Album Review: “At the Party with My Brown Friends” is a lyrical study of love in all forms
Music and Society Editor
“The personal is political.”
These four words serve as the mantra of feminism, beginning with its radical second-wave in the 1960s. Concise and simplistic, the phrase illuminates the greater socio-political implications of daily life, acknowledging the power of shared experience.
For singer-songwriter Katherine Paul, who performs under the name Black Belt Eagle Scout, communicating and exploring the beautiful intimacy of commonality is a source of enlightenment and inspiration in her art. On her second album, “At the Party with My Brown Friends,” Paul is infatuated with dreams, sensory experiences and the profundity of human connection in all forms.
Spending her formative years living on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in Washington state, Paul grew up a part of a tight-knit Native American community and defines herself as a “radical indigenous queer feminist.” The opening track of her new album, “At the Party,” is an anthemic declaration of her community’s resilience to overcome the inevitable questioning of legitimacy and their own reality due to pressures from the outside world. Her realization of the influence of communal strength as a defining aspect of her identity is carried with her on the rest of “At the Party with My Brown Friends” as she reflects on other instances of love.
“Going to the Beach with Haley” is a rumination about shared presence and a moment of fully realizing oneself in the company of another. Written about a day spent with fellow musician and friend Haley Heynderickx at the beach, Paul’s fuzzy guitar mixed with her signature reverb-soaked fingerpicking captures the melancholy and beauty of her friend’s life-force melding with her own.
The theme of shared and melding identities is continued on the song “You’re Me and I’m You.” Paul reflects on the unparalleled connection between mother and daughter. Their physical bond through birth as well as their spiritual and cultural roots are intensified to the point that they fully see themselves in one another. The acoustic guitar and soft, repeated vocals liken the song to a prayer or a chant, serving a higher purpose.
On the rest of the album’s songs, Paul explores the nuances and complex beauty of romantic love, remembering and reflecting on the women who have come in and out of her life. She approaches these themes lyrically but sonically she makes an even greater statement.
A glittery chorus-effect on the guitar riff in “My Heart Dreams” mimics the tingles of desire that run through us as we fall in love. Tonally, the song conveys the jubilation and preoccupation of infatuation, leading to the very questioning of individualized self. Similarly, the shoegaze drone of the background guitar in “Run It to Ya” speaks to the ever-present desire to please significant others and our tendency to block out the rest of the world to focus on love.
“Half Colored Hair” is the summation of the album’s ideas and the standout track. It uses sensory lyrical appeals — “How you look at me/ In the brightness of your room/ Imagine the lightness of my fingers on your face” — to illustrate the painstaking details of an intimate scene. The song speaks to our tendency to attach ourselves to and value miniscule parts of those we love, using these details to construct our narratives of them. In memory, we recognize transience but still savor its beauty. Paul’s soft voice along with washes of cymbals and synths suggest the lapping of waves, an effect that mirrors the ebb and flow of time.
“At the Party with My Brown Friends” is a meandering work that relies more on recurring lyrical themes and a grand, gigantic sound to convey its emotional core rather than settling for cheap hooks or pop appeal. Its personal nature gives it an intimacy and subtle beauty that will likely make it an album to be savored individually, but also shared with those we love the most.