Zoon's 'Bekka Ma'iingan' Is a Captivating Force

BY Myles TiessenPublished Apr 26, 2023

Growing up in the small town of Selkirk, Manitoba, located just north of Winnipeg, was a hostile environment for Daniel Monkman. They spent their formative years being taught to hide their identity, partition their Indigeneity and feel ashamed of who they were. In the face of these mounting forces, Monkman retreated inward and disconnected from the future, immersing themselves in an increasingly isolated world.

That time in Selkirk, and subsequently Winnipeg, led Monkman to discover the transformative power of music. Their earliest recordings as the Blisters featured a few songs that sounded as if My Bloody Valentine started playing honky-tonks, and set the stage for what would eventually become Zoongide'ewin, better known as Zoon.

Zoon's debut album, Bleached Wavves, was the soundtrack to an artist's self-discovery. As a self-described "Born Again Indian," Monkman started a journey of reconnecting with their heritage and learning about their ancestral Ojibwe language. From the flooring surge of sound and the fuzzy, delay-riddled riffs to the vaporous lyrics, Bleached Wavves was harsh experimental music with an uncanny ability to draw the listener in. Eventually, Zoon melded with like-minded sludge-rock band Status/Non-Status to form OMBIIGIZI, whose debut album Sewn Back Together cemented both acts as forces to be reckoned with. 

Now, we arrive at Zoon's alluring sophomore LP Bekka Ma'iingan. With such a rich catalogue filled with vast and varied accomplishments, it's hard to believe that Monkman's outdone themselves yet again.

From the four-and-a-half minute instrumental opener "All Around You" to the transcendental closer "Ashes in a Vase," each of these ten songs explores the deepest parts of Monkman's soul with gleaming intentionality and gifted flair. By addressing love, loss, language and their two-spirit identity, Bekka Ma'iingan is thematically and sonically the most cohesive record Monkman has made yet. But that doesn't thwart the raw abrasion and creative unpredictability that makes Zoon such a thrill to listen to. 

Bekka Ma'iingan features all the notable hallmarks of Monkman's anomalous "moccasin gaze" — jangling percussion, hazy guitar, and incorporating traditional Indigenous music — but stretches it to its furthest reaches. It's transgressive and beautiful, challenging but welcoming, and fearlessly innovative. 

Featuring magnetic string arrangements by Owen Pallett, the result is a gorgeous album loaded with texture and fantasy. Performed by the FAMES Orchestra, the strings alternate between glowing radiance and fuzzed-out swirls. They dance with Monkman's esoteric recording techniques and mold into any one of the strange, fluid songs that make up Bekka Ma'iingan.

There are never typical verse-chorus-verse structures to the songs on Bekka Ma'iingan, and Monkman often lets the songs wander toward their pre-destined results. Most end with sprawling evaporation before effortlessly feeding into the next. Monkman thrives in abstraction, letting themselves fully explore the new tones and sounds in beautiful, dreamy entropy. It's no wonder Lee Ranaldo's guitar work so easily drifts into the macrocosmic "Niizh Manidoowig (2 spirit)" as lush chimes and angular guitar underpin the pops and clicks of undefined texture that flood the track. As the strings swell and break away, they create an otherworldly atmosphere — it's the most unorthodox track on the album, but it also contains the most heart. 

When a language is lost, culture is as well. Through its hypnotic looping melody and a rushing stream of noise, "A Language Disappears" sees Monkman touch on society's deliberate, systematic erasure of Indigenous values and traditions. It's intentionally hard to decipher the lyrics, and Monkman knows better than anyone else that raw emotion is the most powerful form of truth. Sunnsetter's Andrew McLeod lends some vocals to the song, which weave into the track in an undefinable mix of grace and polish. 

The delicacy of Bekka Ma'iingan cannot exist without its contrasting harsh intensity. "Care" features a distorted sound so radical it's as if Monkman threw their guitar into a jet engine. At a molasses pace, the most abrasive song on the album walks down the natural path of shoegaze and dissociative tones while Monkman's pensive vocals echo and teeter in psychedelia. "Care" is a woozy acknowledgment that sometimes the most distant, muddy noise can comfort us. 

"Gaagige" is likely the most captivating song on the album. With its nonchalant melodies, motorik drum machine and a looping, crunchy guitar riff, the song is a premiere example of Monkman's avant-garde influences blending seamlessly with their pop talents. It's a new standard for the modern shoegaze landscape. 

Monkman continues to develop as an artist by welding creative patience and identity. Bekka Ma'iingan are the Ojibwe words for "slow down" and "wolf"; the latter being the family clan of their late father. The befitting title serves not only as a declaration of the deep-rooted identity that Monkman is now able to fully express, but also a reminder of where love and hope derive. 
(Paper Bag Records)

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