Toronto-Based Pop Talent Cory Stewart Releases Debut Album ‘TOV’ [Review]

Cory Stewart has had us eagerly anticipating his debut album since the release of his 2020 singles including Little Lies and Grab the Fire. The project, TOV, named after Cory’s close friend Tovah Natalie, who sadly passed away in 2020, has been meticulously crafted over the course of three years by Cory and producer Gavin Bradley. Released Friday 22nd of January, the album features seventeen tracks split across three thematic sections: Betrayal, Heartbreak and Survival.

Opening with the attention-grabbing What If, Cory muses “What if it’s not my destiny? What if it’s not meant for me?” against almost tribal electronic beats with themes of doubt and betrayal emerging from the onset. Poison which fans will remember from its March 2019 release features MDL CHLD, a track which brings rock-influenced dance pop capturing a sense of angry emotion at its heart. Exploring a build-up of hate in a relationship, Poison dips into a relationship becoming toxic in the most dancefloor friendly manner imaginable. Outta My Head provides scintillating nineties house vibes with Cory’s vocals gently gliding against anthemic club beats as the lyrics recount trying to push a negative-influence out of your mind by the way of dancefloor euphoria. The Michelle Mondesir assisted End of Me is a dreamy and intoxicating number that ponders how a relationship can deteriorate to such extremes with lyrics such as: “I don’t think I need a map to know that our relationship has gone off track.” Michelle’s Mondesir’s vocals add a further ethereal and emotive edge to the song.

The next thematic chapter Heartbreak starts with Tu·mul·tu·ous Situation, a heartfelt conversation recording which helps further provide an impressive sense of narrative within the album. Happiness in Heartache examines the complexities of heartbreak, delving into the moments which the singer should have seen coming, opening with a military style marching beat, the track veers into a dramatic pop piece. The impressive Little Lies follows – a sparkling eighties-inspired pop number that asks us to embrace the little lies for the sake of contentment at the present moment. It’s an elegant, sassy anthem, that says ‘I know what you’re doing and I’m fine with it… for now,’ conjuring up some emotive visual imagery especially with lines like “Tell me little lies, no more truths, cause they’re easier to hear.” There are hints of classic early-noughties pop to be heard in Do You channelling classic Kylie, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Steps as the track sees Cory say goodbye “Do you, I’m starting over brand new, I hope it was worth it to you baby” with looping vocal effects and a chorus packed with earworming hooks. Anyway closes the Heartbreak section, an unrepentant showcase for getting over a broken heart, packed with equal amounts of swagger and heartfelt emotion, the track is a cathartic release. Gavin Bradley’s production feels near experimental in its minimalist approach that has echoes of classic Jam and Lewis at its most dramatic points.

Survival, the final thematic chapter of TOV, opens with Cut Those **** Off an ode to pushing through hardships, self-belief, and self-love. Previous single Grab the Fire featuring Jxckson shines as a synth-packed, dancehall track with a pulsating rhythm and sultry vocals from the two singers. Grab the Fire evokes rich imagery with flames, phoenixes, and blazing passion conjured up in the song’s lyrics. Interlude You’re like Mom features the laughter of a family gathering, preceding the tender emotion that Stewart packs into No More Trips to London – featuring background vocals from his mother and written about the loss of his grandmother. Up-tempo guitar production builds the energy as the track proceeds, capturing the truly human quality of pushing-on and living the best life you can to honour those we have loved and lost.

Unhappy delves into the harder times and pushing through these challenges with the sentiment “If you’re unhappy then take back what’s yours.” Stewart retains a sense of authenticity and hopefulness throughout the song which feels earnest in its natural conviction. The interlude Maybe I’m Insane taps into the challenges of the past year yet leaves us with the hopeful message of not stopping. Why Do I Even Try follows bringing a sense of classic optimistic pop, celebrating the euphoric joy of music, whilst marching to the beat of your own drum with the catchy sentiment “Turn up the music, Can’t hear what you say, Turn up the volume, I’ll do it my way.” Album closer Little One sees Cory incorporate the voice of the album’s namesake Tovah Natalie, in a gorgeous tribute with beautifully effective guitar production accompanying Cory as he celebrates his friendship with and the legacy of Tovah.  

Cory has crafted a truly stellar debut, rich with emotion and authenticity channelled in the narrative themes the album presents through its diverse array of pop compositions. From dancefloor friendly anthems to more stripped back moments, TOV is a hugely impressive showcase for Cory and his collaborators, whilst retaining his unique appeal as an artist.