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Jessie Reyez holding trophy looking into the camera

“Half-life” is a scientific term to describe how long a certain substance will stay in a system before breaking down—a pollutant in the environment, a drug in the human body. Toronto trio notfortheo makes music with a long half-life, ones that stick their hooks with you and linger long after you’re done playing them.

Notfortheo is Khalede Russell (aka Theo Blackman, a musician and producer who came up in the Toronto hardcore scene), Jonathan Kennedy Rogers (a mainstay of the city’s indie scene), and Aaron Watkins (aka Villabeatz, a producer and DJ), sharing writing, production, and performance roles in a fluid collaboration. Rogers and Russell came together through the close-knit Toronto music scene, discovering a shared background as progeny of musical families, as well as a mutual desire to make something that resonated on a deeper frequency than anything they’d done before. After sketching out the early foundations for Notfortheo, the pair brought Watkins into the fold, along with his experience crafting richly textured R&B, to complete the sound.


Half-Life is the name of their first musical statement, a four-song EP of post-genre pop that weaves together vintage indie rock, hazy bubblegum R&B, and the lush sonics that their city has become famous for, spilling over with dreamy atmospheres and placid melodies with unexpectedly sharp hooks that cut deeper than their mood might suggest. The lead single, “Just a Little Bit,” is irresistible pop bliss, blending Beatles-era psychedelia with lo-fi synth textures and topping it off with a melody sweet enough for an 80s R&B boy band. But once you start singing along to the lyrics, you’ll notice a dark shadow hiding behind the euphoric mood:


Just a little bit

Just enough to pass the time away

Just enough to make it through the day

We could stay another minute


For all of the group’s decades-spanning musical influences, Half-Life is very much a document of its time, a portrait of a moment defined by anxiety and uncertainty beautifully framed by three young people who are living it. Inspired by the group’s own experiences, it’s especially unflinching and matter-of-fact when it comes to addiction, whether to substances or our phones, and understanding of why so many people—especially ones their age—would choose that path to escapism. “Spent all of last summer / Chained to the mirror / Razor blade in a suitcase,” Russell sings on the taut, guitar-driven “Interlock.” The deceptively chill “Down” takes you inside the head of someone sliding into a habit: “Ups and downs like grinding teeth on stone / If I stay numb how would Iever know?


It’s heavy subject matter, but Half-Life never feels anything less than buoyant. Even when it’s exploring darkness, it never loses sight of hope. The EP-closing track “y I do”—a breezy cut redolent of the Mary Jane Girls—points at a way out, as the lyrics’ narrator describes sobering up, surrounded by personal wreckage but determined to move forward. With Half-Life, notfortheo reminds us that life can be tough, but music is one of the things that makes it worth living.

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