The early months of the COVID pandemic left many of us settling into wherever we happened to be living, but Katherine Paul, who makes music as Black Belt Eagle Scout, hit the road. Journeying from Portland, Oregon, north to the Swimonish Indian Tribal Community on Washington’s Puget Sound, Paul returned to the home of her youth. Full of cedar trees and ever-present rivulets of fog, Swimonish was a sacred refuge for her, jewel-like and precious. But Paul’s return to her ancestral homeland came with many dualities: joy and grief, gratitude and sorrow, comfort and yearning. Those experiences inform her new third album, The Land, the Water, the Sky. Opening track “My Blood Runs Through This Land” crackles like leaves underfoot with a swampy, reverberating guitar line that pays homage to Paul’s Pacific Northwest heroes Nirvana and Hole. Her layered vocal tracks tangle into a grunge-fueled morass, culminating in a climax of cinematic proportions. “Sedna” reimagines the origin story of the Inuit sea god of the same name, while “Nobody”—a critique of the lack of Native representation in pop culture—rings with the sweet refrain, “Nobody sang it for me like I wanna sing it to you.”
Much of The Land is a gracious tribute to Paul’s ancestors, but she also makes room for kinships beyond blood. The lulling “Salmon Stinta” features a vocal cameo from Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie and the Microphones, who was married to Paul’s late mentor, artist and musician Geneviève Castrée. Though The Land offers a glimpse of Paul’s rich inner life, it’s as much a sonic trek through the generations and age-old traditions that reverberate in her bones. Listening to The Land feels like viewing the world through Paul’s eyes—an experience that’s wrenching but nevertheless beautiful.
Black Belt Eagle Scout’s The Land, The Water, The Sky is available through Bandcamp.