queria,' Lido Pimienta
Lido Pimienta recently released the stunning Miss Colombia, the followup album to her Polaris Prize-winning La Papessa, and what she has described as a collection of love letters — some with "a big dose of cynicism" — to people and countries in her life. Written and arranged by Pimienta, and mainly recorded in her home studio, Miss Colombia is a statement of emancipation and triumph, as Pimienta deftly sings, writes and produces in a Canadian mainstream music landscape that does not look like her: a Black Colombian queer woman with Indigenous Wayuu heritage.
There is so much to dig into on Miss Colombia that picking one song feels like a disservice, but if you want a place to dive in then hit play on "Te Queria." The most carefree-sounding track on the album, "Te Queria" is "a song about moving on from those who won't appreciate your light but still can see it enough in you to want to steal it," as Pimienta explained in a statement. The steel drum and woodwinds keeps things light as Pimienta pours her heart out, singing, "Yo por fin todo lo tenía/ Y a ti todo te lo entregaba/ Tu por fin me necesitabas/ y despues no me tuviste cuenta" (I finally had it all/ and I gave it all to you./ Finally you needed me, just to count me out). A dance track with a dark heart — just the way we like it.
— Holly Gordon
'La Mota,' Battle of Santiago
4/20 may have passed on Monday, but it's 4/20 all month right? Battle of Santiago certainly thinks so in their infectious new ode to the herb, "La Mota." The Toronto-based band went to Cuba to film the video, which was a huge challenge, especially because "la mota," or marijana, is illegal there. In the band's words: "The producers were afraid to blast the song during recording for fear of police intervention. We recorded a clean version, 'La Nota,' which means 'something sweet' or 'the note', as a placeholder, with the extremely minimal equipment we had. At the same time, we found out that a previous collaborator, Keto, happened to be in Havana as well and invited him to be a part of the shoot. One thing led to another and we actually ended up recording a new rap verse on the spot with the same equipment."
The energetic cumbia and celebratory video are the perfect antidote to cleanse any current blues. Also, look for Battle of Santiago's new album, Queen & Judgement, out April 24.
— Reuben Maan
'Quantum Physics,' Ruby Waters
If the no-frills, direct style of communication you get from a compelling solo voice backed by rhythm guitar is your thing, then make time for this new single from Ruby Waters. "It's easy to lose it, easy to lose it all," she begins, her assertive, raspy singing establishing a certain world-weariness: "Can't always choose it, had a couple of wins and a couple of falls." The chorus brings warmer sounds and deeper feelings — "And I'll always wish you well/ love it when you are around" — and a brief but dramatic major chord that glows like a cathode ray. Be warned, however: the song ends abruptly and mysteriously at the 2:38 mark — a quantum conundrum. — RR
'Governess Shadow,' July Talk
July Talk's latest single from the band's upcoming album, Pray for It, references a woman named Alice. "This song is about my great-grandmother Alice and her two sisters Marie and Anna," explained co-lead singer Peter Dreimanis, "who were sent to finishing school in Moscow as teenagers to learn how to serve the wealthy families of the day." It's a memory that prompted Dreimanis to confront power imbalances and the large looming shadow that white men still have over the world.
Those gender and wealth gaps lead to those who can "just step out of the shadow as they please" and those who are relegated to just "silence and kindness," as co-lead singer Leah Fay repeats on the track like an orderly chant. Dreimanis says he wants "Governess Shadow" to "raise a flag and a dagger and call out that comfortable complacency," and it does so not through aggression but instead by drawing listeners in with a buoyant pop melody; a sweet candy coating cloaking the bitter pill underneath. — ML
'Look at me, Look at You,' Julyan
You may not know Julyan (yet), but you may know his musical fingerprints: he is one-fourth of the Quebec City band the Seasons, along with his brother, Polaris Prize shortlister Hubert Lenoir, and bandmates Samuel Renaud and Rémy Bélanger. Now Julyan, a.k.a. Julien Chiasson, is going solo, set to release a debut EP on May 8. "Look at me, Look at You" is the second single from that effort, a stripped-down number that gives us Julyan's (sometimes doubled) voice alongside a single acoustic guitar, with a piano seamlessly sliding in on the second half. As he sings the song's title line, his voice reaching briefly for that falsetto on the word "you," it's clear this relationship that Julyan so painstakingly details is shuttering to an end. "Look at me, Look at You" is a gently layered break-up song that has tinges of songwriter Andy Shauf, and we're looking forward to the full project. — HG