DOMINIONATED is about building community and making human-to-human connections through the shared experience of music. It is a digital compendium, a concise collection of information, insight, and inspiration from ‘Canadian’ music by those who create it and consume it.
Welcome to Ottawa’s one and only Josephine Leone. The band’s songs come packed with hearty vocals, mellow riffs, and deep meaning. They claim their music is “scrunge” — a genre which, if the internet is correct, is like grunge but slightly cleaner. I think that’s a good fit for Josephine Leone.
At first listen, “Vice Grip” is an angst-driven song that (to me) seemed like retaliation against one’s overbearing lover. After watching the song’s video and investigating the lyrics further, I believe its meaning goes deeper. The backyard jam is a respite from the uncomfortable situation indoors where Josephine is grabbed at while wearing exposing clothing. Outside, she sings about her problems and has fun with her band, but back inside she doesn’t resist the strangers that keep reaching for her throat.
While it might be hard to distinguish who this song is about, it’s still easy enough to see the meaning: It’s important to know the difference between a warm embrace and an oppressive hold. Whatever relationship you might be in — with a lover, a friend, a family member, or a coworker — make sure it’s a healthy relationship. Don’t wait until the hold seems too tight to get out of.
Pick a Piper - Sentience (feat Sophia Alexandra) - YouTube
One of our greatest philosophers got it right when she said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” Brad Weber of Pick a Piper is dialled into his local cultural inspiration economy; after years circumnavigating the globe as the drummer of Caribou, Weber has settled into his Toronto surroundings and draws on them for his latest single, “Sentience”.
Featuring the voice of fellow Torontonian Sophia Alexandra, “Sentience” blooms from an understated intro into a mesmeric melange of Weber’s clean synth lines and Alexandra’s soulful croon. There’s an expansiveness to the track’s sound; but rather than exploring a vast geographical footprint, Pick a Piper is getting into the minuscule details of a very small space: the inside of our minds.
Weber carries the concepts and themes of exploring both the immediate physical world and our interior world by collaborating with local artist Dani Ramez, whose kaleidoscopic video for “Sentience” perfectly mirrors the music.
“A Kiss Goodbye” can exist in the background if you want it to, but to truly experience its power, you’ve got to turn it up.
Tei Shi’s first single since the release of her 2017 album Crawl Space is a humid cloud of bassy bossa nova. The rhythm rolls so consistently it could lull you into a trance if it weren’t for her gorgeous and simple melodic twists and turns. Tei Shi is capable of a bigger pop sound (see most of Crawl Space) but it’s the restraint employed on “A Kiss Goodbye” that makes its bubbling emotion hit that much harder. This is especially true once you turn up the volume. The bass and the percussion start to resonate deeper, the air grows thicker, and you can’t help but sway along with the groove. “I lead with my body, I follow with my head”, Tei Shi coos in the chorus, serving up the song’s central thesis — it immediately pleases on a visceral level and once your brain catches up, you know your body has made the right move.
Tei Shi announced a few weeks ago that she is finishing up her next album and if “A Kiss Goodbye” is any indication, it will be a record that subverts tropes and surprises you by appearing as one thing and slowly becoming something deeper and more alluring.
I Don't Wanna Live On The Moon (Without U) - SoundCloud (203 secs long, 312 plays)Play in SoundCloud
The premise of “I Don’t Wanna Live On The Moon (Without U)” by Nyssa is simple but absolutely packed with the kind of detail that makes for an epic tale of love and loss.
A rich girl falls for a poor lover in the age of environmental catastrophe. Her father wants to send her to the moon to avoid all the instability and dangers of climate-caused-crisis (one that he hopes to speed along, to move to the moon with his friends, obviously). Our protagonist, however, does not want to go without her lover, surely upsetting her evil father in the process. After a brisk three minutes, we have no idea what the fate of these lovers is, but the imagination runs wild with all the tragic and/or absurd outcomes of this modern conundrum. Shakespeare would be proud.
“I Don’t Wanna Live On The Moon (Without U)” is a fresh take on the classic ill-fated lovers’ quarrel, executed with Springsteenian authenticity and just enough tongue-in-cheek camp for the song to feel well-rounded, endlessly playable, and like an instant classic.
We had a ritual around church in my family when I was growing up. Every Saturday night, barring the odd wedding reception or another special event, my Mom and Dad trucked my sister and I off to our parish church for weekly mass. Originally, the service was right after dinner at 7:00 pm but at some point, the schedule switched over to a pre-meal start time of 5:00 pm. Regardless of when the services started, going to church on Saturday night felt sacrilegious to my secular, heathen brain. Saturday night was supposed to be about abandon and enjoyment; it was the night all the good TV shows were on, the night where adults dressed in their best polyester pantsuits and platforms and went to discos to boogie-woogie the night away. Saturdays were for staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live and blue movies on CityTV. I may have only been 7 years old, but I instinctively knew that there was somewhere else I’d rather be than mass.
“Night Service” confirms that my fears about missing out on something were wholly justified. Inspired by their own experiences on Saturday nights, producer Jacques Greene and Cadence Weapon’s banger of a track celebrates the sinful pleasures of underground nightlife. “Night Service” plays out like a hymn; devotional in its rhythm, glorifying the gritty vibe of the club in its lyrics, and inducing devotion through its beat. The song feels massive as if its music could fill a cathedral. Yet there’s an intimacy, thanks in large part to Cadence Weapon’s hushed performance, that makes “Night Service” a secret only you are privy to. A personal invitation from the duo— an initiation — to the faith.
As children we are taught to colour inside the lines. The black borders of empty illustrations are meant to contain the rainbow of our young imaginations and we obey them because we don’t want to get into trouble. It’s only later that you gain a greater understanding of this practice: to learn to colour inside the lines is to learn to conform.
Cave Girl do not colour inside the lines. On their EP Who’s Tired?, the music of the Vancouver trio sprawls in tangled, caustic knots wherever it wants. These five “deeply marinated songs,” as the band describes, fall somewhere between pop and garage-rock and punk but genre lines have been erased. The band groans under the weight of their own emotions as they use lots of thick bass notes, jagged power chords, and distorted squeals. On “Noodles (again)” – a particularly tasty track – the repetition of two lines creates the clearest, and most moving, point of the recording: “I don’t want to see you anymore. I just can’t hurt you anymore.”
The title track, another highlight, begins with soft guitar picking in a lulling tempo until another guitar’s piercing whine grows louder. To reciprocate, the band moves with haste and a touch of anger, like fervent scribbles across a piece of paper. When you take a step back and take in this creation, and the EP as a whole, the end result is much more exciting than anything the lines could have held.
Ah, summer. A time when seemingly everybody you know is in love and traveling the world and you are sitting on your couch in front of a fan thinking about (but not doing anything about) your crush and wondering if you can eat ice cream for dinner again.
Toronto vocalist and producer Sylo Nozra’s new track “FOMO” sizzles with sadness — the single’s artwork even shows Nozra with a single tear glistening on his cheek. But this made-for-summer bop also shakes you, temporarily, out of your melancholy. On this quick two-minute tune, Nozra pairs deep pining — “I try harder than your boyfriend does / but you will never know, it’s a lonely feeling,” he repeats — with funky instrumentals that beg to be danced to.
It’s an incredibly catchy song but just like that, it’s over, and you’re back sitting on your couch beside an empty ice cream carton.
I grew up scared for my life. I lived in fear that at any point, the schoolyard bully would turn his sights on me and expose me for the weak, insecure cipher that I believed myself to be. Remnants of that trauma still linger to this day, which is why I felt an immediate kinship to the themes of Bully, the debut EP from Winternom.
Bully explores both physical and emotional violence through the lens of life in small-town Northern Ontario, where the project is based. The music is lush with subtleties and details that intensify its theme. Skittering beats and ominous synths epitomize the “good bad dreams” of “Turn Around”; dark and moody chord progressions underpin the haunting vocals and hazy shoegaze vibe of “Attack”. As the latter spirals down a dark hole, lyrics like “There’s no taking back everything that you said” and “You should have left me for dead” become both damnation and mantra. Like the lasting, invisible scars of emotional and psychological abuse, “Attack” is a mindfuck that tumbles through its own neuroses.
There is no other weapon as mighty and deadly as an act of violence — of any kind. At some point in our lives, we humans will inevitably go through a rigorous boot camp that teaches us how to wield it on both our external and internal enemies. Time and distance may go a long way in helping us heal from both physical and emotional wounds. With Bully, Winternom endeavours to lessen violence’s impact, put it into context, and channel its energies into creativity.
While its sound and style smacks of the 80s, what resonates most prominently forty years on from Avoid Freud’s release is its substance.
The 1980s often get chided as a decade of greed, the epoch of the multi-billionaire and ridiculously famous. And while that’s all true, the era was only ever really responding to the times that came before it. As the civil unrest of the 1960s bled into the self-centred “Me Decade” of the 1970s, the plastic fakery and keeping up with the Joneses mentality of the 80s was an inevitability. This evolution is reflective of the music of the time as well. As the late 70s punk explosion (itself a reaction to disco’s sudden rise and fall) withered with mainstream interest, something needed to emerge to poke caucasian society in the same way that the safety-pinned and shaven-head punks did. No one expected the agitators to come baring eyeliner, poofy shirts, and tinny synth melodies, but there they were: a new wave/new romantic army of artists creating androgynous personalities that played with sexual stereotypes, embraced the extremes of fashion, and got all up in people’s homo-fearing faces with smooth, stylized pop.
Meanwhile, in Canada, Carole Pope and Kevan Staples were doing things slightly differently. The duo had been performing together in various iterations since the late 60s, but by the time they co-opted the name Rough Trade from the term used to describe masculine street-smart men who have sex with other men (paid or otherwise), Pope and Staples were wholly on their own unique trip. Blending theatre, music, and sexual provocation into their own brand of bawdy pop, their outrageous (for the time) stage show landed them a record deal with True North Records, who released Avoid Freud late in 1980.
The album’s unconventional and controversial first single, “What’s the Furor About the Fuhrer?” left radio programmers scratching their heads and unsure how to handle such a brash and bombastic Hitler-referencing rocker. As they often did when a 7” single’s A-side fell a little flat, they flipped the vinyl over and started playing the decidedly and deceptively more antiseptic B-side “Fashion Victim”. Radio-friendly and fully in-your-face, Pope’s narrator appears to be mocking many of their musical contemporaries: “If I take off my clothes / My carefully contrived image goes / I’m so afraid to show the real me.” “Fashion Victim” was played on radio alongside Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose”, Kenny Rogers’s “Lady” and REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” enough to crack the Top 40 in February of 1981. That success opened the door for Rough Trade’s biggest and best-known single to crash into the Canadian charts: “High School Confidential”.
Pope’s vampy delivery and cheeky lyrical wordplay perfectly matched the slinky, sultry, film noir arrangement of “High School Confidential”. It’s charming to read that the song’s “explicitly sexual” lyrics prompted one local Toronto radio station to pay Rough Trade to record a version without the line about how the object of Pope’s affection “makes me cream my jeans when she comes my way”, but Rough Trade’s frankness was boundary-pushing for its time. They were among the vanguards taking the next major leap in sexual liberation, normalizing and celebrating LGBTQ culture long before such an acronym was coined. It was the music itself, a combination of the era’s slick production values and the vaudevillian conceit of their stage show, that eased listeners into songs of sexual debauchery like “Lie Back, Let Me Do Everything” and the album’s epic, cinematic finale, “Grade B Movie”, with its closing lines “When you look at me, it’s like any cheap novel / Your swelling manhood rising in your bleached out jeans / I come apart at the seams.”
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Every time I listen to an album from the 1980s that I never listened to in the 1980s, I think to myself, “Wow, that sounds so 1980s.” It’s a fairly broad generalization, yes, but true of Avoid Freud. The album’s sound, style, and production smack of its time, but what resonates most prominently now almost forty years later is the album’s substance. Coming off a month of corporations from cruise lines to computer chips dressing up their logos with rainbow flags, it’s easy to forget that three decades ago, a plague was killing an entire population on the margins of society and no one batted an eye. It’s okay for Taylor Swift to tell us all to chill out and relax today, but in the early half of the 80s, a decade after the Stonewall riots and the birth of the gay pride movement, a new biological war was emerging and the enemy was attacking from within.
Politicians and mainstream media turned a blind eye to the AIDS epidemic. AIDS scared the gay out of me for years, even long after I was smart enough to understand how it gets transmitted and what my risk factor was. Prepubescent and wrestling with my homosexuality, music was one of the few ways I was exposed to gay culture and community in the 1980s. Though I knew I was more Frankie Goes To Hollywood than Culture Club, I can’t help but wonder how things may have been different for me if I’d been born a few years earlier, and gotten into Rough Trade in 1980/1981. I probably wouldn’t have gotten what Carole Pope and Kevan Staples were on about, but as an adult, listening back and thinking about the time, I’m grateful for artists like Rough Trade, bellicose warriors pushing against prudishness and breaking down barriers. In an era of greed, their music and art — as provocative and outrageous as it was — was and is an unselfish gift that continues to keep giving.
Kon Kan - I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) HQ - YouTube
There once was a time — antiquated by today’s standards yet far from simpler — when the average consumer didn’t have a pre-packaged means to make sample-based dance music on their home computer (if they had one). Making sample-based dance music on a computer that eventually becomes a multi-national, Juno-award winning hit single? Preposterous. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. When Toronto-based musician/DJ Barry Harris, inspired by the success of Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Always On My Mind” and early house music, went to work with voice-for-hire session singer Kevin Wynne recording “I Beg Your Pardon”, he likely never expected the one-off project he cheekily named Kon Kan to take him beyond the local club scene.
Build upon a shit-poor quality sample of Lynn Anderson’s 1970 hit “Rose Garden”, “I Beg Your Pardon” synthesized everything happening in 1988 as synth-pop and underground house and club music were about to decimate college rock’s stranglehold on the alternative charts. It was (and still is) an earworm song of the highest standards. If Harris was only intending to release one Kon Kan single, he made sure it was packed with every idea imaginable. The “Rose Garden” sample was genius; its low-fidelity, rough cut-and-paste nature lends texture and nuance to the backing track’s cold, industrial base. Less easily identifiable samples from the disco and club music canon add rhythm and muscle to get bodies moving, but Wynne’s vocal performance, blasé and monotoned, seals the deal. What’s there left to do when the bloom falls off the rose, and a relationship withers and dies? Get out onto the dancefloor and cry your eyes out.
The song’s success led Harris and Wynne to formalize Kon Kan into a dance music duo and assemble Move to Move, a debut album that featured similarly assembled songs that never quite reached the dizzying high of “I Beg Your Pardon”. Not that anyone involved likely even thought that was possible; It was as rare then as it is now for an artist to draw from the song-of-the-year well more than once in a row. But earworms, no matter how old or unsophisticated-sounding they get, will always be earworms with the potential to be someone’s song of the summer or year the first time they hear it.
For those who don’t know “I Beg Your Pardon”, that time is now.