Zoongide’ewin’s debut is a poised, poignant, and profoundly moving symphony of sound and style.
Whether he realizes it or not, Daniel Glen Monkman has produced his first symphony. There is no better way to describe Bleached Wavves, Monkman’s first full-length as Zoongide’ewin (Zoon for short). Even though he uses the term “moccasingaze” to describe his melodic wall-of reverb take on droney guitar rock, Bleached Wavves is a multi-suite concord of sound and style that’s so much more than a mere rock record.
Opener “Clouded Formation” is something of a cacophonous red herring for what’s to come. Think of it less as a song, and more the sound of Monkman’s orchestra tuning up for the breathtaking suite of songs that follows. Except, of course, there is no orchestra: it’s all Monkman. He’s the composer, conductor, and pretty much the entire company, having assembled the bulk of Bleached Wavves on his own. As “Clouded Formation” comes to a calamitous close, Monkman waves his baton and lets the real magic unfurl.
Coalescing from tendrils of swirling guitar motifs and coils of reverb, the second song “Vibrant Colours” lives up to its name and position. Released in early 2020 as a primer for the record to come, “Vibrant Colours” is like a sonata, serving as both exposition and extrapolation. The song’s lyrical themes explore Monkman’s Ojibwe heritage, his relationship with his grandparents and the aftermath of their deaths, and coming to terms with his substance dependency. As he’s explained frequently, Zoongide’ewin means bravery, courage, and the Bear Spirit in Ojibwe — qualities that Monkman not only leaned on to face racism, poverty, and his health concerns, but ones that inform the whole of Bleached Wavves.
From “Vibrant Colours” on, Monkman develops, refines, and recapitulates the concept of “moccasingaze”. “Was & Always Will Be” waltzes like an adagio, adding what sounds like sitars to the mix of strings. “Light Prism” is a mid-tempo minuet, a delicate dance between Monkman’s sun-kissed singing and the gauzy atmospherics he orchestrates. But it’s three tent-pole movements that ultimately gives Bleached Wavves its symphonic flow and structure. Along with “Vibrant Colours”, mid-album masterclass “BrokenHead” and closer “Help Me Understand” are polychromatic delights, codifying Monkman’s skill and insight as a songwriter and musical visionary.
If you consider that the word symphony is derived from a Greek word meaning an “agreement of sound”, it’s hard to argue that Bleached Wavves is anything but. Its swirling sounds are overwhelming in the same way that visceral memories can open the gates to an emotional deluge. Once the feelings start flowing, there’s no stopping them. And yet still, in a record of such dense musical scope, depth, and complexity, Monkman makes space for his humanity and spirituality to shine through. That to me is the true agreement in Zoongide’ewin’s poised, poignant, and profoundly moving debut: amidst all that marvellous musical chaos, clarity emerges.