Published Jun 16, 2020The opener on Zoon's debut album, Bleached Wavves, sounds like a familiar shoegaze prologue. Titled "Cloud Formations," it sounds like something My Bloody Valentine or Lilys might have come up with, with hypnotically swirling, textured guitars that meet and diverge in blissful dissonance.
While Bleached Wavves continues the path set out in its intro — featuring textured guitars that glide and crash in a collage of reverb and delay effects — it also blazes new trails in shoegaze, particularly in the way it implements sounds from traditional First Nations music, an inventive mixture Daniel Monkman cheekily calls "moccasin-gaze."
The most ambitious example of this mixture comes on "Was & Always Will Be," which features a layered, gauzy hum, jingly percussion, resonant drums, and voices singing in refrain — a breathtaking kaleidoscope of sound that uses shoegaze's blueprint for something totally new.
Because Monkman's influences are wide, the sounds on Bleached Wavves are varied, but never beyond cohesion. On the title track, guitars whirr and pulse, recalling MBV, and on "Light Prism," they plink and wail, like something off a Slowdive record. The influence is clear, but it's not distracting: both tracks feel like astute observations of the genre, honing in on its elements to subtly evoke nostalgia, longing and hope.
Bleached Wavves is rich with emotion, offering a nuanced account of Monkman's own journey of pain, sobriety and healing. Much of this journey is implied even in the band's name, which is derived from the Ojibwe word Zoongide'ewin, meaning "bravery," "courage" and "the Bear Spirit."
On "Infinite Horizons," as drums echo, collaborator Jesse Davidson says, "This is my attempt to reveal our truth in your language," before describing how he understands his past pain as strength: "strength of oneself, strength in numbers, strength to protect my people and our future from the pain your ancestors cut into our DNA. With one last journey into the sun let the fire be the ritual. Cleanse my spirit from this underserving pain."
The standout closer, "Help Me Understand," whirls with a haze of guitars and thrumming traditional drums, creating an expansive, looping soundscape that seems to transcend shoegaze. Like much of Bleached Wavves, it's intricate and subtle, familiar yet inventive, and rich with layers of life and sound. Zoon's debut album is nothing short of remarkable.