Restless and unrelenting, Zoon’s sophomore full-length is an exhilarating full-steam-ahead run into the world.
I loved Zoon’s debut album, Bleached Wavves. Truth be told, though, I didn’t fully understand why I loved that album until I heard its follow-up, Bekka Ma’iingan. I’ve often referred to Bleached Wavves as Daniel Monkman’s first symphony, and (yes, I’m quoting myself) I still think of it as “a multi-suite concord of sound and style that’s so much more than a mere rock record.” Inwardly, though, I considered Bleached Wavves a challenging album because it eschewed just as many rock, indie, and pop tropes as it embraced. Songs like “Vibrant Colours,” BrokenHead,” and “Help Me Understand” spoke to many of my formative musical inclinations and touchstones: My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, and Slowdive. The problem was that I tried to contextualize Monkman’s style with parlances like “wall of sound” and derivatives of “shoegaze” to place it in the canon of contemporary rock, in which it doesn’t fit. My dumb ass assumed there was something askew in the music. I failed to recognize that Monkman’s approach to music—the ethereal tendrils of melody, disconnected layers of sound that somehow still gel, using rhythm and reverb to elevate the songs rather than ground them—is something wholly onto itself.
That’s where Bekka Ma’iingan comes in. Restless and unrelenting, Zoon’s sophomore full-length is a more fully-realized articulation of Monkman, the artist. If Bleached Wavves was Zoon’s tentative first steps in exploring their identity and artistic vision, Bekka Ma’iingan is an exhilarating full-steam-ahead run into the world.
It turns out the symphony analogy wasn’t too far off the mark. String arrangements performed by the FAMES Orchestra and arranged by Owen Pallett weave through Bekka Ma’iingan’s ten songs as counterpoint and contrasts (“All Around You”), textures and accompaniment (“Brave New World (Without You)”), call and response (“Dodem”). Intentionally leaving space in the songs for Pallett’s arrangements affords Monkman’s songs a new acuity. On the surface, Zoon is evolving, but what we are witnessing with Bekka Ma’iingan is Monkman establishing their musical footing, embracing their 2-Spirit identity, and truly discovering the confidence and bravery inherent in their band name.
“[Bekka Ma’iingan] is about acknowledging a part of me that I felt was there the whole time,” Monkman explains in the album’s announcement. On “A Language Disappears,” it’s the way they are reclaiming their Indigenous language and identity after needing to suppress that facet of themselves to survive. The instrumental “Niizh Manidoowig (2 Spirit)” (featuring Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo) conveys both the joys and perils of expressing one’s 2-Spirit identity. “Gaagige” (‘forever’ in Ojibwe) recognizes the existential dread of life and death and accepts the infinite possibilities of one’s existence beyond the two binaries. And on the mournful dirge “Manitou,” it’s an acknowledgement that, against all the odds stacked against Indigenous people by colonialism, racism, and oppression, Monkman is still here—an example of the possibilities that come with learning to manage one’s mental health and dependencies.
I bristle when it’s suggested that an artist has expressed their true self or identity in their work because it often implies that we all have a finite essence. Still, I feel confident in declaring Bekka Ma’iingan the definitive of Zoon’s two albums (so far), but that’s not to suggest it’s the last word in who Monkman is or will forever be. Their musical journey (so far) as leader of Zoon and with collaborator Adam Sturgeon as OMBIIGIZI has been one sparkling transformation after another. Innovative and iconoclastic as it is, though, Bekka Ma’iingan will be a footnote (a significant one, for sure) in Monkman’s ongoing development as a visionary musician, advocate, and influential community leader.