Published Oct 22, 2019Water may be my favourite element; there's something purely therapeutic and calming about its role in the world, both in physical form and the ways it can be evoked through cultural and social uses. It can clean and calm you, and in the next instant overpower and submerge you. It provides and sustains life, and there are few things in this world more vital than clean drinking water and everyone's need to have access to it.
It's with this theme in mind that nêhiyawak emerge. From out of Alberta's Treaty 6 Territory, the trio capture a unique blend of post-rock, soundscapes, swirling synths and vocals that ebb and flow like a gentle current headed downstream. Aqueous imagery is not the lone takeaway from their debut full-length, nipiy, but certainly plays a major role in connecting its themes together. Incorporating last year's starlight EP into the proceedings expands their aural ambitions and makes for a far more captivating effort.
Bookending the album are two instrumental pieces named after the North Saskatchewan River ("kisiskâciwanisîpiy pêyak" and "kisiskâciwanisîpiy nîso"), which lend a much wider lens and cinematic scope to what sets the band apart. Matthew Cardinal's synth work and arranging prowess works extremely well on "copper" and "page," atmospheric yet understated at once. The subtle, but equally impactful percussion adds a huge rhythmic boost, with "somnambulist" and "tommaso" highlighting Marek Tyler's stellar beatwork.
Let it be said that Kris Harper is fantastic at his craft. As a songwriter, he tackles the necessity of urbanization in modern society on "ôtênaw," and confronts Canada's past during the "Sixties Scoop" and the age of residential schools on "open window," pondering the future of so many peoples and languages. "And I always wondered what had happened, to those mother tongues that were kept inside," he ponders. His voice soars as harmonies engulf the listener, as the omnipresence of the production and instrumentation conjure a truly remarkable image.
nipiy is a family affair in more ways than one. Centered on taking teachings from their elders and fusing their own musical passions to create a record that aims to break down barriers and speak your truth. It is a testament to the properties of the element it strives to represent, and a beacon of hope for communities to learn from and grow with each other. Astounding and worth every minute of its running time. (Arts & Crafts)