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A Tribe Called Red arrives on the red carpet during the Juno Awards in Winnipeg on March 30, 2014. (JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A Tribe Called Red arrives on the red carpet during the Juno Awards in Winnipeg on March 30, 2014.

(JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Three songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week Add to ...

Mozart’s Sister – Eternally Girl (2016)

“Life’s no fun if you can’t feel the beat,” coos Mozart’s Sister’s Caila Thompson-Hannant, and Eternally Girl‘s got nothing to offer the joyless stick-in-the-muds who can’t. The first taster of her second album shows the Montreal singer-producer sprinting full speed into a sparkler of shining, silvery pop. There’s none of her debut’s torrid electric funk; behold instead the stuttering 64-bit synths of PC Music, J-pop and Mariah Carey remixes. The compactness of the songwriting suits her well: although Thompson-Hannant got her start with the adventurous indie-rock outfit Shapes and Sizes, and despite frequent comparisons with Grimes, my favourite songs of hers have always seemed as if they could have been written in the Brill Building, or by Prince at a bedroom four-track. The fundamentals are sound, even as everything else goes flickering and skittering around. Singing like a teenage girl, thirtyish Thompson-Hannant reminds us of how discerning teenagers can be. Nobody is pickier about who they’re swooning over.

A Tribe Called Red ft Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear – R.E.D. (2016)

One of the country’s most vital musical projects comes thundering out of the woods, shaking lake and dune. R.E.D. isn’t just a showcase of the Ottawa DJ crew’s evolving sound, it’s a 1,000-watt manifesto with a dazzler of a video. Bey’s involvement is a coup: still better known by his previous pseudonym, Mos Def, the rapper’s presence catapults ATCR from national treasure to international going concern. Not that they care about borders. The essence of R.E.D., under the towering synth stabs and pow-wow singers, is the tension between colonial nation-builders and their unbounded opponents. ATCR cast the struggle in language borrowed (in fact, sampled) from poet John Trudell: the settlers’ Alie Nation vs. the dreamers’ Halluci Nation. Narcy, born in Dubai but living in Montreal, and Brooklyn-born Bey, who has run into trouble for trying to use a “world passport,” rap rings around the concepts. “What streets you from, son?” asks Bey. “Planet Earth.” This wishful thinking feels absolutely vivid here, as if the rules could all be changed with nothing more than protest, shouts and drums. (Wait: they can.)

Jackie DeShannon – The Weight (1968)

Usually if someone’s playing a cover of the Band, I prefer it live or not at all. But I ran into this version in Vermont last weekend, and the sound off the turntable made everyone in the room raise their eyes a little higher, our hearts perking up. DeShannon strikes a perfect balance between peace and fervour, and there’s just the right amount of grease in the piano and back-up vocals (the latter by Barry White!). The Weight wasn’t yet famous when DeShannon recorded it – her version hit the U.S. charts one week before the Band’s – but it’s interesting to hear how beloved it already sounded, a treasure from the start.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

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