Gathers together songs of such tremulous pop bravado that, if there’s any justice, should open up the world of Black Belt Eagle Scout to a far wider audience.
At the Party with My Brown Friends, by Black Belt Eagle Scout, the solo project of Katherine Paul, comes hard on the heels of 2018’s Mother of my Children, and it moves beyond the Pacific Northwest-focused sound of her previous work to deliver a tight and coherent collection of songs that is her most satisfying work to date. The sound is still identifiably hers, due not least to the fact that the self-taught multi-instrumentalist handles all musical roles as well as serving as producer. However, there’s a widening of her focus which audible in the ways the songs gather together a range of musical influences whilst speaking always to her Swinomish/Iñupiaq heritage.
Album opener “At the Party” builds a delicious snare and tom rhythm over a strummed guitar (what Paul elsewhere refers to as “quintessential BBES”), leading to Paul’s singing “How is it you’ve suffered through this kind of love?/ It puts you in a dark place, dark place,” her voice managing to be both forceful and delicate throughout.
“Going to the Beach with Haley” starts with the simple Casio drumbeat Paul used in the development of the song with Paul strumming gently through the first verse of the song’s story, noting “You whisper softly/ Even over here, I feel your voice coming through/ I feel what I’m like with you”. Somehow Paul manages to keep the fragility of the first drum-less verse throughout the song so that even after the drums and guitars thunder in for the chorus, her lyrics are clear and the intimacy of her voice is maintained.
“Real Lovin” is a twin for some of Hope Sandoval’s solo work, confessional and tender, frank and prosaic, with Paul singing “I see a real lovin’/ Hearts pumping, palms sweating, dizziness/ And the sheets gleaming from the two of us,” leading to a sing-along chorus where strings swell in the background. “Run it to Ya” brings to mind the guitar sound of any number of Flying Nun bands, held together by a shimmering and reverberating minor chord progression that frames, again, Paul’s breathy phrasing and restrained voice as she sings “When I see you/ And I notice/ What a girl is/ In this moment.”
It’s the small lyrical moments like these that lift these songs from being merely accomplished and push them beyond the ordinary. Paul, a self-described “queer indigenous radical feminist”, writes music that treats her desires, her heritage and her ethnicity as both absolutely normal and as comprehensively at home in the genres she draws from. Instead of foregrounding the issues that are so central to her art, they occur within the songs naturally and are there to be read or not as part and parcel of her practice. The single “My Heart Dreams” makes this clear where the lyrics offer us an insight into the standard love fare of pop music by opening with “Wastin’ this life/ I only want me and you/ I look at this life/ I only want me and you,” while the accompanying music video details Paul encountering the Portland Pride Parade and has Paul’s band played by young Indigenous girls, making clear that the song can be read as a simple love song but contains within it a personal and political significance beyond its glorious pop hook. As a love song, “My Heart Dreams” demonstrates that by treating its love and desires as normal, all love and desire are normal.
Paul writes forcefully that “We are all at the party (the world), trying to navigate ourselves within a good or bad situation. I happen to be at the party with my brown friends- Indigenous, Black, POC who always have my back while we walk throughout this event called life.” At the Party with My Brown Friends gathers together songs of such tremulous pop bravado that, if there’s any justice, should make it the star of any number of film soundtracks, and open up the world of Black Belt Eagle Scout to a far wider audience.