Not Your Final Girl

Not Your Final Girl:
In conversation with Floor Cry 

By: Cierra Bettens | Photo by: Taylor Richie ; Modified by: Laura Stanley

I’m not the final girl in your horror movie
But you won’t let me die you’d rather do it slowly

When synth-pop dream queen Felicia Sekundiak, known by her musical moniker Floor Cry, began piecing together a debut album, her life was marked by two driving forces: heartbreak and horror. 

“At the same time that I was starting to write the album, I was watching all the classics and then going on Shudder and finding lots of cool B-level ones,” Sekundiak says. “I think what really inspired me a lot was the music in the movies. A lot of the ‘80s ones had super cool synth soundtracks. You could just tell they were using instruments in unconventional ways.” 

While watching hours of slasher films in her Winnipeg apartment, she felt her life slowly twisting into a horror movie of its own. During the throes of pandemic isolation, a long-term relationship turned sour and eventually fell apart. 

Those turbulent times served as material for her first album release, Slasher Flick, a nod to ‘80s horror aesthetics and film tropes. She says the music of Slasher Flick is inspired just as much by horror greats like Lynch and Cronenberg as it is by campy, low-budget thrillers. 

The album opens with “1-800-Love,” a cheery synth-bop with the optimism of decades past. If it wasn’t released this year, one might imagine it playing over the speakers in a neon ‘80s retail setting. 

Originally released as a single in 2019, the song reflected a time of newfound love and open-heartedness for Sekundiak. But the honeymoon stage doesn’t last forever—in fact, it doesn’t even make it to the next song. 

That’s when the killer calls.

“Initially, I was going to write the song ‘Slasher Flick’ around the opening scene in Scream with Drew Barrymore. But then I ended up completely changing the direction of that song and making it a bit more personal,” Sekundiak said. “The phone ringing was meant to be a continuation of ‘1-800-Love,’ but also to reference that opening scene.” 

Central to the album is the theme of the ‘final girl.’ Born out of slasher films, the final girl is the last woman standing to confront the killer. From Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) in Scream, and more recently, Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) in X, she lives to tell the tale after the other, allegedly “impure” women are killed. 

The trope was originally conceptualized by the film theorist Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Like many tropes, the final girl reproduces patriarchal ideals on screen. Often, the final girl does not save herself, but rather, a heroic, white knight, male figure steps in to rescue her. 

“The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of the one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl,” Clover writes. “She alone looks death in the face, but she alone also finds the strength to either stay the killer long enough to be rescued (ending A) or to kill him herself (ending B). But in either case, from 1974 on, the survivor figure has been female.”

Funnily, Sekundiak says she doesn’t fit the mold of the stereotypical final girl one bit. 

“Usually, the final girl has some sort of moral superiority. There’s always her friends that get killed off because they’re drinking alcohol or making out in a forest, and then the one ‘innocent’ girl makes it to the end,” she says. “I don’t really fit that description at all.”

But in Slasher Flick, the final girl represents more than a nod to the classic trope—it’s how Sekundiak lyricizes experiences in past relationships. 

“In a way, I am a final girl in the sense that the last few years of my life have been extremely hard to get through and have felt like a horror movie in many ways,” she says. “In the song ‘Slasher Flick,’ it’s like I’m saying I’m not the final girl in, I guess, my ex’s horror movie.”

Whether the next main character of the aforementioned horror movie ends up being a final girl is largely out of Sekundiak’s control. Though, in the lyrical, faux cinematic universe of the album’s title track, listeners are clued into the casting call. 

Now I know what you are / You were texting her number riding in my car / And I know someone better you should meet / She’s fast, and she’s shiny and her name’s Christine

In any case, as Sekundiak sings, there is no sequel—at least for her. 

Compared to Floor Cry’s earlier work, Slasher Flick is far more thematically coherent. While her entire discography is threaded by ‘80s synth and aesthetics, her first full-length album connects previously explored themes of romance, nostalgia, and heartbreak into a larger narrative in line with Sekundiak’s lived experience. 

While stringing together this album, Sekundiak reconnected with her frequent musical collaborator: the Minnesota dream pop band, Vansire. Several years ago, the pair bonded after mutually discovering each other on the YouTube Channel, TheLazylazyme, and connecting over Soundcloud.

From there, they became friends and later collaborators on their debut song, “Nice to See You.” 

“We continued to stay friends and stay in touch, and then it just became this natural thing where any time they were putting out a release, whether it was an EP or an album, and same with me, we would always write a song for each other,” she says. 

Vansire’s Josh Augustin, who happened to be really into Twin Peaks around the time Sekundiak was producing the album, was in the perfect headspace to make a contribution. In “Mahogany,” the album’s interlude, Augustin’s haunting bassline bows to the Lynchian series’ late composer, Angelo Badalamenti. 

Stylistically, the album incorporates a host of retro horror flick elements. Layers of synth transport the listener into an era of neon dreams and sappy radio ballads. 

Most notably, a blood-curdling scream can be heard on the title track. 

As a commitment to the genre, Sekundiak surveyed the best places to let out a scream without a concerned neighbour calling the cops and ended up in her parents’ Winnipeg basement. 

“At the time I recorded that, I was already living on my own,” she says. “I texted my mom out of the blue, and I was like, ‘can I come over for like, less than an hour and just record myself screaming at the top of my lungs?’”

After a few takes, she became the scream queen of her own album. 

While producing the album, Floor Cry didn’t shy away from the cheesy, perhaps even corny qualities of the horror flicks of the era—instead, she embraced them.

“Some people might find the music cheesy in a lot of them but I think it’s very playful. There’s something very charming about it to me,” she says. 

Whether casting herself as a scream queen or final girl, the release of Sekundiak’s debut album is a testament to her living to tell the tale. 

From its opening ballad, “1-800-Love,” to its closing dénoument, “One Day,” Slasher Flick creeps through the pleasures of desire and horrors of heartbreak. But unlike the campy thrillers that inspired the album, Floor Cry’s life isn’t spared by some heroic, male character; she’s her very own final girl.

Who is Louie Sanchez

Who is Louie Sanchez?

Getting to know the artist queering Filipino harana songs

By: Rosie Long Decter | Photo by: Felice Trinidad

If you follow Toronto concert listings, you might have seen a new name on recent lineups: Louie Sanchez, who made their debut appearance at feminist music festival Venus Fest in September. There’s little information available about Sanchez online—no music on Bandcamp or Spotify, no videos on YouTube or TikTok. 

Who is Louie Sanchez? Eirene Cloma has been asking themself this same question. Cloma is a member of the Toronto-based Filipina music collective Pantayo. In Pantayo, Cloma plays guitar, bass and keys, and sings, as well as helping with composition and arrangements. As Louie Sanchez, the multi-instrumentalist is stepping out on their own, with a new style and a new name to go with it.

“I’ve been a solo artist since 2007, 2006, but I’ve never published a solo work,” Cloma tells me. The plan for the project came during the early days of the pandemic, when Cloma was finishing a degree in horticulture. “Great, I know how to look at butter under a microscope and I know how not to kill my house plants,” they joke.

They had a handful of old songs, written a decade ago, that they wanted to finally release into the world. Between 2020 and 2023, Cloma recruited a host of collaborators and recorded a four-song country EP. They are planning to release the EP in 2024 and a full-length album is in the works. “I’m still figuring out who Louie is in terms of personality, even sound,” says Cloma.

The name came after the idea for an EP. “So much has changed for me as a solo artist, especially now with the profile of Pantayo,” Cloma explains. “I wanted some separation — so I wanted to create a persona.” Their chosen persona is ultimately not so far removed from their real identity. Sanchez is their mother’s maiden name—Cloma jokes that they try to avoid “what was your mom’s maiden name” as a security prompt—and Cloma’s sister Elysse releases music under the name Clara Sanchez. “I obviously copied her,” Cloma laughs. “Like Martha and Rufus Wainwright. She hated it, but it’s fine.” 

Cloma grew up in North Vancouver, in a house near a forest, their surroundings a mix of metropolis and bush. Their parents immigrated to Canada in the ’80s and imparted to them a love of singer-songwriters and Canadian heavy-hitters: Blue Rodeo, Neil Young, k.d. lang’s Ingénue. “Filipinos love James Taylor,” Cloma adds. The Louie Sanchez EP is informed by this tradition, a singer-songwriter record with roots in folk storytelling and country instrumentals, highlighting Cloma’s specialty in fingerstyle guitar.

Trained in classical music and jazz, Cloma stresses that they played in every possible band in high school. “At school, outside of school, choral music, concert band, jazz band, praise and worship band.” You name it, they were in it. They were a serious mallet percussionist, too, skilled in the xylophone, marimba, bells and chimes. After high school, they dove into writing their own material, performing around Vancouver at open mics, activist events, and women’s music shows. They also hosted a women’s music show on Vancouver Co-op Radio that connected them to music communities across the country, and inspired a move to Toronto in 2014, where they met their future bandmates in Pantayo.

The queer Filipina collective has been very active since Cloma joined, with a busy touring schedule, a debut record that landed on the Polaris Prize short list, and a followup, Ang Pagdaloy, released this summer. The group has received acclaim for their unique take on Filipino kulintang music, using traditional metallophone instruments and compositions and combining them with electronic, R&B and punk elements.

Cloma’s work in Pantayo has helped inform this new project, particularly the song “Mali” on Ang Pagdaloy, which features a pop structure and tells a story about a love that can never be. “I want us to win,” Cloma sings in their tender alto, over a strummed guitar and rock beat. “It’s hinting at what Louie could sound like,” Cloma says of the song. A collaborative and affirming space, Pantayo allows Cloma to not only test out styles but also build the confidence that they need to perform as a solo artist.

“I’ve been with Pantayo for eight years and now that this second album is out, it just feels good to be taking more time to think about myself as an artist,” Cloma reflects. “When I first started playing solo I felt like I didn’t really know myself, and it feels different now,” they say. “It feels less scary.” 

For the most part, Pantayo’s sonic world is very different from Louie Sanchez. With Louie, Cloma is less interested in experimentation and more in storytelling. Cloma envisions Louie as being at home in the world of easy, breezy adult contemporary. “It’s softer music,” with a wider appeal, they explain. “I welcome a duet with k.d. lang in the future.” Cloma recalls how after a Pantayo gig, an audience member approached them and said Cloma’s performance reminded him of Anne Murray. “I was like oh my god, adult contemporary sound achieved,” Cloma says. “I was secretly so happy.”

Part of the inspiration for the Louie Sanchez EP came from a Cowboy Junkies album, The Trinity Session, which was recorded live off the floor at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity. Because of the pandemic, the EP ultimately couldn’t be recorded that way, so Cloma is excited to be finally performing the songs with a live band. Their first performance at Venus Fest featured Casey and Jenny Mecija of Ohbijou on vocals and violin, respectively, as well as bassist Char Aragoza of Mother Tongues. “It’s just basically Louie Sanchez and friends,” Cloma says of their live collaborators. 

Though Cloma describes Louie Sanchez as less explicitly about Filipina identity than Pantayo, their songwriting also takes cues from another Filipino tradition: harana songs, which are typically sung by a man seeking to win a woman’s heart. The courtship genre is connected to Spanish folk and manifests in Cloma’s sensibility for longing.“Louie is definitely queering, Louie will always be queering,” Cloma responds playfully, when I ask if the EP is a way of queering harana music. Rather than singing to a specific lover, though, Cloma suggests that they are queering harana songs by taking that sense of longing and applying it to feelings of not being seen, or feelings that have no possibility of reciprocation. One song on the EP expresses a desire for social recognition; another sings to a cis, straight, white person who is now married with children.  

“It has those ideas of longing,” Cloma says of the EP. “Harana is a deep feeling of yearning—like oh my god love me, please, I am so desperate for you to go out with me. When I listen to harana music,” Cloma continues, “there’s a desperation, there’s a deep longing and yearning, this idea of I desire you so much but I don’t think it’s ever possible for us to be together.” 

Country music has a similar emphasis on yearning, and Cloma is an expert in the genre, with a particular love for “new country.” As a teenager, they would drive around listening to country radio. When university didn’t work out, Cloma went into the army, often living in small towns in Alberta for months at a time, where country music dominated. Cloma quickly rattles off their country favourites: Brad Paisley, Meghan Patrick, Crystal Shawanda, JoJo Mason, amongst many others. 

They muse that Louie might be a mode of expression for their rural experiences, more of a rough and tumble kind of guy. The EP has a beautiful song about a sailor at sea, who works paycheque to paycheque and can’t hear a daughter calling him home. Cloma’s father works as a captain for BC Ferries. They played the EP for him during a long drive on Vancouver Island.

“He wouldn’t tell me, he had sunglasses on, but I could see the tears rolling down his cheek,” Cloma describes.

The name Louie actually comes from Cloma’s middle name, Louise. “Louie felt a bit more masculine,” Cloma says. “Whatever masculine means,” they add. So, is Louie Sanchez a masc country king? Cloma isn’t sure yet. “Is Louie gonna be a bit more campy? Is Louie gonna be a stone butch?” they ask themself. “Louie can be both.” For Louie Sanchez, there’s no rush to define anything — just a road ahead, full of possibility.

A version of this article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of The Grind. Toronto’s progressive politics & culture print magazine.

Ontario’s Cloud 9 festival offers a glimpse of a sustainable future

Ontario’s Cloud 9 festival offers a glimpse of a sustainable future

By Tom Beedham | Photos by Brad Ball

For the second year in a row, this past September, Eastern Ontario’s Cloud 9 festival saw some 400 attendees converge on No. 9 Gardens for a weekend of electronic dance music, camping, and ecological dreaming. When I learned of the festival and its promise of “an immersive and multi-sensory celebration of a sustainable future” on a 40-acre sustainability centre in Rideau Lakes, I was all in. (A lineup boasting acts like Ciel and Korea Town Acid didn’t hurt.) At the tail end of a summer scorched by wildfires and city-blanketing smoke, Cloud 9 struck as an opportunity to get out of the city and touch grass, so I left Toronto on a GO train and connected with a ride out of Whitby through the festival’s carpooling group.

An archway points campers toward the festival grounds at No. 9 Gardens. Photo by Brad Ball.

Arriving to the gardens late Friday night, my driver and I have just enough time to glimpse the final moments of a film screening and catch last call at the bar before campers gather around the fire to sing songs, buzz about the next day, make s’mores, and watch shooting stars burn across the night sky, far enough from the city and its light pollution to take in the Milky Way in all its glory. After setting up my tent with little more than the light of the night sky, I fall asleep to the sound of nearby campers chatting about time theft and karmic billionaire submarine chronicles. With a chorus of birds calling from the treeline beyond the same vegetable patch that fuels the festival’s seed-to-table meals throughout the weekend, I wake up early the next morning to find myself immersed in abundance, and I realize this is an ideological frontline.

A quiet township 40 minutes north of Kingston, Rideau Lakes is a place that resides in recent regional memory as the riding of disgraced MPP Steve Clark. Just days before the festival, Clark resigned from his other responsibility as Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing following a damning Auditor General’s report and an Integrity Commissioner recommendation citing his role in the Ford government’s parceling off some 2,995 hectares of the Greenbelt to a small group of developers. Again and again, we’ve watched every level of government pledge commitments to climate protections while in the same terms selling them out to extractive private profiteers unbeholden to the same accountability standards. It’s no wonder people are losing hope. 

Campers leaving the welcome centre at No. 9 Gardens. Photo by Brad Ball.

When we talk about the environment, it’s easy to resign ourselves to a future that won’t include what we might yearn for. In a 2023 study surveying 1,000 youth across Canada aged 16-25, at least 56% of respondents reported feeling afraid, sad, anxious, and powerless about climate change, with 39% reporting hesitation about having children as a result. Meanwhile, climate experts say intensifying deforestation, wildlife trade, and risky agricultural practices accelerate the risk of “spillover” events that precipitate more reality-altering pandemics like COVID-19. Saturday morning at the gardens, the latter’s already caused a schedule shuffle after Ciel tested positive with the virus and dropped off the lineup.  

In this fraught psycho-social geography, a festival like Cloud 9 takes up critical space while offering hopeful clarity in its intention and praxis. At No. 9 Gardens, where research and practices in sustainable food systems and building design facilitate community building, festival attendees can catch world travelling DJs, eat hyper-local meals directly from the land they dance and camp on, refill drink containers from a clean water system for no charge, attend workshops, pick their own wildflower bouquets, eat out of reusable containers, and rest easy knowing the meager waste accumulated will end up in the proper place.

Baile performing on the festival grounds. Photo by Brad Ball.

After pulling double-duty opening up the festival’s noon-hour warm-up slot under his DJ/producer alias Guest House, festival co-founder and talent manager Rupert Davies tells me that if this all sounds like an idyllic experience, it’s entirely by design. “We wanted to find a way to make the narrative around sustainability more pleasurable, where you’re kind of feeling engaged and feeling a sense of belonging,” Davies says over a video call a couple weeks after the festival wraps. “We need more of a solutions-based approach. It can’t just be facts and figures. We can’t use fear as our main tactic for creating behavioural change. Our generation is just not that motivated in that way.”

I catch early glimpses of the hedonic compulsion Davies is gesturing to when I spy a small group of volunteers dancing stageside atop an electric John Deere part way through his own set. A carefree display of support that’s as posi and wholesome as they come, it’s also a moment of humble spontaneity that’s indicative of the event’s administration. This year’s festival runs on a team of 21 organizers and 54 volunteers, but top decision-making is driven primarily by a group of youth. 

Volunteers navigating the festival grounds on an electric John Deere. Photo by Brad Ball.

When Davies inaugurated the festival last year with co-founders Hanna Davies, Reily Morrison, and Emily Pope, they were all aged between 21 and 25. The original idea for Cloud 9 came to them sitting around the same fire pit festival attendees crowd around the night of their arrival.

“They approached me and they said, ‘Hey, can we run a festival?’ And I said, ‘Only if you do all the work,’” recalls Andrew Davies, Rupert and Hanna’s father and executive director of No. 9, the parent organization that launched No. 9 Gardens in 2018 as a sprawling laboratory and educational centre for building a culture of sustainability. A central focus of No. 9’s is empowering youth to create a sustainable future, so it just made sense to leave an event as galvanizing as an electronic music and eco-art festival in their hands and let them run with it. “The organization has to take on a certain amount of liability and we’re ultimately responsible, but I really wanted it to be a youth-driven thing.”

Festival attendees taking in sights and sounds. Photo by Brad Ball.

Like similarly scaled camping music festivals, the majority of campers at Cloud 9 keep to themselves or otherwise reserve their energy throughout the day, seeking shade while the sun beats down through clear skies. But the fest seems to have anticipated this, programming low-impact workshops and activities to supplement the festival experience while doubling down on its emphasis on conscious living. After breakfast, festival attendees can take part in an hour-and-a-half biodynamic breathwork exercise guided by Megan Hill or forego some dancing for an afternoon yoga session. A trail of eco-themed artwork traces a wide arc around the perimeter of the festival grounds, immersing attendees in the abundance of the setting with installations emphasizing our social relationship with the land. Pushing beyond consumptive practices, these programming decisions emphasize a conscious approach to the complex of activities and relations by which our lives are daily reconstituted, which is as much a question of ecology and health as it is one of social issues. 

A festival attendee plays kendama in the vendor village at Cloud 9. Photo by Brad Ball.

The cumulative impact of these conditions means some of the afternoon selectors have less crowd energy to build off, but there’s still a dedicated contingent working it out in the small patch of shade cast by the stage’s canopy, while some idle about with flow toys like kendama and hacky sack, and others play volleyball nearby.

Leaning into the low pressure vibrations while labouring through some tech difficulties, Ceremonies uses the opportunity to work out some weirdness, playing Amadeezy and Partiboi’s “Freak Syndrome” like she’s flying a flag and letting Young Muscle’s “Pluck” and all its synth whistles beckon campers like a folksy pied piper before punching up the atmosphere with blocks of bass. When fellow Torontonian Korea Town Acid takes over the decks, she takes it a step further and uses the opportunity to get lewd, loose, and loopy, calling on the robotic post-rave electro perversion of Jimmy Edgar’s “I Wanna Be Your STD” and the respiratory drama of DJ AIRIC’s “Ambulance (Your Life Force Is Running Out!)” in a set that seems to capture the libidinal draw of the event and dare the crowd to push it as far as they can.

Most of the festival attendees I meet have made the journey from Ottawa or Kingston, where they’re enrolled in master’s programs in environmental studies or sustainability management (or bachelor’s programs in related fields) at Carleton or Queen’s, and I’m struck by how many are at Cloud 9 on the simple grounds of its premise, often with little to no familiarity with the fest’s lineup of world-touring DJs and in-demand selectors. For most, a festival on the lush grounds of a sustainability centre is enough, just as keen to visit Great Lakes Plastic’s information table as they are the vintage and craft vendors selling wares on the grounds.

Korea Town Acid performing at Cloud 9. Photo by Brad Ball.

The sheer number of attendees travelling from out of town isn’t lost on organizers. An overwhelming culprit of festival-related carbon emissions across the globe, audience travel is top of mind for Cloud 9 organizers. Last year the festival coordinated a bus to shuttle audiences in from Kingston, but it wasn’t the success they imagined. “Sometimes the bus would arrive with three people in it,” Andrew Davies tells me. 

This year Cloud 9’s shifted focus, opting instead to facilitate the aforementioned carpool group that made this review possible. Surveying guests in the ticket checkout, attendees are also required to disclose where they’re travelling from, their means of transportation, and how many passengers they will be riding with before they can obtain a festival pass. Pairing up with forestry management enterprise Canada Forest Trust, Cloud 9 uses that data to measure its carbon footprint, including event emissions produced by the festival itself (while the fest has obtained a solar trailer from St. Lawrence College for some onsite power generation, diesel generators also power the stage), then working together to seek sponsors and offset those emissions. 

“Obviously, if you are creating an event, you have power needs, et cetera. That’s a reality,” says Soren Christianson, Cloud 9’s sustainability lead and project manager of climate leadership at the City of Kingston. “Our intention is to get this festival to net zero or as minimal impact as possible on the environment. 

Louke Man performing at Cloud 9. Photo by Brad Ball.

Carbon offsetting is an increasingly popular custom in event production, but critics claim the practice is limited as a passive, reactive response that throws technosolutionism at the problem while maintaining a harmful status quo. In a take for Bellona Magazine, sociologist and composer François Ribac labels such approaches “managerial” responses to climate challenges, claiming the focus on carbon footprints is a “surface ecology that neglects the crucial role of production” and one that “aims to make music production sustainable without fundamentally altering its structure and functioning.”

At Cloud 9, that critique doesn’t feel as relevant. An investment in climate action charity, No. 9 is wholly organized around its holistically-minded “9 Pillars of Sustainability” — waste management, water management, alternative energy, agriculture and food security, public art and design, civic engagement, green building design, green space, and transportation. The organization honours those principles by partnering with educational institutions and community initiatives to facilitate learning opportunities and stimulate career interest in areas addressing critical problems from infrastructural as well as cultural levels.

Tammy and Bernard Nelson provide a land acknowledgment before performances begin. Photo by Brad Ball.

That work also extends to No. 9’s commitment to Land Back, immediately apparent in the festival programming’s land acknowledgment and a workshop titled “Living a Land Back Lifestyle.” The workshop is ultimately cancelled because facilitator Eloisa Alena Lewis (New Climate Culture) is sick, but at No. 9, Land Back is a year-round project. Billing itself as “Canada’s first sustainability and reconciliation centre,” part of the gardens’ pedagogical dedication to spreading strategies for living sustainably extends to reestablishing Indigenous sovereignty and a return to communal land ownership. 

Situated on land traditionally stewarded by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Mississauga, Algonquin, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo, Andrew Davies says it’s essential that the area’s Indigenous communities have “opportunities to use the land however they want to use it.” No. 9 Gardens has hosted a number of Indigenous-led sweats and workshops, while No. 9 has established official partnerships with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University and provided a Legacy Space through the Downie/Wenjack Fund. “We can’t talk about a sustainable future without addressing Indigenous issues,” Davies says, and I’m relieved to hear it a year after the International Panel on Climate Change finally acknowledged colonialism as a cause of climate change in a 2022 report.

Ilan Sikorsky performing at Cloud 9. Photo by Brad Ball.

When the sun starts to drop behind the treeline, the lawn in front of the stage finally starts to fill up, night encouraging campers to join in lest they be consumed by the darkness. Louke Man’s onstage sweetening the deal with populist crowd pleasers from Cartier God, Girl Talk, and Skrillex, but when rain starts to spit down part way through I take it as an invitation to grab some dinner from a food truck. 

Subbed out of his warm-up slot to pinch hit for Ciel, Swiss-born Boston DJ Ilan Sikorsky has to forego the all-vinyl set he had in mind because the stage lighting’s attracting insects (an MC reminds us “bugs and vinyl don’t mix”), but he has a USB loaded with pulsing house tracks like Fresh & Low’s deep and dizzy “7 Miles Up” and Malin Genie’s breezy “Sense of Swing” in his back pocket, so the party goes on all the same. The grassy dancefloor wet with dew and rainfall, I watch a collection of abandoned shoes grow near the front of the stage as more and more dancers opt to go barefoot, a signal of collective trust as much as an earthy endorsement.

Sterling Grove and Ellyn Woods performing at Cloud 9. Photo by Brad Ball.

Sharing the headlining slot, Sterling Grove and Toronto singer Ellyn Woods unite for a hybrid live/DJ performance that caps off the night with a euphoric set of house and torch-bearing downtempo pop. While Woods sticks to the sidelines most of the set so the Montreal duo can dispatch tracks like Caiiro’s “The Akan” and Kremor’s remix of Shouse’s “Love Tonight,” she emerges to meet the audience at the front of the stage when the duo cues up selections from their studio EP collaboration Cabin Days as well as Sterling Grove and Giuseppe Lanni’s remix of Woods’s 2021 track “Lifted.” An electrifying dynamic that keeps the crowd dancing even when the rain reaches a steady drizzle, it culminates when Sterling Grove send out the crowd shouting out birthday wishes to Hanna Davies and throwing on a sneak peak at a new track. A breakbeat-centred piece featuring liberal sampling of Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus,” it’s a celebratory encore that keeps it loose, and I clock some organizers passing around a bottle of prosecco in the pit. The afterparty’s already started, and everyone’s invited.

Sunday morning breakfast at the welcome centre. Photo by Brad Ball.

The next morning I reconnect with festival friends around a final breakfast, and we share observations from the day before, consulting the absurd calculations of our step counters before departing. This reviewer clocks in some 31,600 steps, but more than a few report leaving their devices in their tent, only checking them for the first time this morning. Some stick around to hop on the celebratory shuttle to the nearby Jones Falls for a post-fest swim. Others are in a hurry to pack up and haul out as rain clouds loom heavy above, but everyone seems reluctant to leave Cloud 9 behind. 

At a basic level, a music festival at a sustainability centre in Eastern Ontario struck most of us as an opportunity to get out of the city and touch grass. What we found was a place to dance in it and dream about the future.

Editor’s Note: Desire

Editor’s Note: Desire

By: Michael Rancic | Art by: Michael Rancic

It seems appropriate to be very late publishing this issue when the theme in question is Desire. Sometimes, where you are isn’t quite where you want to be! This lack has proven to be an incredibly fruitful headspace for artists, musicians especially, which makes it a natural jumping off point for our own analysis. 

Desire motivates us to fulfill our most basic needs, but it can also be a state of mind that drives us to change the world around us. That couldn’t be more apparent than today, after weeks of protests around the globe in solidarity with Palestine. Across so-called Canada and the world, people have walked off the job, rallied in the streets, occupied the offices of MPs and banks, held teach-ins, phone blasts and direct action 101s, all in the name of calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza strip, and ending the illegal Israeli occupation.

Left unfulfilled, those desires can shift to longing and ache. They can also be exploited, or weaponized, and used to manipulate us. Exploring how music affords us the opportunity to navigate our own desires, be they physical or ideological in nature, felt deeply interesting to New Feeling’s editorial working group, and the results were more varied and complex than we could’ve anticipated. 

Cierra Bettens always brings compelling interpretations of our themes to her stories. Her profile of Winnipeg-based pop musician Felicia Sekundiak, a.k.a Floor Cry, explores the sense of heartbreak featured on Sekundiak’s debut album, Slasher Flick. As Cierra writes, the record’s sonic and thematic nods to ’80s horror deftly amplifies the exploration of longing in Floor Cry’s lyrics, while also resisting and rethinking horror tropes.  

Rosie Long Decter’s feature on Louie Sanchez originally appeared in The Grind, but felt too perfect for us to not include here. Louie Sanchez is the solo project of Eirene Cloma, 1/5th of Toronto-based “queer Filipinx kulintang gong punks,” Pantayo. Rosie connected with Eirene at a moment that feels like it’s still a formative period for the artist, in the midst of still cultivating this new persona, while they explore what it means to queer the traditional Filipinx song form of harana— a kind of love song or serenade. 

Tom Beedham has become something of our own official festival correspondent over the years, but this experience at Cloud 9, a music and sustainability festival in rural Eastern Ontario is unlike anything else he’s ever covered. It’s easy to see why it’s appealing to go to small-to-midsize festivals across the country to understand how these incredible feats of cooperation and planning come together, and this piece illustrates just how thoughtful a festival can be with its organizing. Tom’s pitch put it perfectly: “When we talk about desire and the environment, it’s easy to resign ourselves to a future that doesn’t include what we might yearn for; a festival like this is a hopeful gesture!”

Part of what contributed to this issue’s delay is just the sheer amount we had going on events-wise over the course of the fall. We tabled at a zine fair for Festival Lingua Franca with our Pitch Zine, co-organized panels with Pop Montreal and Shared Bylines on solidarity and the pitch process respectively, had our first Annual General Meeting where we elected our first Board of Directors, and capped it all off with a third anniversary show at Toronto’s TRANZAC. It was great seeing so many of you out at these events, and we hope to have more like them in the future.  

Having to even think about one’s own desires feels difficult, selfish even, when the death toll in Gaza rises each day, when Palestinian journalists are being killed indiscriminately, when any journalist or arts worker who voices solidarity with the Palestinian cause is considered “biased” and at risk of losing their job, and our elected officials stand silent in the face of genocide. But looking at the massive outpouring of support for the Palestinian people all across the world over the past two months, it’s also not hard to see the beauty and promise that comes with putting desire at the front and centre of our politics and actions. 

There are many community and student-led organizations across the country taking part in direct action. Consider supporting them financially, or with your time if you have it, and look to them for resources on how to get involved. 

Editor’s Note – Issue 15: Reviews

Editor’s Note – Issue 15: Reviews

By: Michael Rancic | Art by: Michael Rancic

If you’ve been following us for some time, this theme might feel a little like déjà vu. Ten issues ago, in November 2021, we published “Reviews.” As a theme, it was born out of pragmatism— we had just relaunched and resumed our publishing activities, having just opened up subscriptions to the public two months prior. We didn’t have enough funds to publish what we previously had in terms of length and format of articles per issue, but it was important for us to continue with our editorial calendar as planned, in order to build the momentum we were hoping for with the relaunch. So, we took what money we had and put it toward publishing 12 capsule reviews and a scene report. 

The resulting issue was significant for another reason: it marked the end of New Feeling regularly publishing album reviews in favour of dedicating our efforts to longer-form writing. With that, we wanted to find other creative and engaging ways to present our music criticism, like Group Chat

We’ve always wanted to deviate from the norm when it comes to our writing, but as much as that intent has been in the back of our minds since day one, it has also taken time for us to find our editorial voice. The more we home in on what that is, the easier it becomes to make deviations, to play with form, and find the “new” along the way.  

The moment I became Features Editor, I knew I wanted to revisit the “Reviews” theme. All of the themes we’ve explored so far are ideas that make sense to come back to over time and this theme in particular offers us an opportunity to not only breathe new life into an older idea, but stray from our rhythms to focus directly on the music that’s moving each of us right now, shining a light on some records we really care about. 

I’m joined this month by a great lineup of writers talking about records from across the country, including Daniel G Wilson, Laura Stanley, Leslie Ken Chu, Tabassum Siddiqui, and Tom Beedham, as well as fellow organizing members Rosie Long Decter and Sarah Chodos making their first appearances in an issue of New Feeling. We also have Toronto-based freelance writer Kayla Higgins contributing for the first time. 

Beyond the momentary return of the mighty capsule review, this issue also includes two long-form reviews, from writers Daniel G Wilson and Sarah Chodos, revisiting two older records, Blaxäm’s Kiss My Afro (1998), and The Hidden Cameras’ The Smell Of Our Own (2003). Each of these “Deep Digs” come with their own critical eye and point of view, contextualizing the records in a way that brings conversation around these records into the present. Additionally, Tom Beedham plays with the concept of what even constitutes a review with his feature on Resonance Gathering, a new LP documenting the large-scale interpretations of composer Pauline Oliveros’ score “To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation” (1970). 

I’m very excited to return to this theme and all that it entails. I hope that this can be something New Feeling does often… maybe annually? Now, more than ever, it feels important for journalistic outlets to be self-reflective in our practices.

Chamber Music

Chamber Music: Toronto Musicians Bring Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening to City Hall

By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Tom Beedham

Early one Sunday evening in February 2019, strange sounds leaked out from the council chambers at Toronto City Hall. Inside, a score artists stationed between empty councillor desks drew sustained tones out of everything from traditional concert instruments like trombones and electric guitars, to ad hoc implements like street pylons. An audience watched on from the public seating gallery as meditative tones rooted in avant-garde consciousness-raising exercises  took the place of reactionary civic decision making. 

“I think [City Hall administration] thought we were just some punks,” says Christopher Willes, an associate artist and producer with artist-led collective Public Recordings who devised the project and performed flute in the production. According to him, ahead of the performance, city staff delivered him presumptuous, unprompted warnings that under no circumstances should the group stand on the desks, rigid but contradictory instructions about what lights they could and couldn’t switch off, even demanded they pay a prohibitive $5000 fee for staff that would supposedly need to be on hand to move council chairs despite no plans to do so (it was eventually returned). Then Willes asked what arrival instructions he should give the crew the CBC was sending.

Aisha Sasha John (voice), Christopher Willes (flute), Victoria Cheong (bass synthesizer), Ellen Furey (guitar), Liz Peterson (viola), Allison Cameron (electronics), Thom Gill (synthesizer), and Anne Bourne (cello) performing at Toronto City Hall. Photo by Polina Teif

Produced by Public Recordings and hosted by the Music Gallery, the public co-presentation was an ambitious staging of To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, a 1970 orchestral score for light and sound by the late pioneering avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016). Lovingly documented under the title Resonance Gathering on a deluxe double LP and book full of background notes, photography and archival materials now available from Art Metropole, the City Hall performance was the climactic finale of rehearsals and residencies spanning 2017-2019. But even on the off chance city staff passing by the chambers were familiar with the work, they would be hard pressed to identify it. 

Designed so musicians and non-musicians alike could participate, the composition is an inherently malleable and inclusive “open score” divided into three parts, each signaled by a different colour of light washing the event space continuously throughout the performance. It calls for any group (or groups) of instrumentalists from six performers to large ensembles playing any instruments, each performer tasked with selecting five pitches to deploy depending on their perceptions and cognitions of the actively changing group conditions (volume, loudness, timbre), thereby centring acutely active listening, subjectivity, and environment over pre-scripted progressions. As a result, performances of the music are often radically different from one another. 

Christopher Willes (flute), Brendan Jensen (cello), Thom Gill (synthesizer), Claire Harvie (lighting) and Germaine Liu (percussion) in rehearsal at the Gardiner Museum. Photo by Yuula Benivolski.

“There are so many decisions to be made,” Willes offers about the composition’s potentiality. He says he was attracted to the piece for its implications of organizational interdependence. “What you witness is groups of people grappling with their agency in relationship with this score and how far they can go. I feel like it’s a kind of experiment in navigating relationships.”

Willes always conceptualized the multi-faceted production as a roving series of rehearsals and residencies that would build toward a performance in a politically loaded centre of collective public decision making, but when he initially approached City Hall about booking the chamber, he could never anticipate how charged the space would be when it came time for the show. Then, in June 2018, former Etobicoke councillor Doug Ford was granted keys to the province, elected Ontario’s premier as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Weeks after taking office in Queen’s Park, Ford shocked the Toronto political landscape when he announced and then implemented plans to redraw the city’s ward boundaries, slashing council representation from 47 to 25 seats with the so-called Better Local Government Act. With a mayoral race underway locally for the October 2018 municipal election, critics and politicians alike called the move overreaching and anti-democratic, while the City of Toronto launched a failed Supreme Court challenge in response.

A work designed to propose a self-governing system for group music making where all actors’ voices have a direct and tangible impact on the collective sound, To Valerie… resonated even more in a council chamber redefined by Ford’s “Better” Toronto. If Ford’s revisionist bill effectively narrowed the civic listening potential of Toronto with less city councillors representing vaster swaths of political territory, Oliveros’s decentralized score was a defiant demonstration that built a case for the continual transformative potential of the widened amplification of voices and the deepening of cooperative listening.

Bee Pallomina (cymbals), Evan Webber (timpani), Heather Saumer (trombone), Ellen Furey (guitar), Aisha Sasha John (voice), Anni Spadafora (bass), and Liz Peterson (viola) performing at Toronto City Hall. Photo by Polina Teif

“The work gets at the human pieces of politics that are very elemental and basic and elementary, but crucial,” comments Anni Spadafora, who played bass guitar in the ensemble. Perhaps best known to New Feeling readers as the voice and guitar player at the front of the no wave-indebted Toronto post punk outfit New Fries, Spadafora, now located in Montreal, says the work Oliveros began pursuing with To Valerie…, departing from traditional composition methods and emphasizing openness and experimentalism, has informed her own music making since she first encountered it through London, UK’s Her Noise Archive around the time of the band’s formation in 2013. 

“There are no solos. It’s all about playing your instrument in a way that comes in and out of the group. And at any point if you’re too loud, you have to bring yourself down,” Spadafora explains. “It’s kind of this play with being very aware that it is not about an individual, but a group — and a sonic group. What’s required in making that composition true is listening. Really truly listening.”

This sonic production dynamic branches from the dialectical thinking that spurred the first feminist consciousness-raising groups in 1967. Emerging from second-wave feminism, these groups observed that patriarchy and capitalism is a social relationship organized to isolate and exploit women (in the home, in the waged working world; as producers of biological and social reproduction) so as to prevent them from familiarizing themselves with that power structure and thereby overcome their exploitation. Echoing (and challenging) the dialectics of Marx and Hegel, who broadly argued subjectivity and consciousness could only be achieved through reckoning with the intrinsic interconnected nature of being and struggling with objectifying power relations, they indicated that women’s liberation could only be achieved through elevating group consciousness, which begins with sharing and listening to experiences. Indeed, Oliveros herself said that in creating the work, she wanted to “express [her] resonance with the energy of the rising feminist movement.”

Anni Spadafora (bass) and Ellen Furey (guitar) in rehearsal at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Photo by Claire Harvie.

Arriving in San Diego for a job with the University of California in 1967, Oliveros sat front row as the counterculture of the 1960s was beset with tragedy and loss, Nixon and a new, fortified era of conservatism looming around the corner. “[T]he Vietnam War protests and atrocities were at their height. A student at UCSD sat in the plaza, poured kerosene on himself and burned himself to death. Then, I was watching my television set when Robert Kennedy was assassinated,” Oliveros told feminist art historian Moira Roth in a 1977 interview. “I felt the temper of the times. I felt the tremendous fear … I began to retreat. I didn’t want to play concerts. I began to turn inward.”

As a response, Oliveros took a hiatus from performing in public, but she was also active in nurturing some new connections, organizing the all female “♀ Ensemble,” a consciousness-raising group in its own right that centred what she would later label Deep Listening. It was with this group that she would eventually perform her Sonic Meditations (1974). “I had already been very interested in listening to long tones and listening to the environment,” Oliveros told Roth in the same interview. “I began to see these interests in a more extended way.” 

The Toronto ensemble rehearsing in Walter Hall, University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Photo by Claire Harvie.

Around the same time, the Music Department of Hope College, Holland Michigan, commissioned a score from Oliveros. Identifying Marilyn Monroe and Valerie Solanas as avatars for women’s desperation in the creative economy of the time — the latter of whom Oliveros encountered through her SCUM Manifesto via Judson Church Collective member Elaine Summers — Oliveros named the work after the two as a gesture to women struggling to be heard. “Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life,” she wrote about the work. “Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desperate and caught in the traps of inequality: Monroe needed to be recognized for her talent as an actress. Solanas wished to be supported for her own creative work.”

Like any dialectic, To Valerie… insists on the concrete unity of the whole. In the second, yellow light section of the score, individual players are tasked with internalizing the dialectic’s manifold nature without atomizing its processes, continuously adjusting aspects of their sounds in relation to others, blending with and borrowing from the pitches and modulation techniques of the other players while continuing to play their original sounds — a continuous dialectical feedback system: contributing original sounds, interpreting the sound of the whole, and synthesizing the exchange.

Claire Harvie directing lighting at Toronto City Hall. Photo by Polina Teif.

Rather than composing works dubiously obsessed with reproducing objective precision, Oliveros made music that cherished the conjunctive nature of existence, itself an act of political economy invested in amplifying the molecular makeup of the lived environment. “The kind of music (organizing of sound) that I have been composing is aiding my concentration and my awareness of others,” Oliveros wrote in a heretofore unpublished 1979 archival note included now in the Resonance Gathering book via the Pauline Oliveros Papers collection at UC San Diego Special Collections and Archives. “It is a healing and socializing agent.”

Fifty years later and after nearly a decade of its own local conservative leadership, Toronto brought the score to City Hall to challenge its own ivory tower of decision making. “It felt like a bit of the streets and perhaps what the streets represent was really meeting the upper echelons of the city, where all of the power decisions get made and birthed and played around with,” performance artist Brian Solomon reflects, gesturing to street level activism and grassroots political organizing. Untrained as a musician, his instrument of choice was also loaded with symbolism, liberating a City of Toronto pylon, rigging it up with contact microphones, and playing it like a horn.

Brian Solomon (pylon) and Aisha Sasha John (voice) performing at Toronto City Hall. Photo by Yuula Benivolski.

Born with mixed Anishinaabe ancestry, he suggests the work’s openness resists colonial ways of thinking about expression and who can take part: “In our cultures, the time when you sing the story, speak the story, and drum it, are all very fluid. [The different art forms are] all just a different little tick on the spectrum of how to express anything — a story, a feeling, a ribbon of abstract manifestation.” As a result, he says it felt “natural” performing alongside more studied musicians in the rest of the Toronto ensemble, which also featured performances by Anne Bourne (cello), Allison Cameron (electronics), Victoria Cheong (bass synth), Ishan Davé (viola), Ellen Furey (electric guitar), Thom Gill (synthesizer), Claire Harvie (lighting), Ame Henderson (double bass), Ione (text/sound poetry and voice), Brendan Jensen (cello), Aisha Sasha John (harmonica, amplifier, and voice), Germaine Liu (percussion), Bee Pallomina (cymbals), Liz Peterson (viola), Heather Saumer (trombone), and Evan Webber (timpani and amplifier). 

“As a dancer and a performance artist, I learn everything from people who aren’t dancers and aren’t performance artists who don’t spend their time in that realm,” Solomon continues. “I think the same thing was going on with people in the room who maybe weren’t professional musicians.”

Brendan Jensen (cello), Christopher Willes (flute) and Allison Cameron (electronics) rehearsing at the Tranzac. Photo by Polina Teif.

That transformative quality was at the fore of Oliveros’s mind in carrying out her practice, once declaring “I’m not particularly interested in preserving my work. I’m interested in the event we’re involved in now, and how it can change me” (author’s emphasis; as a practicing Buddhist who so often demonstrated an understanding of the “self” as intersubjective and decentralized, we can reasonably assume that when Oliveros invoked the self here, she also also felt the change imposed on it would be extended to the world around her). Rather than suggesting her work could be complete or attempting to produce stable sonic art objects, Oliveros was concerned with producing new relationships.

While these conditions somewhat complicate the occasion of the physical release of documenting the City Hall performance, the spirit of Oliveros’s work is beautifully honoured within, Willes even acknowledging in a final note in the book that “in some ways, it’s strange to release a recording of her music.” 

A physical copy of Resonance Gathering (Art Metropole).

Designed by print designer Jeremy McCormick, Resonance Gathering is contained in a transparent plastic shell, while an undersized paper “spine” sits loose inside, wrapped around the vinyl’s white paper sleeves, the record’s label clearly visible. As a result, every time the listener picks up the record, they will experience its visual composition in a new way, each of its elements bearing smears and gradients representing the colours that guide the action in To Valerie… shifting or rotating within. But the artifact’s final gesture invites listeners even further inside with a locked groove flexi-disc and a series of stickers bearing text prompts for listening. Using these stickers, listeners are encouraged to construct new listening scenarios by applying the stickers to the flexi, forcing the turntable to skip and thereby constructing new infinite loops.

Now that it’s out, Willes is keen for listeners to do their own experiments.

“This isn’t about making monuments and making pieces to archive her thoughts,” Willes states plainly. “You have to go through the process.”

Review: Gawbé – ciseau zigzag

ciseau zigzag
Disques Dure Vie
Québec City, QC
RIYL: Snail Mail; Ada Lea; worrying about your iron intake 

On the cover of Gawbé’s EP ciseau zigzag, band leader Gabrielle Côté is slumped over a table that’s littered with a chaotic mix of items including: bits of paper, a party hat, and a pepper(???). She also holds a pair of multi-coloured zigzag scissors, a prized item for crafters of any age. 

Côté has had the six songs of ciseau zigzag kicking around for the past two years. The disjointedness of the items surrounding Côté on the EP’s cover is perhaps what this group of songs feel like to her: scattered. ciseau zigzag is a mix of pining, love, and memories. On one track Côté remembers as a kid cutting up a cherished picture her grandmother had (“zigzag”) and on another (“Deux fleurs”) she spends most of the day in bed and asks a question that is a constant in my life: “C’tu l’ennui ou c’est l’anémie?”

ciseau zigzag never sounds scattered though. Like the jagged blades of the scissors she holds, Côté’s songs are roughly cut pop-rock songs with sharp hooks and, like on tracks “Les misettes” and “zigzag,” a little bit of grunge. It’s a convergence of slick tones and, ultimately, the sound of Gawbé cutting out jagged hearts and handing them to you. 

– Laura Stanley

Review: Jessy Lanza – Love Hallucination

Jessy Lanza
Love Hallucination
Los Angeles, California
RIYL: Aaliyah; Cocteau Twins; Yellow Magic Orchestra

Love Hallucination is a fitting title for Hamilton-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Jessy Lanza’s fourth album. Relationships are Lanza’s thematic focal point here (along with all the uncertainty inherent to them), and the music is hooky to the level of being hypnotic.

Lanza continues with her Japanese synth-pop-inspired, electro-soul style, but this album is less playful or impish than her previous three releases. With song titles like “Don’t Leave Me Now,” “Don’t Cry on My Pillow,” and “I Hate Myself,”  this is no happily-ever-after love story.

While most pop music can feel driven by vocals, that is not the case here. Lanza’s haunting, wispy soprano vocals trail along the music. This production choice gives the sense of a vehicle with no driver— allowing the music to drive itself, giving meaning beyond words.

“Midnight Ontario” is music to dance to with moments of pause, with Lanza singing about tears in the rain, and how “nothing is for sure.” In keeping with the rest of the album, the song wanders along an off-kilter blues scale used by everyone from Drake to Raffi. The tonal beats against trance-like music on the track “Drive” evoking strobes of traffic lights shining in the dark, encapsulating the overall feel of the album. 

As the sound of Love Hallucination would work well in a nightclub, a cafe, or a bedroom (either alone and trying to sleep, or with someone) the album plays like a joker card, it could be whatever you need it to be.

– Sarah Chodos

Review: KMVP – On the Cusp

On the Cusp
Nanaimo, BC
RIYL: horror and slasher flicks; critters; anarcho rock

Nanaimo punks KMVP have always railed against capitalism, maintained alignment with accountability politics, and expressed deep respect for the natural world. As capitalist greed, Earth’s climate, and anti-“woke” sentiment cross critical thresholds, it’s timely that KMVP have finally bestowed their debut LP unto the world, and it’s titled On the Cusp.

Across 11 tracks, Kristjanne Vosper—who founded the group in 2008 before they coalesced into a quartet in 2021—yelps, sneers, and snarls as she and Nxc Hxghxs unleash lashing guitars over Brendan Holm’s clubbing drums and Kellan McLaughlin’s bony bass lines. “Feminist 4 Beginners” and “Negative self talk therapy” acknowledge that personal growth comes with setbacks. “Stuck in A Ditch” wrestles with urban isolation. “The Truth About Mupets” resists conformity, which Vospers skewers as “peace of mind in predetermined plots.”

In classic KMVP fashion, the band dresses On the Cusp’s commentary in pop culture motifs, specifically from horror and slasher flicks. “They created a killer, and then they’re surprised,” Vosper sings about capitalism on “Jacking Off Orcas.” But such imagery comes off more as camp than macabre, adding levity to the memento mori.

To keep fighting the good fight, one must remain in light. Like all ecosystems, it’s a fragile balance. Walk the line with On the Cusp.

– Leslie Ken Chu