Published Nov 05, 2019iskwē's sound is a gift. On her latest album, acākosīk, her voice is at times broad and strong, landing like a punch to the face, and at other times it's pulled back to sleek whispers, delicate and satiny gasps. iskwē manages to transition from loud to quiet effortlessly, as though it were no big deal. But of course it is.
This clash of opposites is what acākosīk specializes in, both thematically and sonically. And what makes it such a special album is the unity with which the Juno-nominated artist imbues the record. With acākosīk, we have both grand and quiet sounds, big and complicated feelings, married as a coherent whole.
Thematically, tracks are simultaneously deeply personal and deeply universal. Not just with regard to the general unifying power inherent in music — but also in the sense that they're socially conscious. The album's cover, designed by Sarah Legault, depicts an ethereal and winged iskwē balanced upon a crescent moon, surrounded by delicate stars. There is a star for each of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and there are very many stars.
For iskwē, the personal is the political. "Have you seen the news today?" begins "Little Star" and it will make you cry, through its combination of drums, the urgent but melancholic guitars, and iskwē's mournful but powerful voice, her words weary and unsurprised.
iskwē's aim is to raise awareness with the record — to shine a light on the systematic abuses against Canada's Indigenous peoples, but also to celebrate a culture by sharing its stories, its many sounds. By listening we become mired in the narrative iskwē tells us; she brings us in through her music so that we may find a common ground. We are now a part of the sound we listen to. We are less alone, more responsible.
The track "Unforgotten," on which we can hear Polaris Music Prize winner Tanya Tagaq's electrifying throat singing against roaring guitars and drums like a heartbeat, will give you goosebumps. It's empowering and beautiful, nothing short of a rallying cry, optimistic and cinematic.
iskwē's voice is, for lack of a more powerful word, beautiful. It is full and strong and heartbreaking and timeless. Hers is the kind of voice that you feel in the pit of your stomach, and it reaches its apotheosis on the smoldering track "Night Danger." This song is a slow burner, the kind of track you listen to when you're tipsy and want to feel like you're on top of the world. It's the kind of song to make you feel strong.
iskwē has given us a textured record with a hopeful and inclusive bent. We ought to consider ourselves lucky to be around for acākosīk's release. It's required listening. (Independent)