Taken from The Star (Mar 18, 2022)

Arcade Fire return to form with first music in five years, plus new tracks from Rosalia, Charli XCX and more

This week's Star Tracks playlist also includes new music from Plastikman and Chilly Gonzales, Normani, 88Glam, Muna, and Toronto artist TOBi.

by Richie Assaly, Toronto Star
Demar Grant, Staff Reporter
Annette Ejiofor, Toronto Star

Records footage
Records footage

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 Arcade Fire, Rosalia, Normani, Plastikman and Chilly Gonzales, Charli XCX, Muna, 88Glam and TOBi.

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

Arcade Fire: The Lightning I, II

An almost palpable wave of relief washed across music Twitter on Thursday afternoon following the release of "The Lightning I, II," the first new music from Arcade Fire in half a decade. The two-part, five-and-a-half minute epic feels like a return to form following the 2017 album "Everything Now," which was widely seen as a misstep for the legendary Canadian band that had previously scaled the apotheosis of indie rock.

Ambitious but somehow saccharine, "Everything Now" was panned by many critics. Rob Harvilla called it the first Arcade Fire album "where the balance feels off, where the exhaustion sets in before the record even drops, where the noise thoroughly defeats the signal." Nor did the fans seem too interested - the band infamously struggled to fill the arenas it so obviously coveted during the album's supporting tour.

Fortunately for fans, "The Lightning" manages to recapture the energy - and most importantly, that burning sense of angst - that defined the group's first three albums. Produced by Nigel Godrich (the "sixth member of Radiohead"), the track ditches the glossy synths of the previous era for acoustic guitars, accordions and the rousing melodies of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. But the MVPs here are drummer Jeremy Gara and bassist Tim Kingsbury, who provide an exhilarating sense of catharsis in the song's explosive second half.

Arcade Fire's sixth album, titled "WE" arrives on May 6. According to a press statement, the 40-minute LP is divided into two distinct sides - Side 'I' channelling the fear and loneliness of isolation, and Side "WE" expressing the joy and power of reconnection. - Richie Assaly

Rosalia: HENTAI

La Rosalia, mira.

After the masterpiece that was her second studio album, "El Mal Querer," Spanish artist Rosalia has returned with a project even more bold and vulnerable than the last. "MOTOMAMI," which arrived Friday, forges the flamenco sound that the 28-year-old pop star continues to champion and reinvent, while experimenting further with trap, reggaeton and house music.

"El Mal Querer" was inspired by the 13th-century manuscript titled "Flamenca" - a collection of stories about a woman in an abusive relationship who decides to reclaim her freedom and autonomy. "MOTOMAMI" makes Rosalia the artist a bit clearer. She is in a new relationship (as described in the sensual "HENTAI"), she is changing but staying the same (as we hear in "SAOKO"), she has money and new-found confidence (as we hear in "CHICKEN TERIYAKI"), but she is struggling to juggle it all (as we hear in "LA FAMA" - her teamed single with The Weeknd).

Rosalia fans might take a second to adjust to this new theme, but a second is really all one will need. Welcome to the newest era, "MOTOMAMI." - Annette Ejiofor

Normani: Fair

I don't think an artist has ever maintained as much cultural relevance without releasing a studio album. Normani's "Fair" is her second song this year, and where "Wild Side" had a pop flair, "Fair" is pure R&B. Over droplet synths and subdued 808s, Normani delivers a super smooth vocal performance that's only reinforced by its lyrics. "Fair" is one of those tracks that captures the solitude and sadness of heartbreak. Often people suffer in silence, wondering what went wrong, then wallowing in the sadness of their former partners growth as they think: "Baby, if we could trade places, so you'd feel betrayed, and I could feel shameless." Normani's slow and methodical approach to loneliness and anguish is totally captivating and a large part of why she's still got eyes on her despite the absence of a full body of work. - Demar Grant

Plastikman & Chilly Gonzales: Contain (In Key)

In 1998, Canadian electronic producer Richie Hawtin released "Consumed," a seminal project in the world of minimal techno recorded under the alias Plastikman. Brooding and hypnotic, the record is made up of desolate ambient soundscapes that make Aphex Twin's music sound cheery by comparison. This isn't music to relax to - it's music to listen to while you plot bloody revenge.

Nearly a quarter century later, Hawtin is set to release "Consumed in Key," a reimagining of the 1998 album created in collaboration with Canadian composer and pianist Chilly Gonzales. Executive produced by house music legend Tiga, the project balances the original Plastikman songs with new piano counterparts composed by Gonzales.

According to a press statement, Gonzales - a polymath who in addition to classical compositions also makes hip hop and house music - was inspired (and "threatened") by the Plastikman record's loose use of melody and negative space: "It would not be a remix. It would be one composer instinctively reacting to, and finding space within, another composer's already completed work."

The first single, "Contain (In Key)," is a subtle but significant transformation of the original track, as Gonzales's nearly weightless accompaniment unearths new melodies and themes amid a throbbing two-note bass line. The full album drops April 1. - RA

Charli XCX: Crash

Who doesn't love new jack swing? I know Charli XCX does. "Crash," the opener to the English pop artist's latest album of the same name, is a retro '80s track with striking synths, and classic new jack drums that could have easily been in any '80s movie's club or opening scene. Charli's suicidal hook "I'm about to crash into the water, gonna take you with me, I'm high voltage, self-destructive, end it all so legendary," is masked by the energetic production, but it's also the song's major selling point. Through sheer bedroom danceability, Charli XCX makes self-destruction sound appealing as her stuttered vocals bounce between the compressed drums. There are verses between the hooks, but the brisk four lines only serve as a breather for Charli's electric mantric choruses. And with a biting guitar solo at the end of it, "Crash" throws in all the elements to hearken back to the days where leg warmers and neon were the norm. - DG

MUNA: Anything But Me

HAIM, Phoebe Bridgers, Indigo De Souza ... it sure feels like we're living through a golden era of what might be called "earnest pop rock." The genre, mostly led by women singer-songwriters, broadly includes things like: glistening guitars, sugary harmonies and hooks, and sophisticated lyricism that knows how to tug (firmly) at the heartstrings.

The group that perhaps epitomizes this made-up genre is MUNA, a trio from California that has been around for a while, but has gained prominence since signing with Bridgers' "Saddest Factory" label last year. MUNA's second single from their upcoming self-titled LP, "Anything But Me," is a punchy little bop that would sound right at home on '80s radio. And though it's an undeniably fun and uplifting track, it contains an undercurrent of sadness that provides just the right amount of emotional weight.

"(It's) about leaving a partnership simply because it doesn't feel right," the band said in a statement. "It's about trusting yourself and your instincts enough to walk away from someone while you still have love for each other and before it gets too bad."

MUNA will perform at the Phoenix Theatre in Toronto September 27. - RA

88Glam: Ziploc

"Ziploc" is a constant reminder of who 88Glam are: diamond-encrusted braggarts with sugar-encrusted hooks. Their signature video game-inspired, trap production makes a re-emergence as 88Camino reminds everyone: "I secure the bag like Ziploc, I got big guap (Flex, yeah), pop them tags I rip off, baguettes in my wristwatch." It's well trodden land for the duo but it's never stopped the tracks from being catchy. 88 Camino's dynamic vocals bounce between the SNES-like production, creating a hook that demands repetition. Derek Wise also drops an opulent verse that explains why he's "the baddest one since Mike," flipping flows while still maintaining its candied rhyme scheme.

This is the latest single from their indefinitely delayed album "Close To Heaven Far From God" that was due to release in April of 2020. Since then, the group has left XO and Republic records and released two projects "New Mania" and "Heaven Can Wait." Although there's been no official release date for the album, with the release of the single "Want To" and now "Ziploc," both of which are on the original track list, it's exciting to see what'll come next. - DG

Harrison, TOBi: Outta This World

A couple years back, Nigerian-Canadian artist TOBi linked up with veteran producer Harrison for "Beige," a soulful standout track from the acclaimed and Polaris-nominated album "ELEMENTS Vol 1."

The two Toronto-based artists have joined forces once again for an infectious new single titled "Outta This World," which dropped last week. Over a jazzy, bass-heavy production, TOBi seamlessly skips between rapping and singing, his textured vocals working in perfect contrast to the smoothness of Harrison's instrumentals.

"As soon as I finished this joint, I immediately thought of TOBi," Harrison said in a statement. "I knew he would deliver and he did. He floated on it." - RA




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