After The Gold Rush: Wonderhorse Reviewed


By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Tom Beedham

Long enduring turn-of-the-20th-century associations assigned from the dislocation of the Klondike Gold Rush and Jack London’s brand of American literary naturalism, to many outsiders, the Yukon is a hard place that bends only to climate and the whims of biological and socioeconomic determinism. Even with majestic views of mountain vistas and the quietly enchanting northern lights, it remains thought of as a high, untouchable place governed by its remote location and the financial speculation that brought in prospecting to supply the settlement of its boomtowns. The threat of danger lurking in boreal shadows (the territory is also home to cougars, wolves, and three types of bears) seems to dictate any question of free will out of the equation—forget the defiant collective project of an active underground arts scene. The Yukon is a place where things happen to people.

So when non-profit arts collective Something Shows reaches out to New Feeling and offers to fly someone from the co-op out to review Wonderhorse, it sounds like an invitation to break spells and witness progress as much as an opportunity to get a read of the local scene.

Operating on the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, otherwise known as Whitehorse, last fall, Something Shows inaugurated Wonderhorse as an answer to a long-felt local lack. Arriving in town in time for the beginning of Labour Day weekend, Whitehorse is in varying states of transition and abandonment. The territory’s capital and its most populous city, Whitehorse is far from a ghost town, but downtown’s windswept façades invite comparison. Some restaurant and business owners remain to rake in the last of the tourist money before closing up shop for the season, and many residents have left town for the long weekend (it’s also hunting season), but they’ll be back.

I don’t expect the first act I’ll watch will be a nine-year-old DJ/violinist, but Philly Groove steals the show at an Elk’s Lodge Battle of the Bands packed with tweens and complete family units. When he wins the competition, he earns a gig opening for Portland, Oregon’s Black Belt Eagle Scout the next day. While most festivals brandish terms like “all-ages”‘ in their marketing, they often fail to engage the younger segments of their communities; here in small town northern Canada, programming is shaped for youth in ways that legitimize their presence and give a stage to their burgeoning talent—give them a reason to stay.

Philly Groove photo by: Ashley Swinton

Speaking over the phone with program coordinator Zach McCann-Armitage post-fest, he emphasizes the importance of programming the festival for all-ages. 

“Knowing it can be shitty growing up in a small town and there’s so many issues facing our society, a lot of that is just falling onto young people,” he says. “Giving them the tools and opportunities and exposure to things that are happening and feel vibrant and can create connections—I think if festivals have a utility and are not just about people feeling joy, I think that would be it—building a more healthy and robust and connected community.”

The Battle of the Bands at the Elk’s Lodge is a strong start, but it’s technically not Wonderhorse’s opening show. The fest actually began the night prior with a satellite show six hours north in Dawson City. The Battle of the Bands was just one component of a larger holistic project to strengthen the arts network in the Yukon and in the Pacific Northwest; in addition to Black Belt Eagle Scout, Wonderhorse has also booked a modest but relatively significant contingent of Vancouver artists.

The Heart of Riverdale photo by: Cooper Muir

“Whitehorse is three quarters of the population of the territory as a whole, so in terms of how funding and decisions are administered, it’s very top-down and Whitehorse-centric [in the Yukon],” McCann-Armitage explains. He says the collective’s decision to spread programming out to the Yukon’s other gold rush boomtowns reaches back pre-pandemic when the festival was only an idea, crediting Wonderhorse founder and former program coordinator Jona Barr with the blueprint. “It was important to make sure Wonderhorse wasn’t just fixated on that sort of centricity and the economic and cultural interests of Whitehorse.”

With abundant references to the gold rush calling out to tourists from Whitehorse’s business signs and restaurant menus, there’s seldom escaping the Yukon’s association with the prospecting migration, but the grip of music industry gamification is loosened up here. Wonderhorse pays little mind to hipster appeal and breakout buzz, looking beyond pandering to industry vultures to curate around a community theory of value instead.

After the Battle of the Bands crowns Philly Groove this year’s winner, Wonderhorse’s youth emphasis continues through the night’s programming as the Wondercrawl draws audiences out for an art crawl along the Yukon River, giving wharf space to breakdancers, screening experimental films, and hosting an art gallery opening from youth involved in Wonderhorse’s Make Something Residency, before calling audiences back to the Elk’s Lodge for a set of pop trap from local North Gold Entertainment signee Princess Melia and a headlining performance from 2019 Polaris Music Prize winner Haviah Mighty.

Haviah Mighty photo by: Cooper Muir

With no dedicated music venues in town, what Whitehorse lacks in infrastructure it makes up for in savvy, bridging that gap by meeting audiences where they are. By the time I sit down at Arts Underground to watch Erica Dee Mah apply the guzheng to a contemporary Western folk music context and address the material struggles her ancestors faced as Chinese immigrants who relocated to the Yukon during the gold rush, I’ve already watched Franklin pour sludge all over the Go-Go’s classic “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Antarticus summon desert rock from the frigid desolation of the tundra in a music store parking lot. Before that, I saw Vancouver rap-rock chaos agent Jodie Jodie Roger and North Gold reps Mobb Diggity and Pumpskii make it rain free festival passes on kids at a skatepark generator party.

Far from industry scrutiny and trend economies of larger cities, Whitehorse becomes a canvas for this grassroots festival, and audiences eat it up wherever they can get it. So when Dawson City emo SoundCloud rapper KEEN performs a significant portion of his Saturday night United Church basement set cross-legged on the carpeted floor while local Jeremy Parkin tends a laptop dressed as his festival-minted Percy Owens persona (think Chaplin’s Tramp meets Depression era reporter), and a small crowd watches from the other side of the room, entertaining knock-knock jokes between songs, the cozy intimacy and relaxed atmosphere rivals that of watching an artist play from their living room. 

Mobb Diggity and Pumpskii photo by: Ashley Swinton

But of course, Whitehorse is not living under a rock, and when the festival brings a drag revue to the Yukon Theatre, it packs the seats to capacity. A couple hundred eager audience members cheer along as ANDYBOY, Lau D’arta, Beau Ryder, and Daddy Supreme work the room. By the time I gain access to the theatre, the show is almost at its close, but I arrive to a scene that is distinctly working class. In a finale, the night’s lineup trots across the stage in coveralls to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” twirling and benching cardboard totems of oversized screwdrivers and combination wrenches just blocks away from the offices of several unions and labour authorities.

After playing multiple mini-sets throughout the previous night’s Wondercrawl, when Vancouver’s Jeff Cancade takes the stage with his DEVOURS project, the crowd at the front of the cinema fills the rows that have been removed for dance space as Cancade launches into his brand of xenogothic synth-pop, encouraging the room to dig into its inner aliens. Warping nostalgic samples into obscurity (“Curmudgeon”) and serving up other songs about being a majority within a minority (“Jacuzzi My Stonewall”), at one point he excitedly asks the room, “Are any queers in the audience?” When a substantial section replies in the affirmative, he clocks how remarkable it is, explaining how he checked Grindr when he got into town only to turn up disappointing results.

The set might garner the festival’s most enthusiastic crowd participation, but after his first encore begets calls for more, Bingo Switch guitarist Brody Halfe jumps onstage to tell Cancade something, and when he turns back to the audience, there’s a mile-wide grin across his face. 

“Wow. Thank you so much Whitehorse! I’ve just been told that the northern lights are out, so I’m gonna go look at those and you should, too, but please buy my merch!”

DEVOURS photo by: Ashley Swinton

Embarking on a discovery ride further into the gold rush’s past (we take the Klondike Highway south instead of north), after a day in Dawson City and two in Whitehorse, for the festival’s finale, it packs up again, touching down in Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Piling into a van full of performers from St. John’s, Toronto, and Vancouver, the atmosphere is buzzing as we feast our eyes on the drive’s mountainous stretches and share our delight in catching the northern lights when we stop partway to take in the natural wonder of Emerald Lake. The official line on the green glow it gets its name from is the light of the sun catching white deposits of clay and calcium carbonate from the lake’s shallow bottom, but our driver, Something Shows board member Liz McCarville, says one friend claims it’s where the northern lights go to sleep.

I wonder out loud if residents are still impressed by the local phenomenon, but I’m quickly informed some are even more bought in, referencing apps that track conditions and venturing out into remote parts of the territory to escape what meagre light pollution there is downtown when conditions are prime. Plus, last night’s display was especially novel, McCarville says, for how early the lights arrived in the season and the spectra on display.

“The purples even came out.”

On the same drive, we pass Carcross Desert, what some locals deem “the smallest desert in the world,” though it is technically a collection of sand dunes formed by the last glacial period. Truth seems to stretch with time and distance, realisms becoming more penetrable.

Ellorie McKnight photo by: Cooper Muir

Pulling into Carcross Commons, Bria Rose is perched on the upper observation deck of the S.S. Tutshi memorial, the preserved remains of a steamboat that carried tourists and freight between communities and railyards following the gold rush. Her songs touch on themes of power, release, and connection, and at one point she sings a line about praying the northern lights would take her away, and many of us have already swallowed that pill. Her performance is the first of three acoustic sets from performers with deep ties to the landscape, followed by St. John’s singer and music therapist Valmy, whose songs are grounding exercises in themselves.  

The S.S. Tutshi performances cap off with a set from Whitehorse folk singer Ellorie McKnight. Her songs are inspired by the wonders of vast landscapes. Her performance at the centre of the hourglass bottleneck between the Bennett and Nares lakes feels all the more appropriate with a 360-degree view crossed by bridges and dotted with mountain peaks. As she digs into “White Pass,” she reflects on how this will likely be the closest she’ll ever get to the song’s titular railroad, and it suddenly hits home how significant a commodity proximity must be in the Yukon.

At Yáan át L’óon Gooch skatepark, kids and teens show off their best on the ramps while Toronto DJ Yunjin spins a breezy house set. When the competition wraps, Bingo Switch soundtracks a freeskate with a sun-dappled set of Jonathan Richman-indebted jazz rock. Festival goers have some time to sit by the Carcross beach before heading over to the Learning Centre, where the festival closes out with a family-oriented country dance led by the Western swing sounds of the Swinging Pines .(The Lucky Ones were also scheduled to play, but Ryan West, the band’s mandolinist injured his arm at the skate competition). Parents steal one last dance with each other before summer ends, teaching kids to two-step and guilting tweens into participation.

Bingo Switch photo by: Cooper Muir

“It’s certainly not as hip or cool as the other stuff, but that’s also because it’s kind of for the community itself,” McCann-Armitage concedes. “You kind of have to program with and for them. Because even if Bingo Switch is an Indigenous band, if nobody living around there from the community has heard of them or are even interested in that music, country music is a big part of the Indigenous population up here. So it’s just essentially being realistic and trying to think of it long term in terms of building an audience there.”

Looking forward, McCann-Armitage says the festival is looking to program workshops and other forms of community engagement to supplement the music programming of Wonderhorse’s satellite events, but this year’s Carcoss happenings were nearly cancelled altogether.

On August 13, the Tagish First Nation suffered the loss of Elder Kitty Grant-Smarch, and the community’s bereavement protocol traditionally calls for a moratorium on dancing for 30 days.

In a statement ahead of the event, the festival acknowledged the passing and explained it sought the advice of Carcross/Tagish First Nation (Wonderhorse presenting partners), whose leadership council encouraged them to proceed with the local programming as it was “something they thought Kitty would have enjoyed.” Still, McCann-Armitage explains, the Tagish Nation Dancers who were originally booked to perform during the events declined, and the turnout was smaller than last year’s family dance.

It’s the first time it occurs to me that locals might be conflicted about Wonderhorse’s galloping ambitions, but it’s apparent the territory’s pace and isolation gives the festival the space it needs to strengthen relations and heal. On land that spends half the year shrouded in near-24-hour darkness, connections are all that you have.

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.

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.

Family Values: Lawnya Vawnya Reviewed

Family Values: Lawnya Vawnya reviewed


By: Tom Beedham | Art and photos by: Tom Beedham

“My mother taught me to love the sea, for water is the beginning and end of life on this earth.”

-Celeste Bell, Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

We’re three bands deep into the five-band punk matinee at Lawnya Vawnya, and Tunnel Vision is pummeling the all-ages audience in the Eastern Edge Gallery garage. The handful of teens that just arrived are already drenched in sweat, having brought the mosh pit in with them off the street. Wedged into a lineup of emo, pop punk, and alternative rock from Montréal’s Barnacle and Sunforger as well as fellow St. John’s acts like Needle Crafts and Mild Manors, the hardcore act was the only band on the bill without any online presence, but the punks hung on the guitar feedback that announced every song like a serve ready to be spiked.

Ducking out to the parking lot between sets, the location of the free public throwdown feels pointed. This being my first time on the Atlantic, I’ve padded out my stay in St. John’s by tracing Newfoundland’s eastern coast and soaking in natural wonders along well-kept trails of tourist destinations like Signal Hill and Cape Spear. For meals, I’ve found myself at home in fest-friendly cat-themed coffee bars and brewpubs on Duckworth Street. I’ll later recognize the faces that bring me breakfast sandwiches behind mics and guitars on the festival stages, hinting at the role Lawnya Vawnya plays in the community. If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss, but across the street from St. John’s Harbour, I repeatedly catch myself studying a landscape I assume has played an important part in sparking the opposition that fueled the local scene: fishing boat masts and towering cargo ships in the foreground, the Irving family’s giant gas tanks dotting the hills—monuments to extractive ideology. 

The indulgence of irony and hipster desire feels out of place in the city’s rugged, industrial surroundings, but it isn’t uncommon to see elder locals wandering in the doors and mixing with arty types at coffee bars or long communal tables, either. Elsewhere, this soft modernism would warn of looming gentrification, but in a city hemorrhaging youth while its workforce ages, it feels as much an adaptive reflex as a gentle effort to hold on to friends and family itching to get out of Dodge. It makes sense the city is host to a young and dedicated crop of bands on the punk and emo spectrum.

Needle Crafts

Up the hill at the Masonic Temple, Swimming reports on the toll capitalist realism has had on the local imagination at another all-ages event, and the crowd is full of familiar faces from the afternoon. Their 2021 debut That’s OK is populated with characters challenging an infectious resignation to perceived socio-economic limitations and friends moving west to larger Canadian cities. The implied relationship to St. John’s is one that is at once deeply identified with it and without roots.

Within seconds of hitting the stage, it’s clear Swimming has struck a chord locally, audience members instantly singing along with set opener “Sometimes Things Change” and hollering whenever Liam Ryan finger-taps a mathy guitar breakdown. The show marks the beginning of a tour in support of That’s OK (eventually cancelled after one of the members sustains an injury in Halifax), and it feels like the festival is partially designed to send them off, Ryan swinging the mic stand to the crowd so members of Mild Manors and Tunnel Vision can put some gang vocals on “Blackhorse Brigade.”

He ends the set urging locals to start a band—to make the city a place they want to stay—and when Swimming shares Instagram story tags (there are a lot) after the show, they’re lovingly captioned with personal endorsements: “I love Swimming”; “I miss hearing you in my basement”; “this song makes me cry every time.”

Like the hipster cafes and brewpubs on Duckworth, it’s clear Swimming’s shows have created a third place for a city displaced by its own negative mythologies, a place where community is reconnecting and growing up through the cracks.


At a Friday panel discussion on the project of decolonizing the arts, panelist Megan Samms stressed that the experiences of geopolitical abandonment are further compounded for the area’s Indigenous communities and youth living outside the capital.

“There’s a lot of food issues in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are not a lot of opportunities for youth in rural spaces, and there’s a lot of encouragement to just leave. That really kills the community,” Samms said. 

A Mi’kmaq handweaver and natural dyer based in their traditional home and territory, Katalisk, Ktaqmkuk (to settlers, Codroy Valley, Newfoundland), Samms has been resolute in opting out of settler work contexts. They suggest that for Indigenous communities, decolonization can just mean honouring each other’s needs and building critical mass accordingly. 

“We did it for thousands of years before colonialism. We can just keep doing it for each other and the rest falls into place.”

The showcase at the Masonic Temple further broaches that community emphasis with Status/Non-Status‘s Adam Sturgeon (Sturgeon was originally meant to speak on the decolonizing the arts panel but had to drop off after the band’s first flight was cancelled) exorcising the geopolitical abandonment and generational trauma he feels as an Anishinaabe man in London, Ontario with towering waves of distortion, while Wape’k Muin, a men’s pow-wow drum group with a focus on Mi’kmaq songs opened the night by rooting it in the area’s ancestral traditions.


Sharpened attention to continuity means themes in Lawnya Vawnya’s programming routinely engage each other on telescopic scales. Before the call home at the Masonic Lodge that galvanizes audiences around local issues, another showcase at the Rock House digs into global sounds to close the gap of diaspora and express global solidarity.

When local speed-folk band Kubasonics packs the crowd into the club early on Friday night, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Cherwick makes a dramatic entry, rousing the audience in a shaggy white coat before finding his place behind a tsymbaly (the Ukrainian version of a hammered dulcimer). 

Leading the band—which also consists of his children Maria and Jacob on violin and drums respectively (Jacob also plays in Swimming), as well as guitarist Darren Browne and bassist Matt Hender—into some frenzied, spellbinding collisions of traditional local sounds and Ukrainian folkways, Cherwick’s energy frequently spills into the crowd, sometimes treating the nearby bar like it’s an extension of the stage, elsewhere teaching the audience some Ukrainian so they can chant and cheer on the band’s compatriots fighting the war in Ukraine.


When Toronto kulintang ensemble Pantayo takes the stage to play songs from the self-titled debut they released at the start of the pandemic, they’re as polished as ever. Packing the stage with their assortment of gongs and electronics, they have the crowd jostling for a view as they trade off vocal duties and styles. Having originated as a workshop project, the band remains dedicated to teaching the audience the names of the different gongs and offering an explanation for their use of Indigenous instruments of the southern Philippines as a means of connecting with their culture (Pantayo would later host an instructional kulintang workshop at the S.P.A.C.E. for anyone seeking a more formal familiarity with the instruments). Channeling ancestry and origin through old and new sounds, their music makes present a reality that might otherwise be experienced through psychophysical dimensions of distance. 

Far from the country’s metropolis strongholds, Lawnya Vawnya’s programming is refreshingly forward-thinking. Though I do catch myself running to the Rock House to cram in sets from Knitting and Nap Eyes after the dusky stillness of a Myriam Gendron performance at The Ship, for the most part the concert schedule is carefully spread out to avoid too much overlap and augmented with thematically complementary panels, readings and workshops that slow things down and encourage audiences, performers, and programmers to meet each other on the same wavelength and examine their relationships on a critical level. 

Nap Eyes

At the S.P.A.C.E., local guzheng player Jing Xia imagines a post-rock context for the traditional Chinese zither, while Montréal’s Markus Floats offers a new path for the jazz continuum, nimbly seizing chords from John Coltrane and rendering them into impossible arrangements, poetry from cultural theorist Fred Moten’s 2016 book The Service Porch floating over it all. Free for audiences to screen and ease themselves into the festival wherever or whenever they chose on Wednesday, the Celeste Bell/Ruth Negga co-directed Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché documentary offers a soft transition into festival mode, and most of the shows are all-ages, so parents can participate in the daytime activities without worrying about childcare, toddlers weaving through legs along the stops of the Downtown Music Crawl that literally gets audiences in the doors of local record stores and skincare shops. At a discussion about the landscape of releasing music in the 2020s, I am delighted when an audience question on the possibilities of NFTs eludes a moderator and the panel can stick to qualitative discussions exploring community systems of value without getting tied up in debates about market speculation and carbon offsets.

Jing Xia

Railing against the domestic chauvinism of the global right and its antifeminist attacks on legal abortion, back at the Rock House, Lido Pimienta exposes a fundamental paradox in capitalism’s logic: as much as it has a stake in defending traditional family domesticity (just as it benefits from separating the interdependent spheres of society, dividing its labour supply into households and smaller living units carries out this goal to a further extreme), it also attacks it from multiple angles, chewing it up and spitting it out.

Planned Parenthood has been tabling by the entrance all night, and drag host \garbage file takes the occasion as a cue to remind the crowd that’s “because love and community means what? Harm reduction!”

Later in the set, Pimienta will invite the host back onstage to mime along to a bit about the extremes of heteropatriarchal kinship that will eventually introduce the defiant cumbia of “Nada,” \garbagefile’s tentacled head whipping around in mock dismay as Pimienta underlines the absurd hypocrisy the patriarchy relies on when it polices the bodies of people with uteruses. 

“We want to take a moment of silence, a solemn moment of silence—everybody, this is serious—for all the trillions and trillions of babies we have lost into a sock, into a pillow. The babies that we have lost at a random sink at a random McDonald’s,” Pimienta announces, mock solemnity becoming mock hysteria on a dime. “What about the babies?!”

By connecting the risks and struggles around bodily autonomy in Canada, Colombia, and the United States, Pimienta creates a space to interrogate our related geopolitical shortcomings and celebrate our shared accomplishments. It isn’t just a concert, but a place to feel the strength of a network of bodies united in a shared political project. Lawnya Vawnya  reaches well beyond the momentary rebellion of the carnivalesque, connecting audiences with organizing streams they can follow well beyond the festival.

Lido Pimienta

Asking audiences again and again to examine the branches of their relations and follow them to the connective canopies of larger networks, the kind of change Lawnya Vawnya asked for in this year’s programming would amount to a psychic, socioeconomic revolution of staggering heights. But the idea of refusing to fight for a collectivist future feels more impossible—like giving up on the future itself. And here on land forged by tectonic collisions, weathered by the Atlantic’s winters and winds, it feels within reach. 

Watching Signal Hill disappear in the rear view the day after the festival, I know I’m carrying a piece of the island with me, lines Lido Pimienta sang in an encore a capella flowing through my mind: “Love is a beautiful mountain. And you can climb the mountain. And you can lick the mountain. And you can kiss the mountain. Don’t be afraid of the mountain. Because you are the mountain.”

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.

Our Favourite Songs of 2021

Art by: Michael Rancic

“These last two years have felt like the longest pre-drink in recent history,” writes Leslie Ken Chu in one of his contributions to the list below, and it’s difficult to disagree. As we enter another period of uncertainty with the mutating strains of a worldwide virus, prolonged by governments who refuse to put the safety of people before profit, it can feel like we’ll never escape this space of transitional purgatory before the party starts up again. Thankfully, live music returned in some capacity in 2021, as artists of all genres continued to share the fruits of their creative efforts, offering small doses of joy, catharsis, and resilience in a deeply strange time. The industry-backed artists receiving the lion’s share of mainstream music coverage in so-called “Canada” might still be hard to differentiate from the curated mediocrity of streaming service playlists, but we hope these hand-picked suggestions turn you on to a few songs that you may have never heard before. For the second year running, read on and press play through an unranked list in reverse alphabetical order followed by our personal top picks.

The Halluci Nation – “Tanokumbia” feat. El Dusty, Black Bear Singers (self-released | Ottawa, ON / Corpus Christi, Texas / Manawan, QC)

A Tribe Called Red technically released “Tanokumbia” in 2019, but its inclusion on this year’s One More Saturday Night—the group’s debut as the Halluci Nation and one necessarily concerned with generating space for rebirth—is plenty ground for consideration in a year desperately in need of a hard reset. Swirling in from a place of quiet, loss, and abyss, the carnivalesque opening notes sound subterranean before they’re fully clarified. Building from a fevered free reed melody, new elements percolate slowly, the Black Bear Singers’ powwow calls and El Dusty’s nu-cumbia dembow struts throbbing with resilience, connections in resistance recognized, reflected, reimagined. (Tom Beedham)

The Body and BIG|BRAVE – “Oh Sinner” (Thrill Jockey | Portland, OR / Montréal, QC)

“Oh Sinner” swaggers like a cowboy on horseback, with the kind of slow-rolling confidence that clears dusty main streets and casts long shadows on canyon walls. It’s not exactly a country song, but its punishing folk-rock shakes and stomps with some of the genre’s old-world grit, a legend that echoes through the hills. The highlight of the Body and BIG|BRAVE’s weighty collaborative record, Leaving None but Small Birds, “Oh Sinner” transmutes the two groups’ experimental corrosion into a lumbering piece of folklore—it’s not entirely clear where it’s headed, but you’d best get out of the way. (Kaelen Bell)

OMBIIGIZI – “Residential Military” (Arts & Crafts | London, ON / Toronto, ON)

Anishinaabe artists Adam Sturgeon (Status/Non-Status) and Daniel Monkman (Zoon) come out of the gates hot on the first single from their collaborative project OMBIIGIZI. With a classic indie-rock sound reminiscent of Pinback, Sturgeon tackles a deeply personal topic of the residential-school-to-military pipeline followed by his grandfather. Conjuring evocative imagery of a birch-bark canoe paddling down the freeway, he introduces the concept of “Indigenous Futurisms”—looking back to wisdoms of the past to imagine a brighter horizon. (Jesse Locke)

Narcy & Thanks Joey – “Jeff Bezos” (We Are the Medium | Montréal, QC / Los Angeles CA)

With (now ex-)Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in his sights, Iraqi-Canadian rapper Narcy punches up however he can, but resistance still feels futile, deflated. He claims to “rock the black mask like Space Ghost,” but the cartoonish atmosphere producer-collaborator Thanks Joey has spun together weighs the action down to the black-and-white class divide of hard-boiled noir—the muted, repeated sigh of a trombone embodying the anti-glamour in all its monotony. “This part of history will be cancelled,” a spoken sample declares at the track’s close. No doubt. (Tom Beedham)

Mustafa – “Stay Alive” (Regent Park Songs | Toronto, ON)

“Stay Alive,” the opening track of Mustafa’s When Smoke Rises, introduces listeners to the grief that floods the entire album. The debut record from Mustafa is delivered gently—the singer-songwriter, poet, and filmmaker describes his music as “inner city folk songs.” But When Smoke Rises is shaped by the violence in Mustafa’s home, Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood (Canada’s largest and oldest social housing development), and the deaths of his friends, and is full of thunderous emotions. On “Stay Alive,” Mustafa, over the soft tread of a running guitar melody, urges, “just stay alive, stay alive, stay alive.” It’s a simple refrain, but much like the album itself, it holds enormous weight. (Laura Stanley)

Debby Friday – “Runnin” (self-released | Vancouver, BC)

“Runnin” ramps up over 45 seconds of incantatory backmasked vocals before the beat drops like a heart monitor rhythm from Kurupt FM. As the song swells into a vaporous mass of drums, whispers, and distant squeals, it becomes what U.K. post-punk group This Heat might have described as music like escaping gas. Rather than alternating between dynamic passages, this ominous loosie released in February simply sets a pace of simmering menace and filters out until the valve is shut off. Debby Friday vocally struts over the bleeps, oozing with confidence and unafraid of whatever shadowy figures linger just outside of the frame. (Jesse Locke)

Club Sofa – “M.E.L.T.” (self-released | Vancouver, BC)

Content warning: sexual assault

The pain of deep-rooted trauma wells up on Club Sofa’s “M.E.L.T.” Though known for the catchy, swaying finesse of their self-described “emo surf,” the band of jazz students lean into the burning anger of their harder-edged influences like Bikini Kill and the Stooges.

“M.E.L.T.” cycles through the shame, self-blame, and self-pity that are the lingering vestiges of sexual assault. The narrator feels sullied, like they’re a burden to others. “I’ve been so unclean / I dirty up your sheets,” singer/rhythm guitarist Payton Hansen sings before worrying, “If I never get better / Will you still stay forever?” She also laments, “I never win / But who’s really keeping score?” When the damage is immeasurable and ever-changing, though, it’s hard to define personal victories. But by confronting her past, Hansen can chalk one up for herself. (Leslie Ken Chu)

Cartel Madras – “WORKING” (Royal Mountain/Sub Pop | Calgary, AB)

Sister rap duo Cartel Madras dropped their intoxicating hip house track “WORKING” at precisely the right time—these last two years have felt like the longest pre-drink in recent history. Returning collaborator Jide curates hypnotic late-night vibes as the song runs the lifespan of a party, from an uncoordinated rendezvous (“Hey, I’ve been here for like 20 minutes. Where are you?”) to messy quarrels (“Yeah, she was just talking shit about me, in front of him. Yeah, no, she’s a huge bitch.”) “WORKING” perfectly captures that feeling of reveling in the heat of the night that’s so sorely missed. (Leslie Ken Chu)

Brittany Kennell – “Clean Break” (Agence Ranch | Montréal, QC)

Brittany Kennell’s debut LP I Ain’t A Saint was a spark of joy in an otherwise wretched year. The Montréal-based country artist (and The Voice alumna) writes catchy and clever songs that often soundtrack situations so distinct that you didn’t even realize that a song about them was missing. Do you distract yourself from the present by grabbing a sponge and scrubbing every surface of your home? Cue “Clean Break,” a lemon-scented break-up tune about doing chores so you don’t think about an ex. Even though sadness lingers in the corners of “Clean Break,” Kennell makes this song shine. (Laura Stanley)

Amos the Kid – “Island of Troubles” (House of Wonders | Winnipeg, MB)

If Dolly and Kenny’s “Islands in the Stream” is love at its softest and most saccharine—chiffon-draped and bathed in sunlight, a breezy walk on some dream-world beach—then Amos the Kid’s “Island of Troubles” marks the moment when the wind picks up and waves start crashing faster than your flip-flops can carry you to safety. A frayed, sand-kicking duet with Yes We Mystic‘s Jensen Fridfinnson, “Island of Troubles” is all push-and-pull, an acid-tongued barn-burner that finds catharsis in the hurt. “You destroy my house,” Amos Nadlersmith deadpans before the song cuts out—play it loudly enough and you might destroy your own. (Kaelen Bell)

Laura Stanley
Ada Lea – “Damn”
Charlotte Cornfield – “Headlines”
The Weather Station – “Parking Lot”
Brittany Kennell – “Clean Break”
Mustafa – “Stay Alive”

Leslie Ken Chu
BIG|BRAVE – “Of the Ilk”
Cartel Madras – “WORKING”
Club Sofa – “M.E.L.T.”
Divorcer – “Bug”
Ducks Ltd. – “Old Times”
Kylie V – “On My Mind”
Le Ren – “I Already Love You”
Soul Boner – “SUMMER SONG”
Visibly Choked – “Mother Tongue”
Yu Su – “Xiu”

Tom Beedham
Cadence Weapon – “Play No Games”
Narcy & Thanks Joey – “Jeff Bezos”
Fucked Up – “Year of the Horse”
Breeze – “Come Around”
Kae Sun – “404 Eros”
Dorothea Paas – “Anything Can’t Happen”
The Halluci Nation – “Tanokumbia”
Fiver feat. The Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition – “Leaning Hard (On My Peripheral Vision)”
YlangYlang – “Penumbra”
Vallens – “If I Don’t”

Jesse Locke
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson – “I Pity the Country”
Myriam Gendron – “Go Away From My Window”
Ducks Ltd. – “Under the Rolling Moon”
OMBIIGIZI – “Residential Military”
Dorothea Paas – “Anything Can’t Happen”
Cedric Noel – “Allies”
Debby Friday – “Runnin”
Mas Aya – “18 de Abril”
Fiver feat. The Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition – “Death Is Only a Dream”
CFCF – “Punksong”

Kaelen Bell
Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
Tired Cossack – “Machina”
Dorothea Paas – “Waves Rising”
Ada Lea – “Damn”
Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu – “Persona”
The Body and BIG|BRAVE – “Oh Sinner”
Julien’s Daughter – “The Dealer’s Hand”
The Weather Station – “Loss”
Amos the Kid – “Island of Troubles”
Virgo Rising – “Sleep in Yr Jeans”

Cedric Noel – Hang Time

Cedric Noel
Hang Time
Joyful Noise Recordings
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Pedro the Lion; Low; late night conversations that go deep

Cedric Noel’s music has a striking sense of intimacy, like he’s performing several feet away or whispering his lyrics into your ear. I first fell under his spell when I heard the heartrending single “Nighttime (Skin)” in summer 2020. Though Noel has worked in many sounds and musical styles, that song’s tender approach to slowcore indie-rock with understated instrumental arrangements punctuated by swaying choruses is carried throughout the 13 tracks of his latest album, Hang Time

On “Dove,” Noel’s rich baritone is doubled by the lilting voice of Common Holly‘s Brigitte Nagar as they tackle the weighty task of caring about “trivial things like love.” He is joined once again by Squirrel Flower‘s Ella Williams on “Bass Song,” trading off lines against a backdrop of gentle octave chords. As a mellotron swells, their voices come together to sing about the difficulty of sharing honest thoughts: “I don’t get to say the truth / When I want to / But I want to.” By using the least words possible, each one has weight.

The album’s duets are undoubtedly standouts, but Noel is most powerful when he sings on his own. On “Allies,” he repeatedly asks a simple question: “Are you on my side?” The other voice here comes from Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” delivered at a Detroit Baptist church in 1964, one year before his death. When the song reaches one of Malcolm’s most famous quotes (“We must understand the politics of our community and we must know what politics is supposed to produce”), it is subsumed into a coda of shouts and clattering, lo-fi drums. Noel’s music might be intimate, but there’s a passionate flame blazing just below the surface.

– Jesse Locke 

Malaika Khadijaa – 18

Malaika Khadijaa
Toronto, ON
RIYL: Daniel Caesar; Cleo Sol; blowing out birthday candles

At the end of “Let Go,” the boldest track from Malaika Khadijaa’s 18, the voice of collaborator Alexander Gallimore emerges from the echoes of a ripping guitar solo and outlines the heart of the EP. Gallimore says:

You ask me big questions
“Why are you leaving?”
“Where will you go?”
“How will you get there?”
But I can’t tell you
I can’t tell you because I don’t know
Isn’t that beautiful?

Khadijaa’s 18 is full of the excitement, fear, curiosity, and beauty that’s coupled with becoming an adult. “Let Go” and opener “Need Me,” an outstanding R&B track that begins with a lone piano before drums and strings kick the song up a notch, are about setting relationships and expectations free. On the former, Khadijaa repeats “gotta let go” like she’s shredding pieces of paper. But within the warm rhythmic currents of “Nyota,” she is her own guiding light, and by the final song, “R4C (afterword),” Khadijaa embraces the uncertainties of the future: “I’m ready for this change.”

Khadijaa has a powerful presence on 18. Her voice is so dynamic that it’s in the EP’s quietest moments when the songs often shine the brightest. “Olive Tree” is a blissful acapella song where her vocal control is on full display, and when she welcomes change on “R4C (afterword),” Khadijaa is accompanied only by a simple guitar melody that allows her words to ring even louder. 

Laura Stanley