Editor’s Note: Issue 11 – Prospect

Editor’s Note: Issue 11 – Prospect

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Michael Rancic

Every issue, the New Feeling team puts our collective heads together to come up with a theme that addresses the big picture — in music, in culture, in where we all find ourselves at large.

This time around, we landed on “prospect” — very fitting in a pandemic era in both noun and verb form: many of us have indeed been looking out into the distance, trying to figure out what’s next; and also anticipating the things that might be.

We certainly hope the prospect of great reads ahead has you excited for this issue’s features, which all touch on the idea of possibility. Laura Stanley profiles Toronto-based percussionist Yang Chen, who sought out community after the loneliness of lockdown. That prospecting for collaboration yielded unexpected connections — and their richly textured debut album, longing for_.

Prospecting is something the Yukon knows a thing or two about — quite literally, in the case of the gold rush. Tom Beedham headed to the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwäch’än (otherwise known as Whitehorse) to bear witness to Wonderhorse — a community-focused event that’s turning the concept of the music festival on its head. From centering youth to platforming underground artists, Wonderhorse meets audiences where they are — in the process, reminding us how music and art are often a catalyst for reimagining existing paradigms.

And Tia Julien tells us about how Juno-nominated singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alysha Brilla drew on the introspection and experimentation necessitated by the pandemic to recognize the prospect of healing through music — which underscores her latest album, Circle, and also her work hosting yoga and music workshops with fellow Canadian artist Desiree Dawson.

As the year nears its end, New Feeling too has been prospecting in its own way — grateful to our members and readers for following us through 11 issues, and dreaming up meaningful new stories to bring you in the months ahead.

With Twitter ever-closer to being one big fail-whale, we encourage those interested in staying in touch and sharing thoughts about music to join us on Discord (it’s fun, we swear — and completely El*n-free!), and we’re always looking for new members to get involved with organizing, editorial, and other aspects of keeping the co-op running.

And don’t forget about our ongoing Reading Group series — in our final meeting of the year on Nov. 29, we’ll discuss Erica Campbell’s insightful Paste Magazine feature “Is This It? When Will Black Artists Get To Just Be Rock Artists?” To join in the conversation, register here.

So many of the meanings of “prospect” are at the core of what New Feeling is all about: hope; possibility; exploration. We hope this issue inspires you not just to dig into the musicians, albums, and art our writers are highlighting, but also to think about what the ideas inherent in the word prospect mean to you.

Editor’s Note – Issue 10: FUNDAMENTALS

The word "Fundamentals" written in a black font resembling children's block letters. "Issue 10" appears below it, and below that, a wall of tetris blocks outlined in orange.

Editor’s Note – Issue 10: FUNDAMENTALS

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Laura Stanley

Welcome to Issue #10, the Fundamentals issue. What does that term mean to you? Maybe you think of something elemental or foundational to who you are, or what you want the world around you to be. At New Feeling, we’re always thinking back to the core of what we’re hoping the writing and art we publish conveys: an enthusiasm for the deep creativity of the artists making great music across this country, through a lens of community and connection.

In this issue, Montreal writer Sun Noor takes us deep into the sounds that are fundamental to her and her Somali-Canadian peers—and how they’re taking inspiration from the golden age of Somalia’s music scene to fuel their own understanding of their roots and making music that reflects their unique place in the diaspora.

And Daniel G. Wilson examines the passion behind the Canadian extreme metal scene, exploring the legacy and influence of bands like Voivod, Fuck the Facts, and their next-gen counterparts like Mares Of Thrace. Wilson looks at some of the fundamental elements of the scene, including its timelessness, rebellion, and sense of community, while reminding us of its diversity of sound and the impact of the many BIPOC musicians instrumental in its foundation. 

In our Group Chat feature, Wilson, Tom Beedham, and Leslie Ken Chu offer up their perspectives on Edmonton metalcore band EXITS’ heavy tune “The Forever Crashing of Waves,” while Beedham, Galen Milne-Hines, and Wilson reflect on Toronto-born, Nunavut-based producer </DAD>’s lo-fi hip-hop track “Better Then the Worst.” More than mere reviews, these writeups get to the heart (or what is fundamental, you might say) of how these songs—tunes you may not have heard before but that are worth seeking out—make our writers feel and think.

Of course, New Feeling is more than just the publication of our online issues—behind the scenes, the co-op has been busy putting in place a ‘buddy triangle system’ that connects all members with a buddy and a third member to pool resources, diversify skill development and prevent burnout. It’s yet another move that helps to uphold our values by ensuring collective growth while prioritizing accountability.

Speaking of collectivity, we continue to reach out to readers and those discovering New Feeling for the first time to encourage everyone to join the co-op as a member—whether you want to get involved in writing for the publication, helping to organize behind the scenes, or just support the group’s work, there’s a place for you as a member! Increasing our membership will allow us to reach new goals this fall, including adding another feature story to each issue; grow our reserve fund for commissioning long-lead stories, invest in our website and deal with other expenses; and raise the rate paid for features. Learn more about the co-op and join or donate here.

We’ve got lots of interesting initiatives on the go of late, including What’s New, our bi-monthly newsletter; our Reading Group continues, with a terrific discussion earlier this month about Sasha Geffen’s history of gender fluidity in pop music, Glitter Up the Dark; and as New Feeling’s first Public Editor, I took over our Twitter account to explain more about the role and ask how I can best serve our readers (feel free to email me with any questions or ideas at nfpubliceditor[at]gmail.com).

We hope New Feeling becomes a fundamental part of your music reading—and that the music you read about in each issue also finds its way into your essential listening.

Group Chat: EXITS ; DAD

Group Chat: EXits; </DAD>

The words "GROUP CHAT" in large black font over a light brown textured cardboard backdrop. In the foreground, two poorly drawn text bubbles featuring photos of EXITS and DAD in each.

Art by: Michael Rancic | EXITS photo by: Agnes Benson; </DAD> portrait by: </DAD>

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives of each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

In our latest edition, Tom Beedham, Leslie Ken Chu, and Daniel G. Wilson plunge into the deep metalcore waters of “The Forever Crashing of Waves” by Edmonton heatseekers EXITS. And Beedham, Galen Milne-Hines, and Wilson offer their vivid thoughts on the lo-fi abstract hip hop of Taloyoak, Nunavut-based producer </DAD>’s “Better Then the Worst.”

Note: We’ve had to stylize </DAD>’s name as just “DAD” in places because WordPress thinks its code. Fun!

EXITS – “The Forever Crashing of Waves”

Tom Beedham: In Kondratiev theory, the world economy cycles through a series of growth waves every 50 years: expansion, collapse, stagnation, and recession. Edmonton metalcore unit EXITS desperately motion toward that brutal economic determinism all over “The Forever Crashing of Waves,” transcending its predictability in the process. The title suggests eternity, but freshly inaugurated vocalist Jon Baker sees the pattern as an opportunity, piercing through the heavy rhythmic onslaught to stake a claim: “This time it’s gonna be different / I won’t be right back where I began.” Screaming out as if he’s drowning, there’s no doubting Baker’s urgency as he begs for support in this effort, and the band rides that energy all the way through to a palm chugging finale breakdown begging for a pit. Change requires mass resistance, and Baker reiterates the directionless default desperation through repeated lines of exhaustion before the song’s collapse: “Are we just running and running around? / Running ourselves into the ground?”

Leslie Ken Chu: Writing about metalcore bands like EXITS is challenging for me. It’s not their meticulous arrangements and airbag-triggering time signature changes that I can’t follow, it’s their impenetrable screaming. Halfway through “The Forever Crashing of Waves,” I gave up worrying about the possible meanings circling the song’s ocean of noise. I just clamped my eyes shut, held on for dear life, and let EXITS haul me through their sonic wake. But after a dozen listens, I realized why the song clicked with me: compared to the literally cartoonish melodramas of more agile metalcore bands, “The Forever Crashing of Waves” contains few frills—no parrying, no strafing, just a straight punch to the gut; Killswitch Engage can keep their theatrical flare to the ring. By the time this epiphany hit me, I was ready for another round.

Daniel G. Wilson: Edmonton’s EXITS zero in on the chaotic aspects of mathcore with bone-crushing precision. On “The Forever Crashing of Waves,” harsh metallic guitars cascade over pounding drums and aggressive rumbling basslines that constantly sound like they are on the edge of implosion. Jon Baker’s shouted vocals are a call to action, blurring the line between a lyrical vehicle and an instrumental texture that acts as a guidepost for the listener. The quieter breaks throughout the song add a nice counterbalance to the all-out assault of the louder sections. A lush and melodic eye within the maelstrom of distortion and shifting time signatures provides emotional catharsis and space for contemplation, showing a mastery of compositional dynamics at the heart of this frenetic song.

</DAD> – “Better Then the Worst”

Tom Beedham: Working under the remarkably unGoogleable project name </DAD>, Taloyoak, Nunavut-based, Toronto-born hip-hop producer Jonathan Nuss seems intent on obscurity. Building beats (and their samples) from scratch, the project certainly boasts an air of comfortable self-reliance, Nuss patiently transforming field recordings and homestrung instrumentals into the laid back atmospheres that permeate his tracks. Bumping along to burbling bass lines, “Better Then the Worst” underlines that sense of ease with a series of breezy guitar chords that spill into surfy vibrato washes. Unpacking scenes of elemental abundance, rapper Kai Waves steps in with a feature that throws shade at the darker sides of ambition, making a case for building sandcastles rather than empires.

Galen Milne-Hines: As a producer, Nunavut-based </DAD> describes his style as “abstract hip-hop,” which makes sense as you hone in on the textures and colours compressed into “Better Then the Worst.” Each listener can easily come away with their own descriptors—it’s a good thing we have three different writers reviewing such a cool song even though it’s less than two minutes long. For me, it’s the sense of contrast built into the woolly production. Bright chords overtop a loping beat switch up with warmer, darker guitar hits, somehow bringing to mind the sound of an old Western, albeit one perhaps set in the tundras of the far north. Guest emcee Kai Waves grounds the track with verses that feel confidently defiant and perfectly suit the “dad-fi” vibe.

Daniel G. Wilson: The sound of late ‘90s underground hip-hop is alive and well on “Better Then the Worst” by Taloyoak, Nunavut’s </DAD> featuring American rapper Kai Waves. The entire vibe of the song is heavily reminiscent of a track found on a Def Jux comp or an Adult Swim bumper back in the early ‘00s. That is to say: “Better Then the Worst” provides hard-hitting yet boom bap-esque beats with a delicate eye for sampling and low fidelity texture smeared across the production. Kai Waves’ verses are delivered with a confident and dynamic flow that merges succinctly with the underlying music, never taking away from the beats while using them as a springboard to deliver observations about life. In combining these elements, </DAD> keeps old school reference points alive so that they will continue shaping the future.

Editor’s Note – Issue 9: Kinship

Editor’s Note – Issue 9: Kinship

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Galen Milne-Hines

“Kinship” is the theme of this issue—and something that’s at the heart of New Feeling. As a collective, New Feeling is committed to building a supportive platform where music writers and the wider music community can feel at home, learn from one another, and uplift each other.

Those values permeate Issue 9, in which our writers explore what kinship means in the context of some of the music being made across the country today.

Each issue, we bring together multiple writers to give us their take on some intriguing new songs. Having a mutual starting point for our Group Chat reviews draws on the idea that kinship is about a sharing of characteristics or origins, but also offers up each writer’s distinct perspective—which, if you think about it, is akin to any thoughtful collective experience.

In this issue’s edition of Group Chat, you’ll read Leslie Ken Chu, Jordan Currie, Jesse Locke, and Laura Stanley’s musings on Vancouver-based composer, improviser, vocalist, and violinist Wallgrin’s latest composition and the new track by Hamilton-bred, Toronto-based singer, rapper, and producer Quinton Barnes.

This issue’s two features delve deep into the concept of community—Winnipeg writer Cierra Bettens interviews B.C.-based Indigenous singer-songwriter Francis Baptiste about drawing on his roots for his new album of songs in both English and nsyilxcən, the language of the Syilx people.

And Toronto writer and photographer Tom Beedham takes us into the heart of the Lawnya Vawnya festival in St. John’s, which spotlights new independent music over several days and invites its audience to engage with music and art in an inclusive and innovative way. Tom’s overview of his time there reminds us what a festival can be: a place of creative kinship rather than a corporate cash grab.

In keeping with our commitment to being a communal space where communication and transparency is key, we also want to acknowledge that Issue 9 is coming to you later than we’d hoped—in part due to the ongoing challenges with COVID and the summertime schedules of many of our contributors. That means that work on Issue 10 will be affected, pushing that edition back as well.

We know our readers and paying members expect New Feeling to publish in a timely fashion, so we hope to be back on schedule with Issue 11, and thank you in advance for your patience as we continue to work towards publishing unique, inclusive coverage of the Canadian music scene you won’t find elsewhere.

A reminder that you can join New Feeling’s cooperative as a member—when you subscribe, you become a co-owner and help to equitably pay our talented contributors across the country and shape the organization’s direction.

And as Public Editor, I’m always open to your feedback and ideas around how we can continue to grow and foster kinship—you can reach me at nfpubliceditor@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter and Instagram @newfeelingcoop (keep an eye out for a Twitter takeover from me in August where we’ll be looking to hear more from our readers and members about how the Public Editor can best serve their needs and interests).

As Francis Baptiste puts it in this issue, “I guess when I hear that word [kinship], I think of family. Not just your literal biological family, but the family you create around you.” Thanks as always for being part of the New Feeling family—bringing together people through music, one issue at a time.

Group Chat: Wallgrin; Quinton Barnes

Art by: Galen Milne-Hines | Wallgrin photo by: Mackenzie Walker; Quinton Barnes photo by: Rahel Ellis

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives on each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

In our latest edition, Leslie Ken Chu, Jordan Currie, and Laura Stanley declare their devotion to Vancouver violinist Wallgrin’s avant-chamber pop composition “PseudoReligion.” Meanwhile, Tia Julien, Chu, and Jesse Locke wax animated about the viscerally conflicted and disorienting “Dead” by Hamilton-born singer-rapper Quinton Barnes.

Check out the takes below!

Leslie Ken Chu: Melodic drops of harp pool around salt-lamp synths and Wallgrin’s operatic voice like water in a pristine underground pond. Yet, counter to that tranquil imagery, the Vancouver composer lyrically wades through murky existential waters. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” they ponder. An electrical storm guitar solo rages, mirroring their inner conflict. Wallgrin’s skepticism that an unequivocal universal truth exists inspires feelings of insignificance. But light always breaks through the surface of even the darkest waters—as long as Wallgrin keeps swimming, they’re bound to reach a revelation and break through their uncertainty.

Jordan Currie: Wallgrin’s “PseudoReligion” is a cosmic, magical melting pot. If the poetry of Florence and the Machine, the whimsical vocals and delicate harps of Joanna Newsom and the rousing 1970s rock guitars of Yves Tumor had a baby, this song would be it. But make no mistake—the Vancouver artist spins all of these eclectic sounds into their own original creation. Confusion, faith, a search for meaning in life—these are all themes explored in the song. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” Tegan Wahlgren ponders. The track’s simmering build leads to an epic finale that can only be described as utterly mystical, like the image of Venus emerging from the ocean.

Laura Stanley: On “PseudoReligion,” Wallgrin (Tegan Wahlgren) steps up to the pulpit and lets loose. If Elisa Thorn’s twinkling harp is heaven and the face-melting rock opera-like guitar solo from Tristan Paxton is hell, then Wahlgren is caught somewhere in the middle trying to understand their life’s purpose and, as they write on Instagram, “surrender to absurdity.” Wahlgren’s striking avant-garde pop track twists and turns unexpectedly, but the weighty unease at the heart of “PseudoReligion” (and Wahlgren) is a steady conductor and a very relatable touchpoint. Light a prayer candle in preparation for Wallgrin’s second album, Yet Again the Wheel Turns, due out in September.

Leslie Ken Chu: It’s difficult to parse reality from paranoid fiction on “Dead,” the lead single from Quinton Barnes’ upcoming sophomore album, For the Love of Drugs. A harsh, jarring electronica beat undergirds the rapper’s innate swagger, revealing his inner turmoil. One moment, he’s boasting that no one can ever be on his level; the next, he’s crumbling completely: “Got a feeling I deserve something more / ‘Cause ain’t nothing working here at all / I got voices in my head telling me I’m better off dead.” That Barnes swings from flaunting confidence to wrestling with self-doubt in the same verse evinces one sure reality: it’s too easy for our disparaging internal voice to invade our thoughts.

Tia Julien: Quinton Barnes leans into the dark on the first single “Dead” from his upcoming album, For the Love of Drugs. The accompanying music video provides a chilling visual aid to the horror behind the narrative: “I got voices in my head / Telling me I’d be better off dead.” Consistent with his discography, “Dead” is a bold and stylized statement on a socially stigmatized dilemma—the temptation to succumb to your vices: “I’m liable to lose my mind at any time / Stop treating me crazy.” We know Barnes from his previous works, including As a Motherfucker (2021), as a multifaceted artist who isn’t afraid to be truly vulnerable in his songwriting. Laughing in the face of evil on “Dead,” Barnes shows his willingness to work and play with intense emotion through his music.

Jesse Locke: The devil on Quinton Barnes’ shoulder is laughing so loudly that he can’t be ignored. On his new single, “Dead,” intrusive thoughts bubble up to the surface and spill over like an oozing evil that refuses to remain bottled inside him. The young Kitchener-based rapper and producer revealed feelings of vulnerability under the leather-clad exterior of his 2021 debut, As A Motherfucker, but on this song he shines the spotlight directly into the darkness. Like his former Grimalkin Records labelmate Backxwash, Barnes speaks openly about the temptations to obliterate himself either temporarily or permanently, tearing down the stigmas that surround these very human conditions. When he laughs back at the devil, weakness becomes strength.

Editor’s Note – Issue 8: Nourishment

Editor’s Note – Issue 8: Nourishment

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Michael Rancic

If you’re familiar with New Feeling (and for newcomers, welcome!), you know that it was started as a way of reimagining the old model of music journalism—one that’s seen in-depth, thoughtful coverage slashed and publications closed. Over the past year, New Feeling’s cooperative model has powered several issues of innovative writing that highlights emerging Canadian artists not served well by the old paradigm.

In two decades of writing about music, I’ve rarely heard any editor or publication make mention of values. They might talk about editorial approach, or copy style, or even journalistic ethics. When New Feeling launched with a commitment to being a supportive platform where writers and creatives worked collaboratively not just to publish great work, but to uphold community-based values, it underscored the collective’s unique space in the Canadian music scene.

In thinking deeply about what sort of music writing they wanted to see and how to make that happen through a cooperative process, the organizing working group and steering committee worked together to develop the framework that guides New Feeling. Part of those early ideas included the establishment of a Public Editor role—someone who could be a resource and contact for readers; a go-between amidst co-op members and the New Feeling readership (though we certainly hope readers will consider becoming members as well, as your voice and input can only help the collective grow!).

With this issue, I’ll be stepping into that role—at least to start; we hope other New Feeling members will also serve as the Public Editor down the road and bring their own ideas and creativity to engaging with readers. The way we see it, having a Public Editor is a vital part of living up to the co-op’s values, particularly when it comes to transparency and accountability.

If you have questions, feedback, or even complaints, you’ll now have a direct contact at New Feeling you can reach out to—I’m keen to get your input into the work we’re doing and how we can make it even better.

As a longtime journalist, I also want to ensure those interested in any aspect of music journalism—whether that’s writing, editing, criticism, pitching or something else—can come to New Feeling for support and resources. And what that looks like—online workshops? Mentoring? Writing feedback?—is entirely up to you.

It’s perhaps fitting that we are taking this step as we launch Issue 8, on the theme of Nourishment—how to feed our bodies, minds, and souls during these last few trying years has certainly been top of mind, and we hope the reviews and stories in this issue remind you of how music can nourish us. Of course connection is yet another way we nurture community—something I’m hoping I can help do for New Feeling as the new Public Editor.

In this issue, writer Karen K. Tran interviews Brock Boonstra, frontman of Guelph punk band Habit, about how his love of music dovetails with his enthusiasm for cooking. “Being able to invite people over and say, ‘Hey, this is something that’s really interesting to me’ is just a good way to communicate with each other,” he says.

New Feeling is all about sharing what we think is interesting to our writers—like Boonstra, we’re inviting you into our (virtual) space, and hope you’ll connect with us in return.

Whether you read about an artist you already know and love, or discover some new sounds through one of our stories—or maybe you’re a music writer or diehard music fan who wants to get involved with like-minded people who love and support creative, diverse art by joining the co-op—I want to hear from you. Email me at nfpubliceditor@gmail.com or tweet at me @tabsiddiqui.

From the start, New Feeling has been about envisioning that something new is possible through working together with shared values. Reach out anytime and let me know how we can best serve you as fellow members of a community that deeply cares about all the incredible music being made across the country.

Group Chat: Ariane Roy; A La Una & Kimmortal

Art by: Laura Stanley | Ariane Roy photo by: Kay Milz; A La Una photo by: Lorenzo Colocado; Kimmortal photo by: Iris Chia

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives of each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

In our latest edition, Kaelen Bell, Megan LaPierre, and David MacIntyre do a triple-take of Ariane Roy’s swaggering piano-driven francophone track “Apprendre encore.” Tom Beedham, Jesse Locke, and Laura Stanley stare down the court at A La Una & Kimmortal’s thunderous anthem “On My Way.”

Check out the takes below!

Kaelen Bell: “Apprendre encore” immediately opened a wormhole to ninth grade, the kind of thing that I’d replay to death on many an early morning bus ride. Whether that’s a good or bad thing—I had pretty solid taste as a tween! Being 14 kinda sucks!—is still up in the air, but what’s certain is Ariane Roy’s refreshing disregard for the ticks of today’s pop music. A bit of ’60s Yé-Yé, a bit of Brill Building bombast, and a healthy dash of winking 2010s blog pop, “Apprendre encore” would be right at home between Grizzly Bear and Purity Ring on a 2011 BIRP! playlist. It’s certainly not anything new, but when “new” can be so uninspired, it’s kinda nice to look back for a couple minutes.

Megan LaPierre: “Encore” is a fun French double-entendre: in addition to “again,” it can translate to “still,” which semi-dramatically changes the song’s titular concept. (I had a great relatable anecdote about going to the dentist and being told I’ve been brushing my teeth wrong.) But “still” makes more sense sonically, since “Apprendre encore” suspends itself in mid-air with a bubble bath of guitar fuzz. Roy’s use of the ’50s doo-wop progression and a steady piano bounce give the song a retro-tinged aesthetic familiarity, like you might be hearing it encore—perhaps it could have played after “Operator” by Shiloh on a MuchMusic VideoFlow of yesteryear.

David MacIntyre: On this tune, the so-called queen of “sad dancing” muses about recognizing her character flaws and admitting she’s a work in progress. “Apprendre encore” (French for “still learning”) is a piano-driven, fairly straightforward indie-pop tune by the Quebec City native. Its sprightly instrumentation complements her higher register, and traces of indie, pop, soul, and jazz—she counts Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday among her influences—can definitely be heard, with a sprinkling of electric guitars in between. This song is pretty standard singer-songwriter fare, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant one that deftly showcases Roy’s talents, and it’ll feel right at home for fans of other francophone artists like Ariane Moffatt, Lydia Képinski, and Hubert Lenoir.

Tom Beedham: Living in the same city as producers Romeo Candido and Lex Junior, I’ve followed their evolution since retroactively happening upon the Santa Guerrilla project they belonged to and tracing their work through DATU. Abandoning that name for its patriarchal connotations (datu means “tribal chieftain”) and starting fresh (the group’s website explains A La Una means “back at one”), it’s exciting to hear the pair return with a track that channels kulintang gongs, distorted beats, and sirens for a sound that could fill blocks in the process, but it’s guest feature Kimmortal who steals the spotlight here. Rapping from a perspective of underestimation, flows like “Imma punch up, up, up / Underrated, underdog / I’m under the radar, above / I’m up and down and all around” roll off their tongue and land like a self-actualizing verbal Konami Code, begging to be contended with and disorienting challengers in the space of one breath.

Jesse Locke: A La Una were formerly known as DATU, a group fusing traditional Filipino instrumentation with modern pop flourishes. They maintain a hint of that sound in the beat for their latest song, “On My Way,” embedding chiming kulintang percussion within thumping drums and wailing sirens. Rapper Kimmortal joins the duo on this aspirational jock jam, entering the pantheon of songs about playing basketball when you’re not very tall (slide over, Skee-Lo and Aaron Carter). They sound ready to dunk on the competition with their first burst of braggadocio: “Small package, but I’m sicker than your average / Spitting fire, I’m inspired by the alchemist.” It’s unclear if the pint-sized MC is shouting out another beatmaker or writing bars about transforming base metals, but either way the result is gold.

Laura Stanley: I first heard “On My Way” because of SHORTY, a short film made for the NBA’s 75th anniversary celebrations and whose trailer aired regularly during Toronto Raptors broadcasts. The pounding tenacity of A La Una and Kimmortal’s track is the teammate of a father-daughter story about a girl who’s driven to make her school’s basketball team (even though she’s shorter than everyone) and motivated by her father and his stories about the best short NBA players of all time. The determination of the film’s story is mirrored in that of “On My Way” which is flooded with focused confidence: “Tell my competition quiet on the set,” Kimmortal raps.  

Whereas I gave up my basketball career in grade 7 when a 5 foot me (I somehow made my school’s team!) saw the height of my competition, the track’s looped siren sound and thunderous energy feel like a sold-out Scotiabank Arena has my back and makes me regret not pushing myself to be a better player. As you persevere through whatever challenges you’re facing, throw on “On My Way” and be reminded that you’ve got this.

Group Chat: Hotel Dog; SÜRF

Art by: Michael Rancic | SÜRF photo by: Marcus; Hotel Dog photo provided by the band

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives of each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

To kick off Group Chat, Jordan Currie, Karen K. Tran, and Jesse Locke answer the call to offer their thoughts about the runway-ready “Telephone” by Winnipeg’s Hotel Dog, taken from the band’s bedroom pop collection, the Isolation Inn EP. Meanwhile, Reina Cowan, Sun Noor, and Tom Beedham dive into deceptively deep waters on Toronto rapper/producer SÜRF’s “Bunda,” one of six minute-long riptides from his EP, Project.wav.

Check out the takes below!

Jordan Currie: Hotel Dog’s “Telephone,” from their debut album Isolation Inn, is a jovial blend of bedroom pop, electronic, dance, and house sensibilities. The offbeat track’s lyrics show singer Charlie Baby breaking free of their anxieties and celebrating their authentic “non-binary and hot” self. “I don’t do this for you / Not even if you’re my boo,” they sing. Light and tinny vocals contrast with the meaty bass line and clanging key chords in the background. “Telephone” is the type of song that could easily be played at either a late-night house party or a posh fashion runway show.

Jesse Locke: Hotel Dog’s Charlie Baby has a gently stoned sing-song quality to their voice that immediately disarms. On “Telephone,” they reach out for affection and assurance but never sound stressed out. Riding sputtering synth grooves reminiscent of Chad VanGaalen’s DIY dance music, the non-binary singer explains that it’s all for fun: “I don’t do this for you / Not even if you’re my boo / Not a guy or gal / Just write the songs with my pal.” Like Palberta’s Lily Konigsberg, Hotel Dog makes bedroom pop that could be a bona fide hit, if the world wasn’t so crummy.

Karen K. Tran: “Telephone” is a notable addition to the bedroom pop genre. It has it all: teenage lamentations, hypnotic vocals, and a pretty groovy bass line. Hotel Dog make good use of the tools they have available and possess an attentive ear for adding the right amount of production, without overthinking it.

Hotel Dog reinforce the telephone theme not only with the sample of the “This number is no longer connected” message but also with those ’90s phone keypad tones incorporated into the beat. The key change at the end gives the song an eerie edge reminiscent of a home dial-up internet service connecting.

Tom Beedham: SÜRF was only serving up a self-described appetizer with the November release of his Project.wav collection on Bandcamp, but he’s already weary of the tedium of hip-hop’s eternal self-marketing. Summoning a scratchy violin sample and room-shaking bass to boom and weave through high-pressure systems, on “Bunda,” the artist draws a line in the sand and washes away any notion of talent scarcity, insisting they can turn it on and off like the Human Torch: “I’m so done giving out my handles / I’m like an eternal candle / Johnny Storm in this bitch like flame on.”

Reina Cowan: You don’t often hear this type of instrumentation on hip-hop songs, but it works. The strings and percussion on “Bunda” give this track an international funkiness that refreshingly breaks out of the moody, dark, sing-rap sound that Toronto has become known for. Production-wise, “Bunda” has an demo-esque rawness to it. On a track with a 1:11 runtime, this style fits perfectly. Lyrically, lines like “Only ever here to raise the bar higher / Turn up, make the girls go, ‘Ahh yeah’ / Sauce like this is hard to come by, eh” feel like a good dose of solid (if a little simple) hip-hop bravado. There are some cleverly placed comic book, video game, and film references on this track and throughout SÜRF’s whole Project.wav record. See if you can catch ’em all. The punchy energy on “Bunda” makes it a strong introduction to SÜRF’s catalogue, making me want to hear more from this intriguing new artist.

Sun Noor: Fusing new sounds with the old and being open to new approaches during the creative process enables the creation of timeless music. SÜRF encapsulates that energy through his track “Bunda,” off his eclectic first release, Project.wav. With all six songs amounting to a minute or less, SÜRF redefines what an artist’s initial release should capture. “Bunda” is undoubtedly one of the stronger tracks off this project, given the beat’s infectious, violin-heavy instrumentation that is reminiscent of Sudanese jazz. SÜRF captures how letting go of a perfectionist mentality allowed him to embark on his newfound musical journey with ease.

Cadence Weapon’s Year of Radical Thinking

Cadence Weapon’s year of radical thinking

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Photo by: Mat Dunlap

Given the ongoing interminable grind of the COVID-19 pandemic, few of us will likely look back on 2021 as a banner year—but for veteran Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon (aka Rollie Pemberton), the rollercoaster of the past several months included some career-topping moments to balance all the uncertainty facing artists during this strange time.

Winning the Polaris Music Prize after more than 15 years of making music—and two previous Polaris shortlist nods, including in the very first year of the prize in 2006—certainly tops that list, but his critically acclaimed, tough-and-tense fifth album Parallel World wasn’t the only breakthrough after years DIY-ing it within a ruthless industry. Always a wordsmith at heart, the former Edmonton poet laureate (now based in Toronto) drew on his sharp pen for more than just lyrics in 2021, starting a Substack newsletter and working on a book due out this spring that’s part memoir, part deep dive into hip-hop history.

Turns out Parallel World, with its unflinching examination of systemic and societal breakdowns set to moody electronic beats, was only a glimpse into what Pemberton had on his mind last year. In July, he wrote a revealing essay about the financial and artistic fallout from signing a 360 deal with an independent label at 19—a common enough agreement in the record industry, but one few artists talk openly about. The deal, he explained bluntly, allowed the label to profit off not only his music, but every other revenue stream, for years afterwards—an exploitative model that pushed him to the edge of nearly quitting music altogether.

His honesty resonated with musicians, other artists, and fans around the world—and reminded us that Cadence’s secret weapon has always been telling truths, no matter how uncomfortable.

It’s perhaps no surprise his output over the past year landed him on several year-end lists of the best in music in 2021—during a time when we all were trying to wade through the fog, his words and sounds offered much-needed clarity.

As 2021 wound down, New Feeling checked in with Pemberton about landing some big wins in mid-career after playing the long game, how community lies at the heart of what he does, and why coming together might just be the answer to so many of the questions that underpin where we find ourselves today.

Tabassum Siddiqui: You had quite a 2021, with a critically acclaimed album and the big Polaris Prize win—what were some of the highlights of the year for you?

Winning Polaris was the major highlight obviously, but also my first show back at SAT [Société des arts technologiques] in Montréal was a significant moment for me. Signing with Kelp Management was big because I had been doing everything mostly on my own for the past eight years. Getting the vaccine was really emotional for me and my partner. In April, I threw a virtual album release party on Twitch with my fans and that was surprisingly memorable.

TS: The Polaris win in some ways felt very full-circle, given that you were one of the very first nominees of the Prize early on and have been nominated several times over the years—what did it mean to you to win the award, especially now?

CW: It was extremely meaningful to win Polaris at this point in my career. I can’t help but compare the inaugural Polaris in 2006—where it was mostly white indie-rock bands—with this year, where the field was so much more diverse. After Hope in Dirt City was nominated in 2012, I didn’t release an album for six years. I had to rebuild my whole career after my former managers bailed and the label I was on collapsed. I worked tirelessly for years to make it back to this point, so it was incredibly gratifying to win this year.

TS: You mentioned after the win that you hoped to use some of the prize money to organize some voter registration events in the municipal/provincial elections. You’ve been very vocal, and also written about, your thoughts on our political policies and systems in recent years—why has it been important to you as an artist and a person to raise awareness of these issues?

CW: As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, we’re all more connected than we realize. A world where artists are afforded the space to create is a world where everyone benefits. I started thinking more about the institutional forces behind inequality and gentrification—the deeper reasons for why it’s so hard to live in the city these days. Learning more about civic politics was empowering.

Seeing the power of collective action through the Encampment Support Network, Black Urbanism TO, the George Floyd protests and other initiatives really encouraged me to think about what kind of impact I could make by using my personal platform. These upcoming elections are rare opportunities to show our displeasure with the status quo and make a difference. I want to get to the end of 2022 and be able to say that I did everything I could to help improve life in Toronto and Ontario.

TS: As you know, New Feeling is a new music-journalism initiative centred in community-based values, so we’re keen to get your take on what some of the pressing issues are that we should all be mobilizing around. People can often feel a bit helpless to do anything to help foster change—what are some of the steps they can take?

CW: Canadian music publications need to actively seek out young BIPOC writers. Representation really does matter. I didn’t know what to expect going into this album run, but I was heartened to see so many amazing BIPOC journalists on the other side of the virtual screen. They routinely had the most thoughtful questions out of all of my interviews and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I also think it’s important to chart your own path as a magazine and not feel obligated to cover what the American publications do. I find that I lose interest when I see Canadian publications trying to keep up with the Americans because they think it makes them look more relevant.

TS: One of the many compelling aspects of Parallel World is the collaborative approach—there are so many fantastic producers contributing, not to mention the few guest spots. Did you have a sense of what sort of production you wanted going into making the record, given that its overall sound is so hard and urgent, or did that sound come about more organically as you went along?

CW: The only songs on the album that were written before the pandemic were “SENNA” and “On Me”—the rest of it was recorded remotely in the summer and fall of 2020. That involved me reaching out to producers and artists around the world, discussing themes with them online and sending files back and forth. The beats I gravitate to are usually hard, minimal and futuristic. These were words I used when I talked to producers about what I was looking for. We would also discuss the overarching concept of the album. There were a couple examples where I would receive fragments of ideas that producers already had but mostly the beats were made specifically for this album.

The thing with me is that I’m always making songs and not always thinking in terms of whether what I’m making will end up on a record. But I’ll notice when songs start to have similar themes and maybe I’ve locked into a particular rhythm, and suddenly I know that it’s Album Time. That happened in a strangely intense way when I made Parallel World. I felt a deep sense of urgency to speak to what was happening in the world.

TS: Your essay on your experience with the music industry and being exploited as an artist went viral—particularly among fellow artists/musicians, who have been dealing with these issues for so long, but many were afraid to speak up. What made you want to write about that topic so frankly, and what did you find interesting about the response?

CW: It’s something that has weighed on me for years. I just woke up one day and decided to write about it—it felt like the right time to speak up. Seeing Britney Spears and her conservatorship drama inspired me a bit. I felt like I had survived what happened, and had gotten to a stable enough place in my career where I could openly speak about it and maybe help other younger artists so they could learn from my mistakes. I also rarely saw artists publicly discussing their contracts. I wanted to demystify that side of things because the secrecy allows the cycle of exploitation to continue.

The response really took me by surprise. I had dozens of artists in my DMs saying that similar things had happened to them with labels. The response was almost totally positive, too. People were really surprised that this kind of thing happens with small indie labels, not just the majors. I think it got folks thinking about the exploitation of musicians in Canada.

TS: Among all the other inequities the pandemic has shone a spotlight on, it’s also revealed many of the issues artists/musicians are facing in terms of everything from the ability to make a living to working conditions—what lessons can the music industry, and individual artists, take from this time?

CW: The number-one thing that needs to change is streaming. The system needs to be overhauled. Personally, I would like to organize a protest where as many Canadian artists as possible remove our music from every platform until things are fairer. The last thing these tech companies want is for us to organize, and I think that’s something I want to remind my fellow musicians of. These corporations are worthless without our labour—we’re stronger together.

TS: After live music was shut down for so long, you played two local Toronto shows right after the Polaris win, went on tour with Fat Tony, and were supposed to play a few shows back in Alberta to round out the year—how was the experience returning to the stage, but also then dealing with restrictions once again?

CW: The July Talk shows in Alberta were postponed because of COVID, which goes to show you how tenuous things are right now. It was amazing to play shows again and share that experience with the people. That’s what I wished for most during the early part of the pandemic, just to be able to play the Parallel World songs for a live audience.

Playing festivals over the summer and the tour with Tony was so cathartic and really fun, but the protocols were exhausting. Touring is hard enough, but it’s just another layer of uncertainty on top of everything else. Now with Omicron, I don’t see how a U.S. tour like the one I just did [this past fall] would even be possible.

The future looks unclear. I had a lot of cool shows planned for February and March [2022], but who knows if they’ll actually happen? It’s really just about carefully monitoring the situation and taking everything one day at a time.

TS: As if you’re not busy enough, you’re also writing a book, due out this year. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, and what made you decide to take on more of a long-form writing project?

CW: I’ve finished writing the book! It’s called Bedroom Rapper and it comes out with McClelland & Stewart in May 2022. I started working on it in late 2019, but wrote the majority of it during the pandemic. My process involved a lot of getting up early, filling up a pint glass with ice water, and just letting it rip before my typical everyday obligations started knocking on my door. I’d be writing the book in the morning and afternoon and then recording Parallel World at the studio at night.

Writing this book was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. It involved a lot of research, going through emails from a decade ago, retracing my steps. It was interesting to take inventory of my entire career at a moment when the whole world felt frozen in time. I’m used to the flow of making a record after doing it for over a decade, but writing a book requires an intense level of sustained focus that’s unlike anything I’ve ever had to do before. I’m excited for people to read it!