By Kitty Cheung, Ben McGuinness, Madeleine Chan, Zach Siddiqui, Juztin Bello, Kim Regala, Nicole Magas, Kelly Chia, Lubaba Mahmud
cehryl by Kitty Cheung
cehryl is a Hong Kong-born artist whose work is full of dreamy, melodic sounds. I came across her floating vocals on Spotify and blew through her first two albums, Delusions (2016) and Slow Motion (2019), which were written and produced entirely by herself. These albums are slow-paced and bittersweet, sometimes moving the listener into an almost ominous lull. From Avril Lavigne punk to Jay Chou pop, it is clear that cehryl has an eclectic list of artistic influences. Her lyricism is full of romantic metaphors; she uses concepts such as fractals and satellites to describe relationships.
cehryl’s light, feminine voice can be both comforting and haunting, often within the same note. The way in which she manipulates both her voice and the production to complement each other results in a subdued musicscape full of gentle emotion. In particular, the chorus of “Damage Done” includes a sample of plates shattering — a creative quirk in her production style. Even songs such as “Hidden Track Waltz” and “Nothing Is Missing” start off as contemplative instrumentals reminiscent of lofi hip-hop, with cehryl lending in her whispery voice as a haunting addition to the former. For 2020, cehryl’s soothing sound and bittersweet lyrics will be ideal any time you want to relax or be in your feels.
Lisa Jackson by Kim Regala
I usually have a hard time picking favourites, but I can say wholeheartedly that Lisa Jackson was (and always will be) the highlight of my year. She’s a Canadian Indigenous filmmaker — which by itself is already incredible — but I consider her to be much more than that. In 2019, she created TRANSMISSIONS, a multimedia installation that featured not only her work in film but as well as in projections and sculptures. It was one of the first exhibitions that blossomed my love for multimedia art. I admired it so much I just had to write an article about it at The Peak. Now if that doesn’t scream fangirl enough, I also dedicated an entire 10-page essay on her virtual reality film, Biidaaban: First Light. I went as far as asking the National Film Board if I could visit their office to see it a couple more times — you know, for research purposes. This film, along with her impressive filmography, offers her unique perspective through Indigenous storytelling. And while there were other filmmakers that had me swooning in 2019, Lisa Jackson will always have a special place in my heart.
MUNA by Ben McGuinness
Last year I came accross a Los Angeles femme trio called MUNA and instantly fell in love. With two full albums to their name thus far, MUNA captures the aloof, experimental coolness of the indie scene but stands out with punchy electro-pop sounds and chantworthy rock choruses. They fill a vital niche in my library of angst-appeasing songs without straying into Eilishian brooding, keeping things upbeat enough that I could dance around my room looking ridiculous to them. According to their newest music video for “Number One Fan,” that’s exactly their intent. It shows the lead singer being dragged out of a self-conscious funk by a crazed and confident alternate version of herself, a spirit underlying their new album Saves the World. It serves as a complete analog to the sounds and themes of their first album. Aside from the aforementioned single, their biggest hit is “I Know a Place,” which is about bringing someone with scars to a place of love and acceptance. Their vulnerable and empathic lyrics combined with moody-yet-upbeat sounds were something I really needed this year, and I encourage you to let them join your 2020 playlist!
Pale Waves by Madeleine Chan
Pale Waves was the soundtrack to my sunray-soaked summer of 2019. A relatively new indie Brit-pop-rock band, Pale Waves swam their way into my heart after I saw them open for The 1975 back in April. I loved the dreamy but also youthful and angst-y feeling that came from their music. A few months later I revisited their music on Spotify and discovered a multitude of different songs, ranging from love sick ballads to energetic and highly danceable bops.
Most of their lyrics follow themes of love, youth, and loss, which is mirrored in the emotion of each song. The lead singer’s anguished and melancholic (but sometimes cheerful) vocals also emphasize each song’s deeply personal and passionate vibe. If I had to choose, my favourite songs of theirs would be “Drive,” “Red,” and “My Obsession” because they embody Pale Waves’ wealth of melodic storytelling and the existential thinking that comes with being young. Though they only have one album and an EP, I find all of their 18 songs easily repeatable if I want to remember the free and fun feeling of last year’s summertime.
Draw with Jazza by Nicole Magas
As a student with both limited time and limited money, I sadly don’t have any opportunities to venture outside of my study cave to seek out the arts. So when my YouTube recommendations spits out an artist talented in multiple forms of visual art who is funny on top of everything else, I latch on as if it’s my only connection to the outside world. I only discovered Draw with Jazza at the end of the year, but I can definitely say that the channel has rekindled my love of — and need to do — art.
Those of you from an older cohort (and I do mean older) may remember the TV show Art Attack. Draw with Jazza is essentially the grown-up version, with more puns and dad jokes. Every episode Jazza challenges himself to a new artistic project, and introduces the audience to a new form or way of doing art. It’s immensely entertaining, and does a good job of showing the range of what can be created with different media and skills. The only downside is the frustratingly long in-video ads. If you can suffer through a 10 minute spiel about Audible to get to the end result of a miniature oil painting experiment, then give this channel a try!
Rex Orange County by Juztin Bello
While 2019 provided a surplus of new and wonderful sounds to my Spotify library, there’s one artist in particular that effortlessly accomplished a complete takeover of my most listened to tracks. Alexander O’Connor, known predominantly by his stage name Rex Orange County, is an English recording artist known for blowing up after posting his first album to SoundCloud. The first track I heard by Rex Orange County was “Curduroy Dreams” from his first studio album Bcos U Will Never B Free (2015). I had stumbled upon it while sifting through recommendations on one of my Spotify playlists titled “e z lisnin,” and, let me tell you, Rex Orange County perfectly defines what easy listening is.
What first captivated me about his sound was how laidback it was, how listening to him managed to immediately shift my mood into something more relaxed or optimistic. After adding “Corduroy Dreams” to my playlist, I fell down a hole I had no intention of climbing out of. From “Untitled” and “Television/So Far So Good” from his second studio album Apricot Princess (2017) to the very popular single “Loving is Easy” featuring Benny Sings, Rex Orange County took me on a journey that demonstrated his musical versatility and consistently strong lyrical abilities. Lucky for me, he dropped his third studio album Pony in late-October, and to say that this album was the music I needed for a very drab Fall semester would be an understatement. With a song like “10/10” on this new album basically summing up 2019 for me, it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge Rex Orange County as my best find of the year.
Into the Spider-verse by Kelly Chia
I am deeply in love with Into the Spider-verse. Obviously, the animation is incredible; it’s all funky fresh, crunchy aesthetics that show the film’s loyalty to the comic medium. But it’s the characters that brings this film home for me. The origin story of Into the Spider-verse is Miles’s coming-of-age story, and his personal transformation is the most emotionally fulfilling one I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Unsurprisingly, my favourite scene of this film is when Miles really becomes Spiderman after an emotional conversation with his dad. It seems that at that moment, things click for Miles. The chorus of “What’s Up Danger” pumps while Miles leaps off of the building, and the scene is briefly inverted, looking as though Miles is flying. It is a stunning scene, both aesthetically and emotionally: here, we see a character who has fully embraced his mantle with confidence. Miles makes the Spiderman role his own, and that win is validated by his belief that he can take care of New York by himself. SO beautiful! I love him! I love this movie!! This film has so much love put into it, and that was always apparent in the 6 (and counting) times I’ve watched it.
YouTube Mashup Artists by Zach Siddiqui
It’s hard not to notice when two thriving musicians have insane potential chemistry; it’s equally hard to realize that the odds of hearing them collab the way you imagine are, for whatever reason, slim. But it got a little easier for me this year. My 2019 vibes have been dominated by just one category of music: mashups.
YouTube hosts a thriving community of mashup artists, mixing and matching contemporary hit songs into synthesized perfection — and this was the year I found many of my new mainstays. Some of my top tunes include: “Gasoline Believer” by GINGERGREEN ‘mashups, a mash of Halsey’s “Gasoline” and Imagine Dragons’ “Believer”; “Don’t Threaten a Bitch” by Matt Masters, setting “Bubblegum Bitch” by Marina and the Diamonds to the tune of “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” by Panic! at the Disco; and “NO vs. Focus” by earlvin14, merging Meghan Trainor’s “NO” with Ariana Grande’s “Focus.” What impressed me most of all was Ross Mashups’ “Sucker for Summer”, an goodbye-kiss to this summer which mashed a huge number of voices from big 2019 songs, even splicing together clips from the corresponding music videos for visuals.
Not only do YouTube mashups refresh old music in exciting and unpredictable ways, but they can even weave brand new stories out of the merged lyrics — something you’ll often find various YouTubers posting about in the comments. Most of all, though, I love this scene for its somewhat renegade nature: the songs might come from musicians who’ve already made it big, but they’re being gorgeously transformed by a creative, talented, and often undersung community.
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Lubaba Mahmud
While I may be a little late to the party, I finally read Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in 2019. I’m always a little wary of wildly popular books since I tend to get my expectations too high, but this amazing book did not disappoint. Honeyman is undoubtedly one of my favorite artists this year. This writer’s voice is refreshing, witty and bitingly humorous. Her masterfully crafted protagonist, Eleanor, is not a typical heroine. Eleanor is a painfully blunt person who doesn’t understand social niceties, drafts texts like formal emails and owns only one pair of black velcro shoes for convenience. But as I delved deeper into the book, I understood that there’s much more to her than what meets the eye. Honeyman does a brilliant job of making this character lovable in her own special way. Her narration speaks volumes about her deep understanding of human emotions, and she has a unique charm that she passes onto Eleanor. All in all, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine left my mind completely blown.