Star Tracks compiles the most interesting new music from a broad range of established and emerging artists. This week’s playlist features tracks from Depeche Mode, Karen Jonz, Linkin Park, Maddy Hicks, KAROL G and Romeo Santos, Two Shell, Lovejoy, Dafna, Sleep Token, Yaya Bey and Paramore.
Depeche Mode: Ghosts Again
Just weeks after Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Never Let Me Down Again” exploded on streaming services thanks to its appearance on HBO’s “The Last Of Us” pilot, the electro-rock pioneers have returned with “Ghosts Again,” a promising lead single off their upcoming album “Memento Mori.”
The track is vintage Depeche Mode — throbbing synthesizers and Martin Gore’s effects-drenched guitar licks set the scene for a sickly-sweet goth-pop hook, delivered with suave precision by vocalist Dave Gahan:“Wasted feelings / Broken meanings / Time is fleeting.” The song’s black-and-white video, in which Gore and Gahan, draped in hooded robes, play chess on top of a building and prance around in a cemetery, is also incredibly on-brand. The boys still look cool as hell.
Of course, there’s a genuinely sad undercurrent to all this — “Ghosts Again” is Depeche Mode’s first new music since the death of keyboardist and founding member Andy “Fletch” Fletcher last spring. “(The song) just captures this perfect balance of melancholy and joy,” Gahan said on the band’s website. “Fletch would have loved this album.”
“Momento Mori,” Depeche Mode’s 15th album, drops March 24. They’ll play Scotiabank Arena in Toronto April 7. — Richie Assaly
Karen Jonz: Coocoocrazy (feat. CSS)
It’s been a decade since the last album from São Paulo’s electroclash all-stars Cansei de Ser Sexy. In that time, lead singer Luísa Matsushita, a.k.a. Lovefoxxx, learned how to drive, sold everything she had and built a self-sustaining eco-shack in the woods. You’d think a life off the grid might inspire calmer music, but nothing will stop CSS from putting out a certified rock banger.
Alongside Brazilian skateboard world-champion-turned-musician Karen Jonz, their new single delivers sweet, punky retribution to gaslighters everywhere. The track sets up a perfect call and response between Jonz’s crystalline pop vocals and Matsushita’s disaffected drawl. Then, heavy guitars punctuate their call for blood: “I’m gonna say what you said I said.”
By the final repetition of the chorus, you can’t help but scream along to the song’s triumphant descent into chaos. — Dhriti Gupta
Linkin Park: Lost
Rock hasn’t been the same since we lost Chester Bennington in 2017.
No one sounded quite like him, no one sang quite as powerfully as him, and no band dominated rock radio quite like Linkin Park did back in the 2000s. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of “Meteora,” Linkin Park has released a previously unheard track featuring Bennington on vocals, and you might want to keep some tissues handy.
“Lost” makes you want to dive through the band’s discography, to revisit all the old hits and to once again appreciate the amazing talent that was Bennington. “I try to keep this pain inside/ But I will never be all right,” Bennington sings on the chorus, and knowing the struggles the singer went through before taking his life nearly six years ago, the lines hit like a gut punch. — Justin Smirlies
Maddy Hicks: Deadline
Maddy Hicks sure knows how to write a hook. “Kinda Over It” is funky, laid-back and disarmingly conversational. The speed and composure of her lyrics is almost reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan or Sondheim, and she never once loses a word against simple, super cool guitar licks.
“Deadline,” released in late January, takes a slightly more acoustic approach to heartbreak, but maintains those clever pre-choruses and infectious melodies while building to a sonic climax. Hicks has a great handle on how to produce a song as well as how to stick the landing of a metaphor. “I wish I didn’t have to love you on a deadline,” she tells us, before slipping into a dancier, more percussive second verse. Hicks will be one to watch as TikTok continues to favour her expansive talent — she deserves more than a viral video. — Aisling Murphy
KAROL G and Romeo Santos: X SI VOLVEMOS
Over melancholy guitar strums, Colombian singer KAROL G is getting ready to say goodbye to a relationship that, despite the best effort, didn’t work out.
As the beat picks up, a sensual dance track emerges, and the reggaeton artist makes it known that just because something serious didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean the two lovers can’t still have fun. Bachata singer Romeo Santos joins in to agree — and they’ll keep each other’s contacts saved “just in case we get back together,” as the title says. A little toxicity never hurt, right? — Manuela Vega
Two Shell: Love Him
Two Shell, the mysterious electronic duo from London that gifted us with one of the most infectious dance tracks of 2022, have returned with “lil spirits,” a five-song EP to keep you moving and warm through the middle of winter.
You might want to strap yourself in for “love him,” a frenetic whirlwind of beeps, boops and chopped-up vocals arranged over a blistering 155 bpm dance beat. Futuristic but nostalgic — picture a hopped Daft Punk — the track hits you with the intoxicating dopamine rush of a vodka Red Bull. I’m down. — RA
Lovejoy: Call Me What You Like
British indie rock band Lovejoy is probably the biggest band you’ve never heard of. Boasting over 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, many of the band’s early listeners were fans of frontman William Gold, who rose to popularity on YouTube and Twitch primarily through Minecraft content under the name Wilbur Soot.
Still, unlike most YouTubers looking to carve a niche in the music industry, Gold and fellow bandmates Joe Goldsmith, Ash Kabosu and Mark Boardman seem intent on making a name for themselves as serious musicians.
Their latest release, “Call Me What You Like” is an upbeat self-deprecating tune about the anxiety and desperation of an uneven relationship — a familiar theme in the band’s work. Gold switches between honeyed crooning and frenetic monologuing, another characteristic of Lovejoy’s sound that is deployed more effectively than I’ve ever heard it before on this track
Lovejoy will make their Canadian debut at the Danforth Music Hall on May 30. — Sima Shakeri
Dafna: Life’s 2 Short
If you’re feeling more sour than sweet about Valentine’s Day, Dafna has got your back. While she’s one of many young artists disillusioned with the failings of modern-day romance, Dafna’s almost theatrical flair sets her apart. Blending the barbed lyricism of Olivia Rodrigo with the twee stylings of 2010s indie pop, Dafna doesn’t mince words: “Would you look at that? There’s no room for a / Two-faced, lying, ugly son of a b—-.”
Her peppy harmonies make for an instant earworm, catchiness being one of the main determinants of TikTok success. But more than that, the Colorado-born singer and software engineer uses the platform to offer a glimpse under the hood. She posts demos, does production breakdowns and reveals easter eggs — like the insults she hurls in the background of this song. (“Your kids are gonna sucks at chess!”) Gen Z pop gold if you ask me! — DG
Sleep Token: Aqua Regia
I didn’t really know what to think of Sleep Token when I first discovered them.
They’ve been on an astronomical rise the past few months, especially among metal and heavy music listeners, but the funny thing is, no one knows who they are. No, seriously — the band wears cult-like outfits and masks during live shows to conceal their identity, and the lead singer and songwriter is only known by the moniker “Vessel.”
It’s easy to dismiss them based on that alone — I originally did — but then the four singles for their upcoming album “Take Me Back to Eden” kept reappearing in my Spotify rotation. Their appearance might be odd (like a serious looking GWAR), but their music is far from it, and their latest single “Aqua Regia” is smooth, sultry and surprisingly catchy. — JS
Yaya Bey: exodus the north star
Brooklyn singer Yaya Bey racked up the accolades in 2022 for her sophomore album “Remember Your North Star” a tour de force that critic Sidney Madden described beautifully in NPR: “Like a finger tracing the scars of a gash left untended, the album glides across genres — reggae, jazz, blues, R&B — to deliver a dissertation about how often Black women are inadequately loved.”
This week, she announced a followup EP, “Exodus the North Star,” set to release on March 24. On the EP’s title track, Bey opts for brightness, her sultry voice gliding like a stick of a hot butter over a reggae groove punctuated by vivid bursts of horns. “I’m just happy just to have you around, babe, yeah,” she sings, exultant. “You’re the greatest blessing I found.” — RA
Paramore: You First
Paramore continues to reinvent themselves while staying true to the core of what makes them them.
The band’s new album “This Is Why” is a confident, ambitious, no-skips record that takes listeners on a journey. “You First”, the album’s sixth track, is a punchy highlight. Frontwoman Hayley Williams’ ferocious vocals soar as she reflects on the duality of human nature. “Turns out I’m living in a horror film/ Where I’m both the killer and the final girl/ So who, who are you?” she sings on the second verse.
The song, like the rest of the album, is a cathartic but controlled explosion of emotion that will leave millennials that grew up with the band satisfied.
Paramore’s sixth album “This Is Why” is out now. You can catch them at Scotiabank Arena on June 8. — SS
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