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 Alex G, WILLOW, Brent Faiyaz, Snail Mail, the Mars Volta and more.
Click here to listen along to the Spotify playlist, which includes additional tracks we loved this week.
Alex G: Runner
I’m trying to pinpoint my favourite moment on the latest Alex G track. Maybe it’s at the 0:18 mark, when he begins to sing, his vocal cadence in sync with the rhythm of the drums. Or maybe it’s at the 0:49 mark, when the pianist slams down a single bass note, giving the track just a little added texture. Or at 1:02 when the backing vocals appear. Or 1:45, when Alex G lets out a curdling scream that sounds a little bit like SpongeBob SquarePants.
What I’m getting at is that there is a lot of fun packed into the breezy single “Runner,” which ranks among the most infectious songs the prolific 29-year-old indie songwriter has written. “I like people who I can open up to / Who don’t judge for what I say, but judge me for what I do,” he sings earnestly, staring into the camera in the song’s video, which pays tribute to a classic Tom Petty song.
“Runner” is the second single off Alex G’s upcoming album “God Save the Animals,” which drops via Domino in September. — Richie Assaly
Drake featuring GoldLink and PinkPantheress: Massive (remix)
When Drake dropped “Honestly, Nevermind” I was one of the people that was totally ecstatic. Finally, a new direction for Drizzy to explore and “Massive” was one of the clear standouts. Between its totally infectious drops are a verse and vocals from GoldLink and PinkPantheress. GoldLink’s verse, a posturing screed about his connections in London and PinkPantheress’s trademark breathy sad girl lyrics — “I wrote you so many letters, not that any of it matters / Because I forgot that you lost me” — serve as a blueprint for where this new sound from Drake can be taken.
Although completely bizarre, this collaboration was bound to happen, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. Drake loves the U.K., Drake’s making electronic music and Londoner PinkPantheress is the hottest electronic vocalist out right now with the Midas touch. GoldLink has also been sitting at the crossroads of hip hop and electronica for years. Both features fit on the track like a glove as “Massive’s” production, spruced up by Sam Gellaitry with serene flutes and bouncy drums, serves as the undercurrent until bursting through at the drop. This remix is a fun experiment and shows how much of a finger on the pulse Drake has when someone like PinkPantheress, an artist few would consider Drake in league with, is standing next to him. — Demar Grant
Snail Mail: Feeling Like I Do
Over the past few years, Spotify Singles — a weekly series of original artist recordings from the streaming service’s in-house New York studio — has gifted us with a pretty nice collection of unexpected covers. See, for example, Japanese Breakfast’s stellar cover of “Dreams” by the Cranberries, or Lido Pimienta’s lovely cover of Björk’s “Declare Independence,” or the Toots & the Maytals reggae rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Road.”
The latest gem comes via Snail Mail, the moniker of singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, whose 2021 album “Valentine” was one of my favourite releases of last year. In addition to performing the “Valentine” cut “Headlock,” Snail Mail also gifts fans with an extraordinary cover of Superdrag’s “Feeling Like I Do,” an angsty song of drunken yearning from 2002. “I just wanna sleep it off with you,” Jordan croons in her smoky alto over a wall of crunchy, fuzzed-out power chords.
Snail Mail — an excellent live act — will be in Toronto on Oct. 4, on a shared bill with fellow Baltimore acts Turnstile and JPEGMafia. — RA
WILLOW: <maybe> it’s my fault
First a speedy alt-rock track, “<maybe> it’s my fault” quickly develops into a punishing metalcore meltdown. After getting in a huge fight with her partner WILLOW wonders, “I don’t know if I’m worth forgiving,” through distorted vocals and chugging guitars that make you feel the pounding regret just as much as you hear it. And the same goes for the chorus and the scream-inducing outro. This is all surrounding WILLOW’s flexible, regret-filled vocals in the verses that offer a beautiful contrast to the merciless strings on this track. The guitar on this track will make you think that rock music can maybe be saved. — DG
The Mars Volta: Blacklight Shine
Formed at the start of the 21st century by guitar virtuoso Omar Rodríguez-López and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala (both former members of the post-hardcore group At the Drive-In), the Mars Volta released six albums between 2003 and 2012 on their way to becoming perhaps the most influential progressive rock group of the aughts.
Earlier this month, the Texas band released the single “Blacklight Shine,” their first new music in over a decade (how time flies!). A surprisingly accessible and groovy track that clocks in at under three minutes, “Blacklight Shine” does feel like a new direction for a band known for long and complex songs. And yet all the familiar pieces are here: the Latin-influenced percussion, Rodríguez-López’s squelchy guitar riffs and Bixler-Zavala’s extravagant vocal theatrics, which move between English and Spanish.
It took me a few listens to really connect with the track, but now I am hooked. I guess I didn’t realize how much I missed these guys. — RA
Brent Faiyaz: Price of Fame
Brent Faiyaz is simply on a kill streak. Since his last major release “F— the World” in 2020 he’s been dropping a very long string of loosies; they’ve all been heaters and “Price of Fame” is the latest in a long line. Leading up to his album “Wasteland,” due out next week, Faiyaz slowly recounts the pitfalls of fame by wading through his emotions and the song’s production. First at a plodding pace surrounded by distorted 808’s, spiralling synths and what sounds like a drowned xylophone, then at borderline breakneck speed before finally resting into reminiscent strings enveloped by Faiyaz’s backing vocals. It’s a progressive track and a major switch-up for Faiyaz considering his music’s cyclical nature, but its essence never deviates from a Faiyaz track’s core, resulting in another low-key banger.
This is one of those tracks that has existed on the web in various capacities but has finally touched Spotify and Apple streaming, and everyone’s playlists are better for it. — DG
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