Concert Review: MadeinTYO’s Sincerely, Tokyo tour

Small venue, big voice

Concert  Review: MadeinTYO’s <I>Sincerely, Tokyo</I> tour

After the release of the critically acclaimed album Sincerely, Tokyo, MadeinTYO hosted his tour of the same name and made a stop at Toronto’s very own Mod Club on February 25. 

The intimate venue in Little Italy proved to be an excellent choice, with the crowd in an utter trance for the entire show. The stage put the artist within arm’s reach of many fans as he jumped, screamed, and spoke in a mesmerizing melodic cadence. MadeinTYO matched the crowd’s high energy, perfectly fulfilling what a musician should set out to accomplish at a show.

MadeinTYO’s set began roughly 30 minutes late according to his set times, but this is a forgivable deed considering the numerous openers — Pilla B, Bankrol Hayden, and most impressively, Thutmose — who captivated the crowd’s attention. It was interesting to see the styles of the different openers in conjunction and the synergy within these acts. MadeinTYO made a good choice picking these artists to support his tour. 

The show carried a good mix of both smash hits for casual fans and fan favourites for his core following, adequately addressing the entire crowd at his show. For instance, MadeinTYO went from “I Want,” one of his biggest smash hits, to “Outstanding,” a distorted trap and bass-heavy record meant to cultivate mosh pits, to “Ned Flanders,” another smash hit with a notable feature from A$AP Ferg. 

After teasing a surprise Toronto guest for several days, fans were anxious to see who the young rapper would bring out. The chatter among fans camping in the line for several hours prior to the show — despite the recent wind storm — was largely centred around this topic. When the time finally came, and the lights dimmed halfway through MadeinTYO’s set, the crowd trembled in excitement. When OVO Sound’s Brampton-born R&B singer Roy Woods came out, it would be an understatement to say that fans were pleased. The crowd went wild, not giving security a chance to rest as numerous fans jumped on each others’ shoulders and rushed to the front of the stage to see the OVO crooner. 

Roy Woods, beginning his set with debut single “Get You Good” and following with his and MadeinTYO’s “Instinct,” exemplified the recurring theme of synergy that was present at this show. Something about the integration of Roy Woods into MadeinTYO’s set — the way their voices bounced off of each other in their joint ballad and the genuine friendship between them — made his appearance such an integral part of the show. MadeinTYO took the time to pause the show and speak about the bond that he and Roy Woods share. While Roy Woods did not steal the spotlight in any way, his presence brought something that definitely could not have been achieved otherwise. 

MadeinTYO’s fans don’t come to the self-proclaimed mumble rapper expecting dense and introspective lyricism — they come to have fun. MadeinTYO’s appearance at the Mod Club provided fans with this and more. This performance was intimate, had several great openers, appealed to both his casual and core fanbase, and brought out a special guest who completely changed the atmosphere of the night. Growing as a musician, it is inevitable that MadeinTYO’s next Toronto show will be at a larger venue. 

The intimate experience at this small venue was one to truly cherish. 

Theatre Review: Ryerson Musical Theatre Company presents Disney’s Newsies

There’s theatre outside U of T and it’s good

Theatre Review: Ryerson Musical Theatre Company presents Disney’s <i>Newsies</i>

Ryerson Musical Theatre Company’s (RMTC) 2019 production, Newsies, was a heartwarming delight. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and script by Harvey Fierstein, the musical Newsies is based on the 1992 Disney film and on the true story of the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York City.

Newsies follows newspaper delivery teenager Jack Kelly and his fellow ‘newsies’ as they strike against their employer, Joseph Pulitzer, who has raised the distribution price of newspapers. RMTC’s Newsies was joyful and genuine, with superb performances and costume designs that created authentic and unique characters — no small feat for a cast with a large ensemble.

The show opened with Jack (Mark McKelvie) telling his friend Crutchie (Colin Darling), named for the crutch he uses to support a damaged leg, about his wish to move to Santa Fe. McKelvie and Darling nicely balanced their energy and harmonies. I was drawn to Darling’s engaging and honest performance, especially in the dance numbers choreographed by Zoe Choptain, which borrowed from the original stage version but smoothly incorporated Crutchie and his crutch into the choreography.

McKelvie brought convincing passion to this demanding role, and he nailed the notorious high A in “Santa Fe.” The vocally-gifted Ian Kowalski became a powerful figure — and lively tap dancer! — in the strike. Olivia DeRoche successfully tackled her breathless solo “Watch What Happens,” and achieved a perfect balance between being earnest and not taking any bullshit from the men around her. These four performers had great chemistry, making Jack’s choice to stay in New York at the end believable.

Marie-Blanche Bertrand, as the dazzling singer Medda, has a lovely voice but didn’t ooze the confidence she needed to really sell her solo “That’s Rich.”

As Pulitzer, Daniel Goldman was simultaneously threatening and hilariously sassy.

The ensemble of newsies consisted of triple-threats contorting their bodies in impressive ways, though they performed strongest as a group. Issues with mic levels made it difficult to hear many of the solo lines. One standout was Boman Reid as Race, the newsie with the challenge of dancing with a cigar constantly in hand, which Reid executed with agility. Two other newsies drew my attention with their humorous performances: Ysabelle Ferrer as Mush and Cruz Lloyd as Specs and Bill. Ethan Kim as Albert also performed an impressive number of Russian split jumps.

The spot-on costumes, designed by Carlyn Routledge, consisted of various combinations of raggedy button-downs, suspenders, and hats — the newsies couldn’t afford more than what they could throw together, but each had their own style. Davey, who was new, started off well-dressed, but when he took a crucial role in the strike during “Seize the Day,” his suit jacket disappeared and he fit right in with the other newsies.

Director Isabella Verrilli made good use of the set’s different levels and pieces, and Mathilda Kane’s lighting design on Jack’s rooftop and during Crutchie’s solo, “Letter from the Refuge,” was emotive. Though the music helped move the scenes along, the transitions were strongest when blocking or choreography distracted the audience from set changes.

Orchestra director and U of T music student Kevin Vuong did a fantastic job of leading the band, composed mainly of U of T students. Despite a few minor slip-ups, the musicians brought spirit to this non-stop, high-energy show. Vocal director Nicole Kanga’s great work showed in the performers’ terrific harmonies.

The show’s highlight was “Once and For All.” The captivating choreography involving newspapers and the cast and band’s musical talents brought the song to life. When the performers changed keys while singing, “There’s change coming once and for all,” my heart lifted along with theirs — I believed them, and by the end, so did Pulitzer.

Brought together by a primarily female-led creative team, Newsies’ cast and crew poured heart and power into the production. With a cast of authentic performers, RMTC’s Newsies was uplifting, entertaining, and left me excited about the passion for university theatre that exists beyond U of T.

Newsies ran from March 13–16 at the Al Green Theatre.

I went to a metal show and had the goddamn time of my life

The tale of a noisy night at Coalition from an admitted metal misfit

I went to a metal show and had the goddamn time of my life

It seemed like the band moved swiftly from setting up on stage to producing orchestrated aural chaos. Eye contact with my friend was broken by the sound waves themselves. Conversation time, over: it was time to tune in and embrace the noise — we’d bought tickets, after all. There was no way in hell I was moving any further back in this crowd.

March 7 saw three metal bands, ranging from horror punk to doom metal, play at the Coalition venue in Kensington Market to a writhing core group of fans from the scene — and me. Exes, High Priest, and Old Witch brought an energy to the rough-around-the-edges Coalition that had the flippers flopping in the pinball machines lining the back wall of the venue.

Full disclosure: one of my roommates plays the drums in Exes, and, to be completely honest, that was the only reason I went to the show. Heavy metal isn’t exactly my cup of tea — I’d be embarrassed to detail the ins and outs of my own tastes — but I had a dude to support. I was more than happy to sip on a can of Newkie Brown in front of a stage cranking noise at an eye-popping level of righteous barrage.

Exes was the first up: four guys, six feet of hair, and a whole lot of sound. The Uxbridge-based group were a full-bodied presence on the Coalition platform, and brought such tightness to their performance that I almost forgot that their music was supposed to terrify me.

Frontman and guitarist Jake Ballah’s raw talent and guttural vocals — which I think this is a very good thing in this genre — complemented what I can only assume were well-rehearsed and accordingly-timed head bangs that sent a whiplash of energy from the roots of his long hair to the back of the crowd.

Much of Exes’ repertoire relies on sampling from horror movies and sounds, and Ballah’s booted feet expertly navigated the foot pedals to bring in samples amid the instrumental anarchy. Aidan Garrard, my roommate, was visibly in the zone and out of control behind his kit, thrashing out heart-stomping beats with a cannibalistic ferocity belying his day job as a software developer and amateur vegan chef. I was impressed.

I won’t pretend to be able to wax smartly on the musical nuances of the night, because when descriptors like “sludge” and “doom” start getting thrown around, I begin to realize just how out of my element I am. High Priest and Old Witch were strong follows to Exes, and it seemed to make excellent sense for all of these bands to share the venue for the night.

These three bands felt an urgency to play at Coalition because the notorious venue will be closing this April, and it remains to be seen whether it will find a new home. This comes on the heels of last month’s closure of staple local scene shop and underground venue Faith/Void. There are fewer and fewer spaces for local underground heavy bands to reach an audience these days, which means there are fewer and fewer opportunities for geeks like me to get our socks blown off, whether we’re out there supporting a roommate or not. And that would be a real shame because I, for one, want to do this again.

It may seem counterintuitive to a complete outsider to the scene, but metal and punk are far more welcoming and open than they seem. No one even commented on my friend who wore khakis — khakis! — to the show. Though there are exceptions as we move toward Nazi metal on the extreme end of the spectrum, the genres as a whole are overwhelmingly progressive, environmentally-conscious, and LGBTQ+-friendly spaces. There’s even a subgroup of “straight edge” punks, many of whom keep vegan and abstain from all drug use, and sometimes even sex. But this is all probably a story for another article and another, more informed, writer.

There’s a certain beauty in the aesthetic and aura of local metal and punk, which I’ve only been lightly exposed to through my roommate in the past year. Sometimes it manifests in anachronisms, such as the widespread use of cassette tapes for the distribution and consumption of local music. Sometimes it’s a conscious laissez-faire attitude in production: one time, my roommate spent hours designing a poster for his band, which he then photocopied a photocopy of before putting it up. That’s a poster that screams a massive ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks that the sound quality is a bit mangled, or that the venue is gritty, or that the toilets aren’t clean. The poster says we’re grunge, baby, and you better believe it.

The life of a rock star: getting to know Black Pistol Fire

In conversation with drummer Eric Owens

The life of a rock star: getting to know Black Pistol Fire

If  you’ve never listened to Black Pistol Fire, it can only be described by the band’s drummer, Eric Owens, as “[Taking] a sword from medieval times — not the restaurant —the age, hollow it down, break half of it off so it’s not pointy on the end, but a jagged sharp edge, then dip it into molten lava, then use that hot sword to cut down a dead tree limb.” Or, in other words, “Just sweaty, fiery, rock n’ roll with swords — the sword is a metaphor for Kevin [McKeown]’s guitar.”

Bluesy rockers Eric Owens and Kevin McKeown have taken over the rock-and-roll airways with their band, Black Pistol Fire. Originally from Toronto, the duo is now based in Austin, Texas, releasing hits such as “Suffocation Blues,” “Hipster Shakes,” and “Lost Cause.” Owens, the drummer, spoke with The Varsity last year about competing and performing.

The Varsity: Why would musicians or artists who are dying to make it onto the scene or are trying to release more of their art go to Austin, Texas, as opposed to Hollywood, California? You know, the cliché.

Eric Owens: I think the thing with Austin is no one really goes there to make it, necessarily. Because like you just said, there’s not as much industry there as there is in LA or New York or even Nashville. I think the reason people go there is it’s just an interesting, creative hub and the level of musicianship. I don’t think you go there to become a star by any means, but you want to be surrounded by really good competition, healthy competition and as far as really good musicians — which exists everywhere — but it’s kind of like a lower pressure situation.

TV: You’ve been able to release four albums in the last four years. How do you create music so consistently?

EO: I think a big part of it is just work ethic and liking to do it. Kevin constantly writes, I mean, all the time. His mind is constantly going, constantly at it. I had a friend ask me, “So, when you’re not on the road, do you just hang out, binge-watch Netflix all day?” Absolutely not. We’re constantly trying to come up with new stuff and make some new music. So yes, I guess part of it is work ethic and the love for it. Having a partner who is very, very hard working is a big, big plus.

TV: I find that drummers always have their own superstitions around the way they like to perform. When I was looking at your live sets I noticed that you’re always wearing what looks like batting gloves or golf gloves. What’s that about?

EO: Yes, so those are older sets. I haven’t worn those in about two to three years, but I used to. And that wasn’t so much a superstitious thing — I use these really big, stupid drumsticks, that are like big marching band drumsticks, and they’re fine for one show, but if you’re playing multiple shows, the blisters will get so bad they’ll start to bleed. So [the gloves] were a way to alleviate that. I found that over time the gloves ended up doing nothing after a couple of shows, and they would wear out on the spots I get blisters. Then it also just smelled horrific after a couple of days, like a hockey bag or something. So, I had actually abandoned those, but my new superstition is blister band-aids and [I] preventably put them on the spot before every show. It’s kind of like a ritual doing that, just taping up the fingers.

TV: What’s the song that really challenges those blisters?

EO: The toughest one, there is a song we play near the end of the set called “Run Rabbit Run.” It doesn’t sound anything like it does on the record — I mean it does, but we take it for a ride. It ends up being somewhere between eight to 10 minutes. By the end of that I think both of us are gassed, because it goes peaks and valleys, it speeds up, it slows down, it gets intense, then it softens up. It’s kind of a rollercoaster, so that one’s always a bit of a challenge, but also very fun and rewarding to play.

TV: When it comes to two-person bands or duos, I think people are very quick to associate them with other duos, even if they’re more dissimilar than they are similar. Do you still get that as much as you used to?

EO: I would say it’s definitely happening a little less than it was. It still happens of course. It does happen a little less. At first it was just inescapable, but it definitely happens a lot less than it did. People are still very excited to say, “Do you like Royal Blood?” or, “Do you like this band?” Yeah, they’re two guys, cool. I mean, they’re fine, I guess. Yes, interesting it’s almost like some people, a very small fraction, like to make it like a genre, even though the music maybe doesn’t sound similar. But, yeah, there are great duos out there, of course, some that we aren’t as fond of, but there are some that make really good music.

TV: From the Phoenix Concert Theater to Lollapalooza, what’s your favorite kind of venue and atmosphere to play in?

EO: A big festival with a lot of people like Lollapalooza, or we did a really big one in Madrid last [July] called Mad Cool where there are thousands and thousands of people. I mean, it’s pretty hard to beat that atmosphere. But a big sold-out large club show where everyone knows the words and are fans of the band, and it’s just your band, that’s also a really good feeling. I wish I had an answer for that. Yeah, they both serve a different purpose. Festivals are just a lot more people which is amazing and it’s really cool to see. There’s a good fun energy, but there’s something special about a club full of just your fans that know the words to the song and everything. So it’s definitely not one or the other, they both serve a different purpose and a great purpose.

TV: I talked to Jason Pierce, the new drummer of Our Lady Peace, and when I asked him a similar question, he said that one issue with smaller venues is that people can really read you and they can tell if you’re terrified or nervous. Do you feel the same way?

EO: I don’t know if people can read it as well. I’ve never had that feeling or thought about that about smaller venues. My issue with the smaller venues, like a very small venue, occasionally the sound might not be as good as it sounds. I’ve never had that thought about smaller venues that they can see and tell. That’s interesting.

TV: What can we fans expect from you in the near future?

EO: There’s going to be some music released. It might be just one song by the end of [last] year. It might be two. It might be three, but I think definitely at least one that we have ready to go fairly soon. It shouldn’t be that long; it’ll be before [December] and once we have it all, kind of figure it out. We’re doing some back-end stuff on the business side of things, getting a release planned for all that. But there are songs in the chamber.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Things that go bump in the night

A playlist for wandering bodies

Things that go bump in the night

While sex is often dramatized as something similar to the glorious union of two silkily muscular dolphins, reality isn’t usually as kind. I, for one, am not a grey tube with flippers. Though I am extremely intelligent for my kind — blonde woman — so go figure.

Our bodies make sounds and produce fluids. Smushing them together often gets a little messy and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, especially if you have roommates with particularly sonic voyeuristic tendencies, a bit of ambient sound can be useful. As I’m sure you know, this is where music comes in handy.

But in the heat of the moment, making a musical selection can be stressful. Music can make or break a mood! So here I am with this generic and universally applicable playlist for you, embedded in an article that will pop up whenever anyone googles my name.

Please, enjoy. Embrace pleasure with an open fist and a tight glove.

1.  “Pink Beetle” by Rejjie Snow, 2016

As a recovering Catholic, I can assure you that all good things follow a resounding chorus of “Our Father.”

2. “Couch” by Triathalon, 2018

Okay, so we started out with some heavy religious motifs. Am I the only one who finds that hot? Surely not on this campus — cough, cough, St. Mike’s. Now let’s move into some lo-fi innuendos.

3. “Got Friends feat. Miguel” by Goldlink, 2018

Is this song about an orgy? I don’t know, I’m not Ilan Zechory. But it could be. In conclusion, mystery is hot and so is this song.

4. “Move Slow feat. Olukara” by Maxwell Young, 2016

Whew, okay, things started to heat up with that orgy-no-orgy debate, so let’s smooth things out a little bit. Here’s another skinny European.

5. “Yeah, I Said It” by Rihanna, 2016

Do I need to explain this? Nope.

6. “Why” by Roy Woods, 2016

Let’s get some Canadian nationalism in this strange line-up, shall we? Roy Woods is a trifecta of sexual energy: his name is gorgeous, he says “thighssss” with about a million s’, and he mumbles enough for me to project whatever I need to hear onto his vocal sounds.

7. “Redbone” by Childish Gambino, 2016

It has the word bone in the title! Hahahah.

Also, all the scenes in Atlanta of Donald Glover in tightie-whities has ensured that I will never not be attracted to him. So yeah, it’s a hot song. Aren’t you glad I dodged the obvious stay woke joke here? Comedy gold!

8. “Carmen” by Jay Squared, 2017

Honestly, this popped up on my explore feed last year and I got super into it. Could this be because I was alone at the time, and the singer — whoops — crooned “you ain’t alone no more!” in the first line? Who knows, psychology is a nerd’s game.

9. “Call Me Up” by Homeshake, 2017

Alright, we’re winding down. Soft trumpets. Yes. Lovely. Ooh, a soft voice talking about the future. Lovely. Don’t tense up, don’t tense up. The future. Pass the rash cream, please.

10. “Glory Box” by Portishead, 1994

Conclusion! Bing, bang, boom. “Just want to be a woman.” Or whatever you wanna be. It’s a post-orgasm world, “A thousand flowers could bloom. Move over, and give us some room.”


Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

2019 is the year that we finally hold R. Kelly accountable

Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

Robert Sylvester Kelly, or R. Kelly, is one of the most well-known R&B artists in the music industry. He has sold up to 100 million records globally, including singles such as “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” He wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “You Are Not Alone,” and has collaborated with various artists such as Chris Brown, Lady Gaga, and Celine Dion.

R. Kelly’s success, however, has been clouded by dozens of sexual abuse claims involving girls as young as 14. Lifetime’s highly anticipated, six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, provides commentary from journalists, activists, and celebrities on the decades of sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly.

Initial reports concerning R. Kelly were brought to media attention through his controversial relationship with his teenage protégée, Aaliyah. The release of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which Kelly produced, gave rise to speculations of a romance that led to a secret marriage. This marriage, although denied by R. Kelly, was supported with the release of an alleged marriage certificate that declared Aaliyah’s age as 18 — even though records show that she was 15 and Kelly was 27 at the time.

In 2002, the artist was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography after a sex tape showing him urinating into the mouth of a 14-year-old girl was released. Although he was eventually acquitted on the remaining charges in 2008, the fact that he continued to be a prominent figure in the music industry — even after the wide distribution of bootleg copies of his tape — is upsetting. Television shows such as Boondocks and Chappelle’s Show undermined the severity of his charges by adding a comic spin to the incident. Additionally, R. Kelly’s album release in 2003 justified support for him despite these revelations about his predatory behaviour.

In 2012, R. Kelly released his memoir, Soulacoaster, that revealed that he was molested as a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago. In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, the artist recounted being abused by a female relative for six to eight years. Shockingly enough, when asked about his thoughts on the experience, Kelly referred to the abuse as a “generational curse,” in which members of his family, who were victimized as children, became abusers when they grew up. Although this is an attempt to come to terms with the trauma of his sexual abuse, this claim is unusual considering that R. Kelly has denied all allegations of sexual assault made against him over the years.

Amid the controversy surrounding Surviving R. Kelly, celebrities such as Chance the Rapper and Lady Gaga have taken to social media to condemn the R&B singer, even removing their collaborations with him from streaming platforms. Furthermore, RCA Records dropped R. Kelly from its record label and prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta have reportedly launched investigations into the sexual misconduct claims against him. But while these actions are much needed, they are long overdue.

Despite the amount of attention that Surviving R. Kelly has brought to the artist’s history of sexual abuse, it is important to note that it simply restates allegations that have been disclosed to the public in the past. It is no secret that R. Kelly preys on Black girls; a simple Google search reveals a plethora of disturbing evidence that dates back as far as 1994.

Historically, Black women and girls have been cast in society as essentially ‘unrapeable.’ Common stereotypes that portray them as loud, angry, barbaric, and whorish have contributed to the idea that they are incapable of being victims of sexual assault and are undeserving of the same responses afforded to white women in the same circumstances.

What would have happened if R. Kelly’s accusers were white?

If society would be willing to hold R. Kelly accountable for alleged actions against white women, why has it taken so long to respond to his exploitations of Black women? Why has it taken until 2019 for the voices of R. Kelly’s survivors to finally be heard?

However, this is not just a problem that can be blamed on the shortcomings of society at large. The Black community has also played a role in perpetuating decades of R. Kelly’s sexual offences. This is part of a larger dilemma that has seen this community ignore to his abuses for “the sake of racial solidarity,” as suggested by journalist Sesali Bowen. On separate occasions, both Chance the Rapper and Ohio State University professor Treva Lindsey have elaborated on this, explaining how the Black community has become “hypersensitized to [Black] male oppression.”

The most prominent view of the Black community centres on the struggles of Black men living in the racist climate of the United States, where they are criminalized because of the colour of their skin. This creates the perception that the negative actions of one Black man are representative of the entire Black population. As a result, there’s a sense of protectionism around the image of the ‘Black man’ that overlooks his treatment of Black women — especially, in the case of R. Kelly, where the allegations of sexual misconduct against him have taken a back seat to his prominence in the entertainment industry.

In the age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, a number of male celebrities have faced consequences for their inappropriate actions against women. However, R. Kelly has not faced the same reality as these men. Movements such as #MuteRKelly have been successful in cancelling his concerts and limiting his radio play, yet this progress continues to be offset by his fans who have taken to social media to discredit survivors and by individuals who continue to stream his music.

By continuing to listen to R. Kelly’s music, we are fostering the belief that R. Kelly is untouchable, and undeserving of the same punishments that we have given to other male celebrities who have used their status to exploit women. There are too many allegations against R. Kelly for us to continue to ignore them.

It is time for us to stand in solidarity with the survivors of his sexual misconduct.

R. Kelly has not been indicted on any counts of sexual misconduct, and as of press time, continues to deny all allegations against him.

The Varsity’s 25 best albums of 2018

2018 showed that musical poetry is truly for the listener

<i>The Varsity</i>’s 25 best albums of 2018

2018 saw a fairly radical remodeling of the music industry. Promising talents solidified their names while countless established artists offered career-lows. This was a year defined by innovative ambient music, hypnotic art pop, and experimentations in hip hop album structures. Ultimately, 2018 provided representation to important voices, offering complex and profound commentaries on our ever-changing world.


Essential tracks: “Ponyboy” / “Faceshopping” / “Pretending”

24. TA13OO by Denzel Curry

Essential tracks: “SIRENS|Z1RENZ (feat. J.I.D)” / “VENGEANCE|VENGEANCE (feat. JPEGMAFIA & ZillaKami)”

23. Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington

Essential tracks: “Fists of Fury” / “Can You Hear Him” / “Street Fighter Mas”

22. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

Essential tracks: “You Without End” / “Night People”

21. Persona by Rival Consoles

Essential tracks: “Unfolding” / “Dreamer’s Wake”

20. 2012 – 2017 by Against All Logic

Essential tracks: “Some Kind of Game” / “Now U Got Me Hooked”

19. Sweetener by Ariana Grande

Essential tracks: “R.E.M.” / “Successful” / “breathin”

18. Room 25 by Noname

Essential tracks:Self” / “Blaxploitation” / “Don’t Forget About Me”

17. Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

Essential tracks: “Beach Life-In-Death” / “Sober to Death”

16. Power by Lotic

Essential tracks: “Hunted” / “Power” / “Solace”

15. Isolation by Kali Uchis

Like some sort of pop goddess, Kali Uchis burst into headlines this year with her show-stopping studio debut Isolation. Alternating between love songs and breakup songs, Uchis draws inspiration from jazz legends like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice is the centrepiece, but the elegant funk sounds are equally absorbing. Uchis sings of past conflicts and joys with sentimentality, blending memories of pleasure and pain. Isolation is an R&B/soul extravaganza rarely paralleled today. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Miami (feat. BIA)” / “Your Teeth in My Neck” / “Dead to Me”

14. All Melody by Nils Frahm

In All Melody, Nils Frahm immerses the listener in a mesmerizing mosaic of piano, beats, synthesizers, marimba, and various woodwinds. Frahm rarely deviates from a warm consonance that permeates the entire album. Within this framework, he is able to capture both surreal feels and complex interplays of rhythm and notes. While most of the tracks are marked by insistent, percussive arpeggios that contribute a sense of unwavering energy, Frahm also excels at pulling back into more introspective territory. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Sunson” / “My Friend the Forest” / “All Melody”

13. Historian by Lucy Dacus

It all begins with “Night Shift.” It’s the kind of indie rock showstopper that grips you with its first words and hurls you through the sky as the climax hits. Though the rest of the album never reclaims this peak, it offers a tender exploration of relationships and time. Lucy Dacus’ observant and witty songwriting is exceeded only by the sincerity of her voice. Between Historian and her work in boygenius (EP), Dacus has established herself as a vital presence in the indie world. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Night Shift” / “Timefighter” / “Nonbeliever”


Kanye West’s contributions to the world this year have been, at best, cringy and, at worst, intensely distressing. The sole exception to this standard is KIDS SEE GHOSTS: a 24-minute collaborative project with Kid Cudi. It serves as a reminder to the musical ingenuity that spawned his success. In the album opener “Feel the Love (feat. Pusha.T),” Kanye mimics a machine gun, his voice ricocheting across the song. Cudi is also in top form, with his emotional and haunting vocals contrasting Kanye’s hyperactive energy. KIDS SEE GHOSTS shows two of hiphop’s most gifted innovators embarking on a journey for inner peace. The result is unforgettable. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Feel The Love (feat. Pusha T)” / “4th Dimension (feat. Louis Prima)” / “Cudi Montage”

11. Lush by Snail Mail

Though only 18 years old at the time of Lush’s release, Snail Mail demonstrates the songwriting abilities of an experienced industry pro. On Lush, she effectively carries heart-wrenching and beautifully crafted melodies with her crystal clear voice. “Heat Wave” showcases the delightfully charming inflections in her voice while highlights like “Golden Dream” reveal Snail Mail’s affinity for building to triumphant, soaring endings tinged with melancholy. Snail Mail has solidly established herself as an artist to watch in the years to come. (KS)

Essential tracks:Pristine” / “Heat Wave” / “Stick”

10. Now Only by Mount Eerie

With his signature bleakness, Mount Eerie, also known as Phil Elverum, follows up last year’s A Crow Looked At Me with another album driven by fearless songwriting. Now Only broadens his thematic investigation, offering a sweeping probe into the nature of death. Naturally, he finds no answers. In “Distortion,” Elverum’s poetic stream of consciousness connect Jack Kerouac, a sexual encounter from his 20s, and his wife’s death into a grand tapestry. Drenched in morbidity and existential dread, Now Only is not an easy listen, but undeniably an essential one. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Tintin in Tibet” / “Distortion”

9. Konoyo by Tim Hecker

Even as a veteran ambient artist, Tim Hecker continues to find new ways to reinvent his sound. His ninth studio album release, Konoyo sets its gaze on the otherworldly. Konoyo is made up of synth-based soundscapes, marked by seering dissonance, and interspersed with slow-developing melodies that feel disconcerting yet bold. Inspired by his work with a gagaku ensemble in Tokyo, the album blends the artificial with the acoustic. In Konoyo, Hecker reaffirms his place as one of the most innovative electronic artists of the moment. (KS)

Essential tracks:This Life” / “Is a Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light”

8. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys have evolved from greasy Sheffield teens shredding gritty garage rock to international celebrities, producing suave lounge pop. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the successor to the mostly vapid AM, shows frontman Alex Turner flexing unexpectedly toned songwriting muscles. Set on a luxury hotel built on the moon’s surface, their latest album blends science fiction tropes with cultural critiques. In a year where indie rock was plagued by the insufferable pretensions of The 1975 and Father John Misty, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was a delightful alternative. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Star Treatment” / “Four Out of Five” / “Batphone”

7. 7 by Beach House

A new album by Beach House, dream pop’s finest sorcerers, is a musical milestone in any year. The duo offers some of their bravest work yet with 7, a spellbinding collection of psychedelic homeruns. Known for synth and guitar arrangements that sound plucked from alien planets, their latest album demonstrates a subtle shift in their signature sound. Tracks like “Lemon Glow” boom with pounding drum beats as Victoria Legrand’s magnetic vocals dominate the listeners’ ears. 7 superbly captures the catharsis of dream pop; “Last Ride” plays out like a passionate, tear-stained farewell. Few musicians can naturally cast magic with the ease of Beach House. 7 is another unbreakable incantation. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Drunk In LA” / “Black Car” / “Last Ride”

6. Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet

With Your Queen is a Reptile, Sons of Kemet reject the British monarchy and, instead, proclaim nine black female leaders as the true monarchs. Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the jazz album is also inspired by sources across the African diaspora. The brass instruments weave in and out of urgent polyrhythmic beats, which imbue the album with persistent energy. Your Queen Is a Reptile calls for resistance and a reclamation of power in the UK, proving jazz is not a genre of the past, but of the future. (KS)
Essential tracks: “My Queen is Mamie Phipps Clark” / “My Queen is Harriet Tubman” / “My Queen is Doreen Lawrence”

5. Dead Magic by Anna von Hausswolff

On Dead Magic, Anna von Hausswolff invites listeners into a simultaneously beautiful and disturbing world. Her voice shows versatility, with its Kate Bush-esque tone. Though von Hausswolff has a gorgeous voice, she isn’t afraid to sound hideous, crying out in desperation. Von Hausswolff shows incredible depth, building up to almost apocalyptic moments only to draw back to sparser, minimalistic tracks. She adeptly straddles genres to create a sound that is uniquely hers. (KS)

Essential tracks: “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall” / The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”

4. In a Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls

In a Poem Unlimited, the latest release of U.S. Girls, the solo project by Meghan Remy, presents a distinctly female perspective on the current political climate. Remy sounds angry and defiant as she rejects the male domination pervasive in our society. Her focus turns both toward male-led violence in the home — singing about domestic violence in “Incidental Boogie” — or abroad, criticizing Obama for his expansion of the drone strike program in “M.A.H.” Drawing influences from funk, pop, psychedelic rock, and jazz, the album makes a statement both politically and musically as Remy’s distinct voice blends seamlessly into the fabric of distorted guitars and varied percussion. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Rosebud” / “M.A.H.” / “Rage of Plastics”

3. CARE FOR ME by Saba

Saba’s CARE FOR ME centres around the murder of Walter, his cousin, friend, and mentor. The album cover depicts Saba slumped forward, despondent and vulnerable; this is, more or less, the tone of the album. Irate and overcome by senseless violence, Saba navigates the terrain of his 24-year memory. With songwriting akin to Kendrick Lamar, Saba fashions himself as an Earl Sweatshirt-esque wordsmith, cleverly rhyming around morbid themes. CARE FOR ME is both a beautiful eulogy and a sincere celebration of life. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “LIFE” / “LOGOUT” / “PROM / KING”

2. Be the Cowboy by Mitski

Be the Cowboy is a work that defies expectations. Constantly oscillating between desperation and defiance, Mitski delivers an impeccably crafted indie rock album. Comprised of 14 short tracks evocative of fleeting moments, Be the Cowboy is an album about misleading appearances. On the surface, it offers catchy, seemingly impersonal vignettes cloaked in lightly distorted guitars and bouncy synthesizer riffs. Underneath, the work is exploding with emotion. For women — and especially racialized women — Mitski’s lyrics resonate in a deeply personal way. She finds power in singing out loud her insecurities and unbearable isolation. In this vulnerable yet dauntless work, Mitski lets listeners know that you can thrive in taking up the space you deserve in this world. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Geyser” / “Nobody” / “A Pearl”

1. I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma

I’m All Ears is an all-consuming art pop spectacle brought to you by two teenage girls from Norwich. With production from SOPHIE, David Wench, and Faris Badwon, I’m All Ears shakes with psychedelic euphoria. The album is a kaleidoscopic fusion of textures — all easily intoxicating. Early tracks like “Hot Pink” explode with experimental subversions of pop conventions. Later songs, like “Cool & Collected” or “Donnie Darko,” develop over the course of ambitious, quasi-epic structures. Innovation collides with technical prowess in a work that flirts with both minimalism and maximalism. This album is everything. Grand and concise. Danceable and heartbreaking. Yet despite its many variations and self-reinventions, there remains a love for music. Its undiluted and uncompromising passion makes I’m All Ears the album we needed for the year. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Hot Pink” / “Falling Into Me” / “I Will Be Waiting” / “Donnie Darko”

Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

A tale of two bands, a whole lot of beer, and one winner

Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

I am seated on a beige bench in Lee’s Palace at 9:20 pm on January 9. Having just narrowly escaped death by a patch of ice on my way here, I note that the bench is one of those benches that you sat on in elementary school for recess. Above me, a disco ball reflects the purple lighting that engulfs the venue. There are four dangling lights surrounding the disco ball but only one of them is blue. It bothers me.

Four well-dressed guys with white shirts come on and play “Someday” by The Strokes. They are Paint Dept., one of the two finalists. They sound like an indie rock band straight from the early 2000s — you know the type. They formed in a band member’s garage with sentimental lyricism that makes you subtly miss your ex.

The most standout member of the band is Kyle, the bassist. His hair is seriously gorgeous. Kyle described his hair as “blinding and buoyant.” It looks like expensive spaghetti that drops down to his shoulders.

His dad later told me that Kyle used to be bald. Kyle confirms this, looking into the distance as he reminiscences about how he used to wear a hat when his hair was in the liminal state between baldness and the gorgeous spaghetti longness that it is today.

By now about 70 people are in the venue. Most of the crowd sit on the beige benches while the few bravely standing hold their drinks and stare at the band. I look intently at one stander who is touching his right arm with his left hand like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers. Paint Dept. gestures for the crowd to come closer before playing an Interpol cover.

I debate whether I should stand up and engage in the crowdly escapades. I decide otherwise. My status as a note-taker who is jotting down everything with a near-empty pen prohibits me.

The band tries to make banter the same way one tries to banter with a friend of a friend that one just met. It’s only when they play their second The Strokes cover, “Last Nite,” that the crowd really gets into it.

It’s at this point ­— after a raffle in which I did not win anything — that Rocket Bomb comes on. Another five well-dressed guys start playing high-energy pop songs. Do you have to dress nicely to be part of a band? The bassist does not have long hair, but his bright red jacket combines with the purple lighting to accentuate the ’80s aesthetic the band is going for.

Rocket Bomb are an indie dance pop collective with rose-tinted glasses for ’80s disco and funk who integrate modern pop sensibilities to create hip dance songs. They cite DNCE, John Mayer, Shawn Mendez, and The Killers as influences. They are more confident with the crowd, commanding the power to significantly increase the standing to bench-sitting ratio.

While they go through their set, someone in the crowd shouts, “I love you Jacob!” and then the lead singer ­— whose name is not Jacob — takes off his black jacket and proceeds to cover Tiësto and Dzeko’s “Jackie Chan.” Bodies move. Rocket Bomb gets the crowd to do that thing where everybody claps in the air.

Rocket Bomb are definitely the larger entity: sporting over 350 Facebook likes, over 1,200 Instagram followers, and almost 5,000 monthly listeners on Spotify as of press time. Meanwhile, Paint Dept. has nine Facebook likes, about 100 Instagram followers, and no Spotify.

In this sense, 2019’s Battle of the Bands is a classic David versus Goliath tale. Rocket Bomb advertise themselves as a product that 20-somethings can dance their 20s away to, while Paint Dept. are a grassroots garageband for 20-somethings who pontificate about how modern society lacks any realness.

Suddenly, Rocket Bomb starts playing the Wii theme. This is a level of post-irony that requires more alcohol in my system to appreciate, so I try to go to the washroom. Unfortunately, I am stopped by security who tell me I can’t bring a drink out. I do what any reasonable human being would do and finish the drink there. By the time I get back, Rocket Bomb is finishing their set.

They tell the crowd to follow them on Instagram and that they have merchandise for sale at the back. Everybody gets closer for the last song. Or, more accurately, about 35 people get really close to the stage and about 28 people stay on the sidelines, either sitting on the beige benches or standing and staring intently from a distance.

At the end of the night, these two seemingly distinct bands, in both sound and style, are pitted against each other in a battle of the bands. You’re probably here for an answer to this question: who wins? Well, to answer, I quote Jacques Derrida, the post-structuralist French philosopher: “Every other is wholly other.” For Derrida and his postmodern funkies, we don’t make comparisons with one another in terms of an objective standard.

I can’t really compare Paint Dept.’s sound with Rocket Bomb’s, because any sort of objective standard by which I might compare the two wouldn’t capture the singularity of each individual band.

Derrida points out that to take otherness seriously, that is, for an other to be truly Other, there has to be something utterly irreducible about them. The other must always be outside oneself. As such, there must be something unfathomable and untranslatable between Paint Dept. and Rocket Bomb as musical acts. Yet that singularity — that thing which makes Paint Dept. ‘Paint Dept.’ and Rocket Bomb ‘Rocket Bomb’ is what makes each respective act meaningful in the first place.

Declaring a winner for the battle actually defeats the ethos of both bands. Fortunately, the judges don’t have this philosophical concern — it is a battle after all.

Rocket Bomb won.