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cutsleeve grapple with identity on their electrifying EP ‘the parts we could not abandon’

cutsleeve - the parts we could not abandon ep
cutsleeve – the parts we could not abandon EP

Toronto-based “emo queer east asian rock band” cutsleeve are breaking barriers in a lot of ways, but they also have a sense of their place in tradition. Taking their name from a Chinese folk tale about an emperor and his lover as a “reminder that queerness is always in our history,” cutsleeve continues the lineage of punk acts who have used the medium to express feelings of alienation and anger. The band, consisting of Chanel Fu (lead vocals and keyboard), Hilary Fong (bass guitar), Hannah Winters (lead guitar), Amanda Wong (rhythm guitar and vocals), and Lian McMillan (drums) are no strangers to such feelings–being queer and Asian in a music scene and society where they are seen as outsiders. It is in these experiences that cutsleeve find their own voice on their debut EP, the parts we could not abandon.

“1989” opens the EP with smoldering guitars before swelling into a power chord-driven anthem, but the energy of the instrumental belies mournful lyrics about a land aflame (and likely a land that the band member’s families had left, given the title’s allusion): “They took our books without a look / Erase the culture / They saw the end of all their friends / Destroy the culture.” The song ends on a slower pace reflective of such loss, and this weary spirit continues onto the fuzzy, mid-tempo “durian eyes.” This time, however, cutsleeve turn their focus to the othering of Asians in Western countries, as Fu sings “Foreign and lost in this world that isn’t mine.”

Elsewhere on the EP, cutsleeve take a more aggressive stance. “yellow fever” blasts through a list of Asian stereotypes in its lively three minutes while skewering the perspectives of fetishists who “watch anime [and] go to Comic Con.” The song bounces from one misrepresentation to the next in a near-gleeful exposé of their absurdities. “don’t (like me)” is even more belligerent, carried by a muscular bassline as the lyrics rage against the casual harassment that women, particularly those of color, experience in their everyday lives. The chants of “Your yelling at her is yelling at me / Any man on the street is a threat to me” are a declaration of solidarity, as well as a resolve to no longer stand for such harassment as Fu sneers, “Get the fuck away from me!”

Bandmates Hannah Winters, Chanel Fu, Hilary Fong, Lian McMillan, and Amanda Wong.

cutsleeve don’t limit themselves to expressing grievances with the outside world. On the slower “flesh,” they plunge into the depths of self-image–perhaps the most challenging confrontation of all. The song ends on an inconclusive note, with Fu asking “Can someone show me how to approach my own flesh?” Closer “shatter” explores similar themes of uncertainty in its halting, tense verses, but the release of the chorus hints at a way forward. Fu sings “Shatter me!” as the song reaches its melodic peak, and the pairing of this release with such a refrain suggests that new identities are forged as old ones are shattered. But cutsleeve do not merely cast aside their past selves on this EP (and certainly its title would suggest not). 

Instead, they achieve an even more remarkable feat: weaving their histories and experiences into something visceral and beautiful.

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