Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, The Water, The Sky

A complex, cathartic work...

There is something timeless about listening to Black Belt Eagle Scout. Maybe this is because Katherine Paul is Swinomish/Iñupiaq from the Pacific North West. The music of her childhood was both alternative rock and traditional Native American. When you listen to her music you are transported somewhere else. The land, sea and air is just as important to her songwriting as her romantic relationships are. I know that this is one of the most cliché things to say, but it is also true. Black Belt Eagle Scout uses huge crushing guitars to tells beautiful stories not just about her life but of the life of her region too. 

Opening with gargantuan guitars that sound like the end of the world Katherine Paul’s delicate vocals appear. They cut through the gloom like the sun’s rays on a stormy day. As ‘My Blood Runs Through This Land’ continues the guitars become more contorted and a fine guitar solo emerges. It carries on for the majority of the song until its graceful outro. The phrase “throws down the gauntlet” is used a lot, but in this case it’s true. ‘My Blood Runs Through This Land’ challenges you to keep listening. It reminds you that music shouldn’t just be pristine. It should be hard and ungainly.

‘Sedna’ is up next. Instead of a carbon copy of the opener we’re given time to catch our breath and take a look at our surroundings. Instead of the claustrophobic opener we are greeted with space. Paul’s guitar work is mostly chord based here until a solo explodes in the final third. Much like the Coen Brothers film No Country For Old Men the most powerful, and grisly, moment happens at the beginning. For the rest of the album, you are wondering if that violent gut punch will return. With each new song you question whether it’ll out-muscle ‘My Blood Runs Through This Land’.

The standout track is ‘Spaces’. It feels like Paul is telling us a story of love, loss and redemption. It’s moving. The music is pretty. Then about halfway through she is accompanied by traditional Native American vocals, and the song goes to another place. There is some fantastic cello work by Lori Goldston, another Pacific Northwest resident. It all makes sense, and the song is the better from the subliminal connection.

Lyrically ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ is as rich, and stark, as the music backing it. The album opens with the lines “I know you’re watching me. I know its hard to meet you”. It sets up an uncomfortable vibe, but later Paul sings “My blood runs through this land / I wanna know what you hear / Thunder in the land and sphere” and you realise she might not be talking about a friend, or lover, but of spirits instead.  

The most heartfelt lyrics feature on ‘Scicud (a narrow place)’. “I see the way you look at me dancing. I see the way you love me, I’m dancing” is something we’ve all experienced but I’ve never heard it summed up so astutely. And this is what Paul does. She uses her words with great care. Never using three when she could use one. This is the same with her guitar playing. For the most part Paul plays chords. Wonderfully open chords that give her graceful voice room to breathe, but when she needs to, she lets rip and unveils these complicated, but captivating, solos and runs. It’s wonderful stuff.

What ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ does so well is blend Katherine Paul’s musical loves. The juxtaposing of post-rock vibes and beautiful pop vocals, and harmonies, is where the album excels. Heavy, chugging guitars and ethereal vocals is the order of the day. ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ is the finest thing Paul has released as this point in her career. The music is heartfelt but not claggy. If generally moves, you by its simplicity but at the same time it has an underlying level of complexity to it. After listening to Paul’s music, I selfishly want more. To see where she goes next. But ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ is an album to savour, to go back to again and again to either get a greater understanding of what she is imparting and to find a new melody you missed the last time. 


Words: Nick Roseblade

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