Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Zeina — Eastend Confessions

The Montreal singer’s debut album is a harmonious blend of R&B and Arabic music influences paying homage to her heritage.

In the days following the release of her debut album Eastend Confessions, Zeina posted a photo of her father to her Instagram with the caption, “I could have millions of streams but this is the real flex for my dad.” In the photo, he is pictured wearing a t-shirt that reads “My daughter is on a Billboard.” 

Born to Lebanese and Egyptian parents and raised in Montreal, the artist’s Arabic heritage has come to play a central role in her music. She spoke to Apple Music in 2023 about the importance of reclaiming her cultural identity, which she had initially felt a bit hesitant to represent: “But as I grew up, I realized, ‘No, that’s what makes me different. This is truly me, and I have the power to be this right now and not be scared and really embody that.” Released on April 3, 2024, Eastend Confessions is a full-fledged ode to her cultural background through R&B music, the pinnacle of this homage in her career so far.

Zeina effortlessly switches between singing in English, French, and Arabic on numerous tracks, a nod to her trilingual upbringing in Montreal’s multicultural environment. Additionally, Arabic instrumentation is heavily present in the album’s production. “Hot” is complete with an Arabic drum breakdown on the backend, and “NASTY” is founded upon a typical Arabic melody. “Problematic” bridges both elements, with its oud melody (a traditional Arabic string instrument), mizmar horn bridge, and distinct drum and percussive sounds. These cultural elements are perfectly blended with contemporary R&B production that is smooth, groovy, and accessible. 

“Hooked” has a poppy, tropical bounce akin to Rihanna and DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts,” and is already making its waves on Montreal radio stations as a summer-ready hit. There are also slower moments on the record, such as the acoustic “Betrayal.” “Take Me Down” is a standout, sincere ballad set to soft guitars and smooth bass. 

The album’s lyrical content remains in line with her previous work, focusing on themes of romance and relationships. Songs like “Hooked” and “NASTY” are more upbeat and playful with some risqué moments, while other tracks capture the challenges and confusion that can come with a relationship. “Give Me Time” is an introspective song about taking distance from a partner to focus on oneself. “Temporary” is equally cautionary, as the singer gets candid about not wanting a relationship that requires full commitment. “Problematic” is a fun cut where she flirts with danger, an ode to taking pleasure in being bad.

Zeina’s voice shines all across the project, especially when utilized powerfully on tracks like “Hot,” where her melodic runs are beautifully high and soft. Her sped-up cadence and animated delivery on most tracks is reminiscent of pop-R&B heavyweights SZA and Rihanna, showcasing Zeina’s ability to demonstrate her vocal prowess while simultaneously delivering the addictive qualities of a hit. “Betrayal” is truly the standout vocal performance on the record, with Zeina soaring into a high vocal register that is perfectly highlighted by the track’s minimalist, acoustic foundation.

With its culturally researched production, multilingual singing, and personal lyrics, Eastend Confessions is a portrait of authenticity: Zeina is unapologetically proud of who she is—the Arab-centric, Western popstar she had aspired to become in her formative years.

Score: 8/10

Trial Track: Problematic

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPIN: Néhémie — World of Roses

The rising Montréal singer wears her heart on her sleeve in her debut EP. 

“I can love me better.” This lyric, which opens Montreal-born R&B singer Néhémie’s latest EP, World of Roses on the first song “Me (Freestyle),” perfectly encapsulates the ethos of her latest project. 

Though we can hear traces of SZA’s brutal honesty, Jhene Aiko’s honeyed vibrato, and Sabrina Claudio’s trance-like rhythms in Néhémie’s music, her World of Roses radiates the unmistakable self-confidence of an artist ready to create on her own terms. 

She is surrounded by the infrastructure to make it happen, too. Both of her parents are music lovers, “always playing jazz and gospel around the house,” she says. Her brother Gabriel is also an artist, and her sister is her manager. Music was so ubiquitous to her upbringing that she says: “It took me a while to feel like I was talented at it because everyone around me was into music so it didn’t feel like something special that I should pursue.” 

It wasn’t until high school that she began writing music seriously. “Before that, I was trying, but I didn’t really have much to say,” she says. “In high school, it really became this outlet for me, this way of expressing and understanding my emotions.” 

Néhémie was candid about the difficulties experienced by many during their teenage years. “Puberty is a whole thing, and you feel everything so strongly, and you have all these emotions… you don’t understand it because it’s so different from when you were a kid.” The central question, she says, was: “Who am I now?”

World of Roses begins with “Me (Freestyle)” a self-love anthem in which the artist revels in her own sensuality, proudly proclaiming: “I know I’m the one… When it comes to me, I don’t play.” Lush harmonies buoy the pure, serene seduction of her delivery, a quality possessed by most of the tracks on the EP. 

The next track “Ode to Love,” begins with swirling instrumentals before the listener is submerged within its dark, breathless world. Georgia rapper and producer Zahmir comes through on the back half of the track and provides welcome grounding with a flow that is both animated and spacious, à la Bryson Tiller. 

“Run” featuring Montreal rapper SLM has all the bombast of “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan, one of Néhémie’s cited influences. It seduces you with its harmonies before the singer playfully threatens: “Boy, you better run.”

While Néhémie is an artist who consumes music broadly, she says that flexibility is the key to maintaining a consistent stream of creative fodder. “My only rule is to stay open to where the inspiration may come from,” she says, even if that means waking up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea. 

Her song “Typing,” was a product of this very process, exemplary of an artist’s need to strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Néhémie explains that since she had already turned in the EP, the song wasn’t originally planned to be on the project. She felt “super inspired” after hearing the beat, however, and decided to freestyle through what became the first version of the song. In the end, she decided “I just had to do it, and I don’t regret it. I think it just makes sense.” 

“Typing” is interesting for another reason—adding to the richness of the track’s vocals is the voice of Néhémie’s brother Gabriel, who put out an EP of his own in 2023 titled Summer Thoughts Fall Feelings under the name JBRL.

Keep an eye out for the Néhémie this year. She says to expect more shows in 2024, the result of her desire to “bring the project to life with performances and just connect with people more.” And, she says, there will definitely be more music.

Interview Music

Concordia artist Vikki Gilmore discusses her album Mental Backroads and its launch in Montreal

A chat with Gilmore about her debut folk album and a preview of its celebration launch event planned for Dec. 10. 

Following the recent release of her debut album Mental Backroads on Oct. 20, child studies MA Concordia student and music artist Vikki Gilmore discusses the making of the project and gives insight on her upcoming album launch event on Dec. 10 at Le Ministère in Montreal. 

The local artist was born and raised in the city and has been involved with music since high school. Gilmore taught herself how to play acoustic guitar around the age of 16 so she could accompany her poetry with music. She’s gone from school talent shows to doing gigs around Montreal during her time at university. 

The musician has been writing songs for years and said that finally coming out with an album is “a lifelong dream and it means the world to me.” Gilmore’s intention was to tell life stories that others can connect with, namely discussing family, friends, love, nostalgia, grief and mental health. 

Mental Backroads is meant to take the listener on a metaphorical and literal road trip through their mind. Its songs weave a story with stories from her personal experience that she hopes are relatable to others. The main message is about being patient with yourself during any new journey one embarks on. 

Gilmore describes her music as Indie-folk soup for the soul that could be mistaken for the soundtrack of Gilmore Girls. Her sound ranges from twangy folk to alternative pop/rock and is great for fans of Phoebe Bridgers, Daughter, boygenius, Lizzy McAlpine and Joni Mitchell. The artist also takes care in connecting what she’s learned from her background in psychology to her lyrics. The classes and her involvement and interest in the subject have deeply influenced how she conveys her emotions and ideas. She’s able to relate them efficiently through words with ease and connection via her knowledge of psychology.

Gilmore said the creation of her debut indie-folk album has been the most exhilarating and difficult part of her music career. “Releasing it independently has taken a lot of dedication, spending most of my nights planning promo, filming music videos with friends, doing my own PR, planning finances, and more,” she said. 

Having to write, record, plan a release, plan the promo, and then plan live shows was the same process as previous EP releases, but she said that completing an eight-song album involved difficult mental aspects and financial commitment. The scale this time was completely different. Gilmore also never creates music with profit in mind and therefore always writes from the heart. Most of the songs on this album took between 20 minutes and an hour of writing, while the album’s production process took months, “but the writing just flows,” she said. 

Vikki Gilmore shared that her writing process is therapeutic. The Montreal singer doesn’t adopt any particular habit while writing but notes that it helps her process difficult emotions, which is a habit she’s developed over the years. Notably, the song “Pieces in the Black” came from a time when she was navigating a deep sadness and wanted to write something she could listen back to in the future.

For this project, Gilmore collaborated with a few Canadian-based producers. Her longtime collaborator Mathieu LeGuerrier mixed and produced the majority of the songs. Jacob Liutkus produced “If I Wrote You”, and “Stranded” was produced by Gert Taberner. “It was really cool to work with a variety of producers and you can probably hear hints of each of their production styles in the different songs,” she said. 

Gilmore brainstormed the idea of a road trip and postcard aesthetic to match the theme of the music. Tyler Piechota designed it to depict vintage scenic postcards in Colorado, “which has become one of my favourite places in the world,” Gilmore shared. The physical design of the vinyl version is a postcard with a guide map as the insert. “The visuals are cohesive and match perfectly with the sound to support painting a picture of travelling through life and the experiences and growth that come with exploring ourselves and the world,” she said. 

Gilmore hopes that this project is a warm hug to whoever needs it. Like a lullaby from the moon when you can’t sleep at night, plagued with fears of abandonment, wondering about the people you lost touch with, thinking of the people that have passed on, and reflecting on life with kindness for the previous versions of yourself. Gilmore especially learned about resilience and self-love during the creation of Mental Backroads. “In an era of streaming and social media, it can be hard comparing yourself to others,” she added.  

The album launch on Dec. 10 at Le Ministère promises to be beautiful, with twinkling lights, a guitarist and a drummer to support Gilmore on stage. It will be her first live show since the pandemic and she is beyond eager to connect with other music fans during the evening. There will be performances of songs from Mental Backroads with some older songs and possibly some surprise ones. The night will start with Callahan and the Woodpile performing a solo acoustic act to set the stage for an indie-folk cozy night out. If you’re looking for an excuse to discover some new music, get dressed up, and have a night out on the town, stop by!


ASTÉRISMES: Complexity in interpretation

Sometimes art isn’t meant to be straightforward, and that is definitely the case for Montreal artist Nicolas Baier’s ASTÉRISMES. As you walk into the exhibition, you are met by a variety of art pieces that could have been inspired by outer space—some are swirled with colour, others solely grey and dreary. Each piece has a different texture and exudes a different aura. The entire exhibition is quite puzzling and requires some serious interpretation. ASTÉRISMES is a complex and mind-bending art exhibition on display at the Division Gallery Montreal until Nov. 5.

Baier is inspired by the complexity of the mind. “Mostly, my interest was the perpetual ongoing, growing and deploying network made or utilized by human knowledge,“ said Baier. “Our point of view on reality, as a group, is not only altered by our position, but also by our tools and our previous knowledge.”

Vanite is one of the many cosmic-inspired works of Nicolas Baier on display at the ASTÉRISMES exhibition. Photo by Richard Max Tremblay.

This exhibition, with its extraterrestrial-looking shapes and images in the works, kept me wondering what the pieces were about and what one is meant to take away from them. Their meanings are meant to be complex, as according to Baier. He wants viewers to take away from the exhibition that “reality is a very complex subject.”

“Reality, nature, cosmos are three synonyms, in my opinion, three words that are totally inclusive,” he said. “We think of the cosmos as something so far, while it’s the air that we breathe, it’s our flesh, our thoughts. We are the cosmos—we are the nature. The machines that we are building are also a part of nature. We are the way the universe is succeeding, having dreams about itself, or understanding itself.”

The exhibition is certainly as mind-bending as its definition, and provides a space to sit and contemplate the universe and one’s existence.

This exhibition is not Baier’s first, and growing up in Montreal, he has wanted to be an artist for as long as he can remember. He said it may have had to do with the fact that both of his parents were art teachers. Baier is a successful artist with many solo and group exhibitions under his belt. His work has been displayed at many galleries across Canada, including the Division Gallery in Toronto and St Mary’s Art Gallery in Halifax.

For more information, you can check out his website.

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