X Marks the Swirl transcends regional, cultural, and community appeal with a message that is universally understood.
I find it humourously appropriate that the first few times I saw Vancouver MC Kimmortal’s given surname — Villagante — in print, I kept reading it as Vigilante. In the last number of years, Kimmortal has emerged as an unreserved advocate for diverse voices and cultures, embodying BC’s hip-hop, queer, and Filipinx communities in one remarkable package. Like Lido Pimienta further east in Ontario, Kimmortal is a fiercely independent artist redefining what it means to be Canadian.
Though fans who were eagerly awaiting X Marks the Swirl may have initially been disappointed by a January 2019 announcement stating its delayed release, hearing that both Kimmortal and the album had found a home with Rae Spoon’s COAX Records was a welcome silver lining. Under Spoon’s direction, COAX’s roster of indie musical vigilantes (including respectfulchild, Abigail Lapell, Lal, and Spoon themselves) has led the charge, challenging every preconceived music industry notion of what’s relevant and popular by giving underrepresented communities and individuals a platform from which to reach new audiences.
X Marks the Swirl is well worth the wait. In a word, it’s remarkable for its artistry, advocacy, and unwavering mission. Though ostensibly a debut if you’re unfamiliar with Kimmortal, for those who’ve followed her work, X Marks the Swirl feels like a reinvention. Right from the start, “Stars”, featuring local “femcees” JB the First Lady and Missy D, is a pop-star-making performance that’s both a celebration and declaration of personhood, purpose, and relevancy. “Stars” on its own is a fantastic album opener, but it’s made all the more poignant given that Kimmortal invites her two contemporaries to share the spotlight and attention right out of the gate. It is a living embodiment of the song’s message: no matter our outward differences, on a cellular level, each and every person is made up of the same universal elements, and each of us has a right to live our lives to the fullest potential.
Last year’s single “I’m Blue” reinforces Kimmortal’s message of self-love and self-worth. As she sings of unburdening herself from a dysfunctional, dependent relationship (“I’ve lost count of how many times I knew my yes was a no / I’m your clown out of habit, there is dust on my throne / For you I dropped my shit, just to hear you say hero”) a mantra emerges to banish the blues of solitude away: “You are not a burden baby. You are on purpose baby.” “Longing” is imbued with the genuine human desire to be loved and appreciated for who you are, acknowledging that the battle for self-love starts by fighting against society’s innate hatred and misunderstanding of the person you see yourself to be. “Sad Femme Club”, the beating heart and centre of X Marks the Swirl, crystallizes Kimmortal’s message and pulls no punches in its denouncement of toxic masculinity and the patriarchal double standard that sees strong, confident women characterized in all manner of negative stereotypes.
“Sad Femme Club” is a masterclass, unapologetically delivering its message with style and substance. It is indicative of X Marks the Swirl as a whole — an album that’s relevant, entertaining, artistic, and adventurous all at once. It’s the full package. There’s not a clunker among its eleven tracks and is among the most expertly rendered Canadian records in recent memory. X Marks the Swirl checks off all the boxes: artistic vision, musical production chops, lyrical relevancy, and sublime performances that are consistently on point. X Marks the Swirl is an album that transcends regional, cultural, or community appeal; its message is universally understood. We all are in the Swirl. Every one of us — queer, straight, cis, trans, rapper, rocker — with our own X to stand upon. It’s up to each of us to decide what kind of stand we will make: with our hands extended to our neighbours or raised in a fist.