Black Belt Eagle Scout, the project of songwriter and instrumentalist Katherine Paul, is built upon the singular narrative of Paul as a queer, Indigenous woman. Her sophomore release, At the Party With My Brown Friends, weaves Paul’s emotions deeper into the fabric of her narrative, more so than her previous releases, drawing the listener into her world and imbuing them with the love and strength that her music inherently conveys.
Katherine Paul grew up on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in northwest Washington, learning to play piano, guitar, and drums, taking inspiration from everything from Nirvana and Hole to the Native chants she heard around her. This comes through in the mix of guttural percussion, visceral vocals, and fiery guitars speckled across the album. Paul establishes herself as a virtuoso when it comes to guitar and production, using intermingling synths, drum beats, and guitar to comfort the listener, wrapping them in the sound.
This music feels like it not only comes from deep within Paul, but deep within the earth, organic and devastating. “At the Party,” the title track, exemplifies this with the stable fingerpicking that lies underneath the entire song, built upon with Paul’s musings on the nature of her reality, erupting into sheer melody coalescing with airy synths.
At the Party is centered around love in all it forms, from the gentleness of friendship to the desperation in romantic desire. On “Going to the Beach With Haley,” about her close friend and fellow musician Haley Heynderickx, Paul pares down the production to the sounds of waves and a tinny drum pattern. Nevertheless, it enters into the same space her songs typically thrive in, surrounded by sound, just as in the song “Half Colored Hair.”
But instead of conveying the contentment in being with a friend, “Half Colored Hair” uses the same tools to strike a fire. “How you look at me/ In the brightness of your room/ Imagine what it's like to wake up every day/ Here in the bay/ A time untouched” sings Paul, expressing the possibility of forever, but also hinting at the relationship’s near end, burning brightly but quickly. “Real Lovin” expresses this same intense passion, with the tenderness in its description of a scene that could be found in a Big Thief song.
The album’s closer, “You’re Me and I’m You,” turns the lens to examine the relationship between mother and daughter in much the same way Lucy Dacus’ “My Mother and I” does, but extends that relationship to our communities and our planet. Paul writes in a press release, “‘You’re Me and I’m You’ is about being one with your mother, since we all were a part of their bodies at one point. It’s me trying to explore who she is and who I am with my love for people.”
Black Belt Eagle Scout’s songs follow a similar pattern each time, but that pattern is sturdy and well worn. Paul’s music is carefully balanced, committed to each pluck of a string just as each word is heavily weighed. Her songs are spiritual in the sense that they feel ethereal, connected to something deeper, whether it’s the bonds we form with others or the way we experience the world around us.
Black Belt Eagle Scout will be playing at Union Transfer on Dec. 8, opening for Devendra Banhart. More info can be found on her website.