In their brief yet prolific tenure as Zoon, the Toronto-based composer Daniel Monkman has reoriented shoegaze away from an insular, obfuscating aesthetic into a modern form of folk music—a vehicle through which they can tell their story, commune with friends, and catalog the human condition. It’s just that instead of gathering everyone around the campfire, Monkman invites you to float away with them up in the clouds. Raised on the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation reservation near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Monkman made his initial Beck-inspired forays into music with stoner-folk act the Blisters, before falling into the vicious cycle of poverty, transience, and addiction that entraps so many young Indigenous people in Canada. After getting sober, they reemerged with a bolder musical vision, fueled by a newfound pride in their heritage.
Adopting the name Zoon—short for “zoongide’ewin,” an Ojibway term signifying bravery—Monkman made their proper debut in 2020 with Bleached Wavves, showcasing a revamped sound that they cheekily dubbed “moccassin-gaze.” On that record, Monkman augmented the trippy textures and dazed melodies of My Bloody Valentine and the Brian Jonestown Massacre with traditional Ojibway percussion and spiritual chants. But Bleached Wavves was more than a novel cross-genre fusion: Its rupture of splendor and sorrow allowed Monkman to soothe emotional wounds and preserve a cultural history imperiled by Canada’s legacy of colonization.
Those same themes have found a more vocal, visceral outlet in Monkman’s concurrent project Ombiigizi, the punchier outfit they co-founded with fellow Indigenous indie-rocker Adam Sturgeon (a.k.a. Status/Not Status). Meanwhile, a pair of Zoon EPs released last year confirmed what Bleached Wavves only hinted at—buried beneath the sonic overload were the sort of candid addresses that easily translated to acoustic guitar. However, on Zoon’s exquisite second album, Bekka Ma’iingan, Monkman frequently sidesteps conventional songcraft altogether and surrenders to the impressionistic power of sound. Bekka Ma’iingan is at once his most opaque and most open-hearted work, less interested in explicit storytelling than in making you feel the deep-seated ache and hard-won euphoria coursing through Monkman’s veins.
On the surface, Bekka Ma’iingan is Monkman’s pandemic record—the words in the title translate to “slow down” and “wolf,” a reference to both the unhurried pace of lockdown living and the recent revelation that Monkman’s deceased father was a member of his nation’s wolf clan. At the outset, the album seems content to marinate in a beatific stasis, oblivious to the laws of time and space: The opening “All Around You” instantly submerges us in aqueous, Animal Collective-styled psychedelia, with Monkman’s one-note acoustic strums chiming like an alarm clock. And while an encroaching rumble of drums braces us for lift-off, they ultimately recede into the track’s infinity-pool ripples, introducing the record’s unpredictable, amorphous essence. Even when Monkman attempts something resembling a proper, guitar-driven rock song, they’re just as liable to zone out into a daydream: “Care” lays its misty melodies atop a slow-motion grungy grind that’s more m b v than Loveless, but partway through, an electronic beat pokes through the mix and redirects us toward the light, transforming the song from a doomy dirge into an expansive, liberating dronescape.
Structurally speaking, Bekka Ma’iingan is like an old building where you have to chisel away at layers of fading façade to expose the pristine brick preserved underneath—and the divine “Dodem” marks the moment when the true riches are revealed. The song’s elegiac space-rock sway ushers in a mesmerizing mid-album stretch where Owen Pallett’s regal string arrangements assume a central role, harnessing Monkman’s mercurial sound design into high-definition dream-pop symphonettes. Bekka Ma’iingan hits its emotional peaks with “Awesiinh (A-Way-See)” and “Manitou,” back-to-back acoustic-based ballads that nonetheless acquire a staggering sense of grandeur through their dramatic surges of strings and harmonies. The latter song in particular—a requiem for lost youth and the friends who didn’t make out alive—is as unsettling as it is breathtaking, like a Ditch Trilogy-era Neil Young eulogy adapted by Sigur Rós.
Unlike Bleached Wavves, Bekka Ma’iingan doesn’t attempt any overt fusions of shoegaze and Ojibway motifs; rather, at this point, Monkman’s two worlds are thoroughly enmeshed on both a musical and ideological level. On “A Language Disappears,” Monkman and regular collaborator Andrew McLeod (a.k.a. Sunnsetter) lay down a hazy-headed shuffle that nods firmly in the direction of My Bloody Valentine’s dance-rock dalliances, while shrewdly using shoegaze’s penchant for vaporous vocals as a sonic metaphor for the colonial erasure of Indigenous oral traditions. But Bekka Ma’iingan finds its clearest articulation of identity in its most abstract track. Featuring guest sound-sculpting from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, “Niizh Manidoowig (2 Spirit)” pits flutes and horn melodies against sunrise-summoning electric-guitar drones to produce an exultant, wordless expression of Monkman’s gender nonconformity. Here Monkman reminds us of the implicit radicalism of shoegaze: After all, more than any other subgenre, it has always been about blurring binaries, by dissolving the distinctions between the male and female voice, between rock formalism and avant-garde experimentation, between noise and tranquility.
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