Safia Nolin, Jenn Grant, Chris LaRocca and more: songs you need to hear this week

Six brand new Canadian tracks to add to your playlist now.
Safia Nolin's latest release was 2018's full-length album, Dans le noir. (Jean Francois)

Here at CBC Music, we're always on high alert for new songs by Canadian artists.

This week, we're listening to new tracks by Safia Nolin, Chris LaRocca, Clairmont the Second, Kid Koala, Shad and Jenn Grant. Scroll down to find out why you need to hear them, too.

What new Canadian tunes are you currently obsessed with? Share them with us on Twitter @CBCMusic.

'Dagues,' Safia Nolin

Safia Nolin self-describes her genre of music as "downer folk," which is always apt, but some songs cut a lot deeper than others. "Dagues" is on that list, with a chorus that bleeds: "Quand j'y pense, j'ai mal dans le dos/ a enlever les dagues de moi./ Quand j'y pense, j'ai froid dans la peau; a enlever les traces de toi." ("When I think of you, my back is sore, from removing the daggers; when I think of you/ my skin is cold/ from removing the traces of you.") The Montreal songwriter released a beautifully shot video for the song last week — directed by Jean-François Sauvé — where Nolin watches Montreal drag queen Verona Verushka performing "Dagues." It does not make the subject matter any lighter, but we knew what we were signing up for.

— Holly Gordon

'Yardsale,' Chris LaRocca

Yeah, I feel a little worthless, baby,
When my shit's for sale out on your lawn.
No, I'm not afraid to put the torch down;
I'm scared to pass it on.

So begins Chris LaRocca's new song, "Yardsale," over an arresting string quartet verse, setting in motion a vulnerable rumination on a break-up's aftermath. There's so much to love about this song: LaRocca's endlessly expressive singing, the vivid imagery ("It seems our love was smothered in the ashtray; you took one last hit and put me out") and the soulful, torchy vibe. Carefully crafted by producer Herag Sanbalian, "Yardsale" amply justifies the one-year wait since LaRocca's last single.

— Robert Rowat

Editor's note: strong language warning

'Grain,' Clairmont the Second

January can sometimes be a slow period in music releases, but just as the month was crawling to its end last week, Toronto rapper Clairmont the Second dropped what may be the first great rap album of the year. Do You Drive? is a flex in every way possible: the album's eight tracks not only show immense growth for the artist — whose last album, Lil Mont From the Ave, secured him both a Polaris Music Prize long-list nomination and a recent Juno nod — but it's written, produced, mixed, mastered and released by him as well.

"Grain" is an immediate standout. It's a minimal track that finds Clairmont switching up tempos as he accelerates through verses, but slowing things down for the grooving chorus. The rapper also illustrates a vivid portrait of his life and his hometown of Toronto, from shouting out the West Indian restaurant Tinnel's to calling out CityNews' coverage of the shooting and killing of rapper Mellz. Clairmont says the album is meant for late-night drives, and on "Grain," he achieves it. Don't be surprised if you hear these songs blaring out from car windows soon.

— Melody Lau

Editor's note: strong language warning

'Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink),' Shad

Shad's 2018 album, A Short Story About a War, is a concept album with fictional characters, but much of the content is not truly fiction. "The Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink)" is Shad at his most direct, rapping about The Stone Throwers "as a metaphor for all powerlessness ... and for the hypocrisy that's an ever-present temptation for any of us with power."

The new video for it, directed by Toronto's Matthew Progress, uses a shaky camcorder to film what Shad so cuttingly addresses on the song. "What I hoped to capture in a visual for this song were two things: vulnerability and rage, the two main feelings I associate with powerlessness," Shad said in a statement.

"I was interested in using the monotony of the big city commute as a lens to examine the rage, vulnerability and isolation felt by many people of colour navigating modern society," explained Progress in a statement. "We set up a camera in an empty white room and left each of our actors alone. They were directed to channel real moments of rage and desperation they've experienced, and then react with no filter. Shooting the entire video on camcorder is a reference to the DIY style footage often seen in viral videos depicting police brutality. It is also meant to reference closed circuit security footage and the growing surveillance state." — HG

Editor's note: graphic images.

'Lost at Sea,' Kid Koala feat. Trixie Whitley

Love is always a tumultuous journey, but ancient Greek god Zeus' "love" stories were especially rife with conflict. This was no different in the tale of Io, a mortal woman who rejected the thunderbolt-wielding god, was thrown out of her home by her father because of a prophecy, and was turned into a cow by Zeus in an attempt to hide her from his wife, Hera. In "Lost at Sea," Kid Koala sketches this strange and expansive world in detail. From the ebbing and flowing of the Ioanian sea to the luminous constellations against an endless night sky, Kid Koala architects an inviting soundscape for us to wander and wonder. The track is off his new album Music to Draw To: Io, which was composed entirely on synthesizers, including some from from the National Music Centre's rare instrument collection. Accompanying Kid Koala's instrumentals is Trixie Whitley's powerful and protesting voice as an embodiment of Io. Her haunting vocals breathe new life into the long-established character: "Don't think that I won't fight for them/ Out of range/ Lost at sea/ It took me years to return to me." "Lost at Sea" is modern day myth-making at its finest.

— Natasha Ramoutar

'Oh, Family,' Jenn Grant

Jenn Grant's extraordinary new single, "Oh, Family," is death by tenderness. Against a foundation of mournful horns, Grant's exquisite voice climbs up and down the notes of the piano like two people scrambling up a cliff, slipping back down and pulling each other back up — the kind of love that exists in the space where we save each other.

— Andrea Warner


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