Toronto rapper DijahSB shares tales from the TTC

Star Tracks compiles the most interesting new music from a broad range of established and emerging artists.

This week’s playlist features new music from DijahSB, Black Country, New Road, Donovan Woods, Arlo Parks, Mitski, Animal Collective, 2 Chainz, Amber Mark, Luna Li and more.

Click here to listen along to the Spotify playlist, which includes additional tracks we loved this week.

DijahSB: Green Line

“Green Line,” DijahSB’s latest single, is as Toronto as it gets.

A lament on taking the TTC’s 2-line home, the rapper serves up bars about living in the city, gentrification and gang violence. Somehow the cybernetic, squishy and shiny synths combined with eccentric percussion outline a pretty soundscape, despite the grim lyrics.

“Green Line” is a conscious view of The 6ix that’s rarely regarded. Outlining how much it kinda sucks to be “on the green line riding 45 minutes just to get home, there’s not much more to see.” Dijah like many other Torontonians searches her thoughts, wondering if it might be better to just move away, escaping the rat race. Who hasn’t thought “and as soon as I get some money out there I’m gone, there’s nothing more for me,” after living through the trappings of the city? — Demar Grant

Black Country, New Road: Chaos Space Marine

Earlier this week, just days before English experimental rock group Black Country, New Road released their second album “Ants from Up There,” vocalist and guitarist Isaac Wood unexpectedly announced that he was leaving the group. “I have bad news which is that I have been feeling sad and afraid too,” he wrote in a statement posted to the band’s Instagram. “And I have tried to make this not true but it is the kind of sad and afraid feeling that makes it hard to play guitar and sing at the same time.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for BCNR fans, and for music fans in general — the sprawling “Ants from Up There,” which dropped on Friday via Ninjatune, is bold, rapturous, and filled with sounds and structures that subvert the increasingly stale conventions of modern rock. On tracks like “Chaos Space Marine” and the previously released single “Concorde,” the band combines jagged edges with straight lines, as Wood’s quivering baritone saunters beside a tiny orchestra of pianos, violins, saxophones and guitars.

Though it’s difficult to imagine what BCNR will sound like without their frontman and emotional core, the band confirmed that they will not be breaking up. However, they did cancel their upcoming North American tour, which is a shame for a band poised to make a big splash on this side of the Atlantic. — Richie Assaly

Donovan Woods: I Won’t Mention It Again

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Donovan Woods sings that he “won’t mention it again,” but it’ll be playing again and again in our heads all day.

Fans of Canadian folk and country rejoice: The Toronto-based singer-songwriter has released a new single, “I Won’t Mention It Again,” from his upcoming EP, which will be available on March 18. The six-track collection, a followup to the 2020 LP “Without People,” will channel the usual melancholic trademarks of a Woods record, hence the appropriate title of “Big Boy Hurt.”

In “I Won’t Mention It Again,” the second single after “I Hope You Change Your Mind” dropped in the fall, Woods’ soothing vocals once again take centre stage, as they always do, on top of a neatly layered ensemble of instruments. Woods previewed an earlier, stripped-down version of the song in January on his Instagram page just before the official release, featuring him alone in his studio with a banjo. Band or no band, the song hits right in the feels. — Justin Smirlies

Jacques Greene: Leave Here

Listening to Montreal electronic producer Jacques Greene’s new EP “Fantasy” feels a bit like taking a brisk walk on a snowy winter evening: it’s a bit lonely, and a bit chilly at first. But after a few minutes, your blood starts pumping, and suddenly you find yourself smothered in warmth and beauty.

Musically, the project’s front half channels the spirit of early electronica and IDM – the chunky drum machines and ambient backdrops on “Taurus” and “Relay” would sound at home on Aphex Twin’s classic “Ambient Selected Works 85-92.” But the EP reaches its emotional climax on “Leave Here,” a delirious late-night rave track built around an aching vocal sample.

Sadly, the EP only lasts 21 minutes, so don’t venture too far. — RA

Amber Mark: FOMO

This groovy, upbeat track will have you choreographing your own dance routine in your bedroom.

“FOMO” a.k.a. the fear of missing out, has been a feeling we’ve all experienced during the pandemic. If you need a pick-me-up today from feeling blah about the world, this song may just be the perfect vibe for you.

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R&B singer-songwriter Amber Mark crafted “FOMO” with a danceable, energetic beat and smooth lyrical melodies that are bound to get stuck in your head after a listen or two.

“FOMO” is one of 17 songs off Mark’s debut album “Three Dimensions Deep.” The album is “a musical journey of what questions you begin to ask yourself when you start looking to the universe for answers,” Mark writes.

Mark’s fierce passion, vocal range and creativity are among many characteristics fans admire about the New-York based artist. With her first debut album finally out for the world to see, one can only hope she has more in store. — Madison Wong

2 Chainz feat. Roddy Ricch: Outstanding

Hit-Boy can’t miss. Despite numerous Grammy nominations and victories he remains one of the most underrated producers by hip hop fans. Taking a break from revitalizing Nas’ career, Hit-Boy offers triumphant horns, epic keys, skittering high hats and pounding 808’s for a elating cut off “Dope Don’t Sell Itself.”

Atop the beat 2 Chainz and Roddy Ricch boast about their exorbitant lifestyle with 2 Chainz’s dropping hilarious bars like “Italian drip on me like salad dressing.” It’s a straightforward track flooded by Roddy Ricch’s intoxicating hums and sugary hooks but that doesn’t make it any less hair raising. — DG

Animal Collective: Car Keys

On Friday, experimental pop group Animal Collective released “Time Skiffs.” As I wrote in a profile of the group for the Star (shameless plug), the album contains all the elements that fans have come to love: ornate vocal harmonies, dense lyricism, and a genre-bending patchwork of clamorous psychedelic rock, freak folk and experimental pop. Musically, it’s their most accessible and gratifying project since “Merriweather Post Pavilion” launched the group into the upper echelon of indie stardom in the late aughts.

“Car Keys,” one of several standouts from “Time Skiffs,” is quintessential Animal Collective in three parts: 1) the track kicks off with plenty of psychedelic commotion and xylophone noodling; 2) pivots into a gorgeous chorus of Beach Boy-esque harmonies; 3) and then dissolves slow into a slush of ambient noise.

It’s super early, but “Time Skiffs” is an early contender for album of the year.

Luna Li: Silver Into Rain

Dreamy and relaxed. Whether that means a quiet day in your bedroom or floating through the stars, Luna Li’s grip on those two pillars has been tighter than most. “Silver Into Rain” brings those same elements but also reintroduces Luna Li’s killer guitar work. Contrasting strings turn the track from dreamy to psychedelic as Luna Li is “Blowing away I’m sipping on rosé, Turning gold into grey and the silver into rain.” Li also invites Filipino-British singer beabadoobee onto the track, where she offers ethereal vocals that only accentuate the hypnosis of “Silver Into Rain.” — DG

Mitski: Should’ve Been Me

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Happy Mitski Day, to all who celebrate. Nearly four long years have passed since our Queen and Saviour released “Be the Cowboy,” a musical bible filled with stories of heartbreak and loneliness for all the sad boys and sad girls. On Friday, Mitiski released “Laurel Hell,” a lighter, poppier album than its predecessor, which she describes as a “soundtrack for transformation, a map to the place where vulnerability and resilience, sorrow and delight, error and transcendence can all sit within our humanity, can all be seen as worthy of acknowledgment, and ultimately, love.”

On “Should’ve Been Me,” Mitski leans heavily into the 80s pop sound she’s explored on previous singles like “The Only Heartbreaker.” But don’t be fooled by the song’s peppy rhythm section or gleeful synth runs “I haven’t given you what you need/ You wanted me but couldn’t reach me,” she sings, detached and alone again.

Arlo Parks: Softly After

After Arlo Parks’ brilliant “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” her songs could only get bigger. On her debut album Parks showed complete mastery of lonely rooms and quiet personalities with her despondent songwriting and dusty production. “Softly” is a departure, but only slightly so.

Parks’ heartbroken lyrics remain along with her elegant singing, it’s the production that’s bigger. Accompanying her poppy chorus are bigger keys, louder snares and looping synths that throw paint on the emotional canvas that previous tracks delicately painted on. Parks has always had emotional mastery over her music but “Softly” shows that mastery doesn’t need to be quaint or quiet. — DG


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