“Hello, it’s been a while. We’ve missed you. We hear you asking ‘where have you been?’…After years and years of writing and touring, striving for something ever evolving we needed to take a pause. For a while we shifted our attentions elsewhere, waiting for the unfathomable desire to sing to entice us back in. The music was always going to pull us back in the end.”
— Smoke Fairies – email update – 26 July 2019
In October, The Smoke Fairies launched the SMOKE SIGNALS podcast, a series of completely unrehearsed, quiet conversations between Katherine and Jessica (at times so quiet one has to strain to hear, but it’s worth it). The first episode (below) takes us back to the late 1990s as the duo examines “the boredom of working at temping jobs to support their musical aspirations, through the lens of Kaf’s letters to various lunch outlets.” New episodes are released every two weeks. Smoke Fairies’ new album, “Darkness Brings The Wonders“, will be released on 31 January, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon. (One track, Disconnect, has been released as a single.) They will begin a short UK tour in Manchester on 1 February.
#9 – JACKIE MAY
Jackie May has written eleven episodes of VAN HELSING, including “Be True” (the one that explains how Sam and Mohamed met), “Outside World” (the one where Vanessa ponders her past while hanging from a rusty slaughterhouse hook), and “Been Away” (the one where Axel finds his sister and then loses her again). But she’s on this list because she wrote the episode that turned the Netflix series ANOTHER LIFE around. If you watched ANOTHER LIFE, you know why it needed to be refocused. The show accumulated a lot of silliness in the first few episodes, but it was such a good cast and there were so many interesting ideas floating around that some of us couldn’t stop watching despite that. Episode Nine eliminated problems. On the Salvare, Cas Isovic took her rightful place as second in command; alien-occupied Sasha was dealt with in a most practical manner (and left behind a sample of the alien language); someone found a functional use for a fire axe; the AI found a way to separate his personal life from his job; and the Salvare finally got to its destination, Pi Canis Majoris. Season 2 of ANOTHER LIFE will begin production in Vancouver in March.
#8 – WARIGAMI
“Wendy’s character description painted a pretty clear picture, but when I read the audition sides I was actually a little thrown because I could see her going in three different directions. It came down to the question of how aware of her abilities and personality was she? Where did her ego sit?”
—- Emily Piggford [to Meaww, 20 September 2019]
This CBC short form series (ten episodes of roughly ten minutes each) stars Emily Piggford as Wendy Ohata, who discovers that she has a twin brother named Vincent (Kai Bradbury) when he tries to rob her house. (Well , it’s really the home of her grandfather (played by Hiro Kanagawa) who has been keeping a low profile because he’s protecting a family secret from some seriously dangerous people.) She also discovers that the Ohatas are kami-jin, descendants of an ancient Japanese people who can alter the density of ordinary paper and turn it into a deadly weapon. Shortly after Wendy and Vincent discover this ability, a kami-jin warrior (Miho Suzuki) shows up looking for whatever grandfather Ohata is protecting. This webseries is like one of those books you can’t put down. The CW noticed that and put it on CW Seed as an 86 minute movie. In October, Piggford told Beyond Fashion Magazine that there are “definitely plans for more seasons of WARIGAMI, but no green light for a season two so far”.
#7 – FLARA K
“Something inside me feels like it’s off, I can’t explain
Just a pain that sits in me, something deep down inside me
Makes me second guess what a mess I have left here”
— from LOST, by Flara K
Sam Martel and Collin Steinz are Flara K, a husband and wife R&B pop duo from Montreal, and not much information is available about them. What is known is this: They once were part of a group called Pin Up; Sam has a lion tattoo on her right forearm; and they have so far released one four-song EP that was recorded in an apartment bedroom. Their best video is the one for “Me And You“. Just why they chose the name Flara K is a mystery. The name change was announced on 18 August 2018 on twitter: “We changed our name, our style, our music from Pin Up to FLARA K. It all starts September 2018.” The pair have apparently given no interviews. Their next single, “Patience”, will be released in February.
#6 – KHALILAH JOI
In March, Khalilah Joi guest-starred on GREY’S ANATOMY as a victim of violent rape in the episode “Silent All These Years.” The reaction to the groundbreaking episode was intense. Joi told Jazz Tangcay of Awards Daily: “On social media…I got so many messages from survivors. I was moved. Reading these stories and hearing people share their very private and intimate moments. They were saying, ‘Thank you.’ ‘I feel heard.’ ‘I feel sane.’ ‘I’ve never had my story told in this way.’ I even got messages from people saying, “’I’ve finally told someone.’”
Next, Joi will be Tee in Patricia Cuffie-Jones‘ STUCK WITH YOU, a comedy series that will star Tammy Townsend and Timon Kyle Durett as a celebrity couple happily married in public but leading separate lives behind closed doors. STUCK WITH YOU is expected to premiere in 2020 on the Urban Movie Channel.
#5 – BATWOMAN
“Kate has been through a lot. She’s broody because she’s lost everything. Her sister died, her mum died, her dad doesn’t want her. She’s kicked out of the military and her girlfriend lied to stay in the military. She’s trying to deal with so much trauma that there’s not a lot of room for happiness. She’s got a purpose with Batwoman, and so she’s getting lighter, but those first few episodes, I was going home at night and having to have a bath and fully cleanse. Because when you’re that upset, you’re taking on all of those traumas. They’re not yours, but you start to really feel them.”
— Ruby Rose – New York Times – 3 September 2019
Ruby Rose and Rachel Skarsten are a magical combination. Skarsten’s Alice is the most fascinating villain since Kilgrave in the first season of JESSICA JONES, but she’s a more complex villain than Kilgrave was, since Batwoman’s sister Beth lives somewhere in her brain. But the scene that made sure the show got on this list was one with Kate Kane and her ex, Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) trying to figure out their relationship in an upscale Italian restaurant when the restaurant owner sees them holding hands and asks them to leave. What happened next was described very well by Alex Zalben writing in The Decider. “Kate knows exactly what’s up, and isn’t standing for it. She pushes the owner, and pushes him, threatening to call her Instagram influencer step-sister and destroy the reputation of the restaurant because they won’t allow two women to be there on a date. And when that forces him to change his mind, she angrily throws down her napkin and leaves.” With Kate Kane and Batwoman, we get two heroes for the price of one.
#4 – PYEWACKET
“I was reading William Friedkin’s biography, to be honest, and I forgot that he did the movie The Guardian back in 1990. I watched it and I heard the name ‘Pyewacket’ because the nanny names one of the stuffed animals of the baby that and it just floored me. What a great name…It all stemmed from that name. I stole one shot from that film as a little homage. There’s one shot that’s right from that movie.”
— Adam MacDonald – Dread Central – 27 March 2018
Pywacket was released in 2017, but wasn’t available to stream until early this year. Adam MacDonald‘s second film is more psychological thriller than horror flick. Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is a reasonably well-adjusted high school student, whose father is recently deceased. Her mother (who is not at all well-adjusted) can’t cope with the memories and abruptly decides to uproot Leah and relocate. Leah and her friends are fascinated by magic, both black and white, but Leah has fewer inhibitions about using it, and, angry at her mother, summons a demon called Pyewacket. She feels guilt at first for her demon-summoning, but that quickly evolves into terror.
The film’s conclusion is one of intriguing uncertainty. Was Pyewacket conjured from the subonscious, or from some adjacent netherworld? (There is a scene where a dark figure is seen at the foot of Leah’s bed while she is sleeping that is particularly scary, and perhaps points to the latter alternative.) Missy Peregrym is the voice of the 911 operator, and Chloe Rose turns in a strong supporting performance as Leah’s best friend Janice. PYEWACKET can be streamed on HULU in the US, and on CBC Gem in Canada.
#3 – BLACK SPOT
“The birds are going crazy. The trees are bleeding. It’s going to be a shitty new year.”
— Nounours – (Black Spot Episode 1.1)
Thirty-seven unsolved murders cause Frank Siriano, the new district attorney, to venture deep into the woods of northeastern France to visit the town of Villefranche. Just outside the town boundary his car stalls and he is stung by a bee (which almost kills him since he is allergic to most everything). When he wakes up in the office of Sheriff Weiss, he finds she is investigating murder number thirty-eight. Like everyone else in Villefranche, Siriano has a secret. And the woods are haunted.
Suliane Brahim is entirely captivating as the Sheriff, and she received the 2017 Suzanne Bianchetti Award for most promising young actress for her performance. The entire cast is exceptional, but I have my favourites. The highlight of the second season, released on Netflix in June, is Nounours (Hubert Delattre). The large deputy’s name translates as Teddy Bear, and the blank spaces in his personal story are filled in nicely in season two. The town doctor/coroner (Naidra Ayadi) is someone I need to know more about, and has an amazing ability to accept the unexplainable.
The show’s creator, Mathieu Missoffe, in an interview with Flickering Myth, described the show as part western and part Scandi-noir, and explained how show’s French title “Zone Blanche” (white area) became “Black Spot” in English. “One of the proper translations for Zone Blanche would be ‘Dead Zone’, “Missoffe explained, “meaning a phone signal that is unable to connect, but I guess ‘The Dead Zone’ is already taken, right? So they had to come up with something else. And that’s how it ended up becoming Black Spot.”
There is no word yet as to when or if there will be a third season.
#2 – JESS SALGUEIRO
2019 was a great year for Salgueiro, and it started with I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD. (Her character is tied to a bed for most of that film but once released has a darkly funny and at the same time frightening scene where she confronts and overcomes her would-be killer.) On LETTERKENNY, during an insult exchange with hockey teammate Betty Ann, Salgueiro somehow manages to effectively deliver this line: “Your mitt looks like the back of Kelsey Grammar’s head circa Frasier ’94 if the cast each autographed his bald spot with multi-coloured lipsticks.”
On THE BOYS she is the instantly likable Robin, who becomes the primary motivation for everything protagonist Hughie Campbell does, and in Season Four of THE EXPANSE, her character Chandra Wei and Amos Burton develop into something akin to star-crossed lovers. Wei and Burton have very similar jobs, but problem one is that Wei works for a very bad man. Problem two is that she just doesn’t understand Amos and his situational ethics.
Next year we will see her in the film CANADIAN STRAIN (which recently premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in Canada but has not yet been released in the US). And she will be Isobel, a police detective investigating the goings-on at a Chicago ballet school in TINY PRETTY THINGS. Also, she will be the (possibly villainous) Shockwave in Mark Millar’s ambitious superhero series JUPITER’S LEGACY. (Both those last two are from Netflix.)
#1 – PIQSIQ
“One of my very favourite feelings is to be able to throat sing for a very long time with somebody because …it does get a bit trance-like and it’s just, like, a really beautiful way to bond with someone you love.”
— Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik
Piqsiq (Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay) are sisters, originally from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, who started throat singing with they were five years old. They recently released “Quviasugvik: In Search of Harmony”, the most beautiful Christmas album I’ve heard in years. (Quviasugvik is the Inuit word for Merry Christmas.) The album description says: “each track is an eerie and mournful tribute to the complicated relationship many Indigenous Peoples have with the tradition of Christmas.” (In the beginning, throat singing and Christianity didn’t get along. Two women standing face-to-face and singing in a close-up battle of resonating tones looked demonic to the local priests so it was banned for more than a century.)
Piqsiq chose to cover “Carol of the Bells” because (Ayalik told the CBC podcast On The Coast): “It’s just such a beautiful song and it’s been done and redone so many times. And to be able to put our spin on it, this song I think is my favourite because I’ve always loved it ever since I was a kid. It has that Tim Burton, sort of creepy side of Christmas feel.” Mackay called Track 4, “Qimuksiq: Dogsled Ride”, “the one sort of joyful tune on the album”. (It is quite different from the album’s other tracks.) “Quviasugvik: In Search of Harmony” and their first EP, “Altering the Timeline” can be streamed on Spotify. All of Piqsiq’s music is available on Amazon.