The noisy mountain has gone on quite a journey, musically and geographically. WHOOP-Szo has always been a band of two sides—on the one, a gentle folk-oriented band, while on the other, a noisy psych-rock band. Geographically, Adam Sturgeon traveled several provinces to the Arctic, where he ran a screen printing program for Inuit youth. The experiences shaped three albums, the first two released simultaneously.
Niizhwaaswo is the third and final installment documenting WHOOP-Szo’s time in the Arctic, but it’s also technically the first—it was recorded before the band relocated, though it was finished up north. Whereas Qallunaat and Odemin showed the band’s softer side, Niizhwaaswo is a brutal and gentle collage.
As is often the case with great unpredictable music, the two sides of the work are sometimes on their own but often bumping into each in the space of a song. In fact, if you want to be technical about it, there’s almost an even split between the folky and loud sides.
The first three songs on the album are noisy as hell, beginning with “Boat Cave,” the song equivalent of being tossed into white water rapids with no life preserver. A cascade of loud guitar washes over you, as the drums speed and slow down seemingly at random. “CSG” can more easily be categorized in the psych-rock vein and wouldn’t sound out of place on WHOOP-sette while “Myeengun” resumes the brutal noise attack.
As a centrepiece, “Jan. 3rd” is beautiful and signals that this album isn’t all sonic punishment, with picked acoustic guitar, brushed drums and keyboard. “the through window” is also lovely in this way, like gathering in front of a campfire after a long day. There’s also “(ode to) Banjoanie,” a quick instrumental piece performed on the—you guessed it—banjo.
“Niizhwaaswi” is the bastard child of the two sounds of the band, morphing between folk and noise with little to no warning.
WHOOP-Szo’s time in the Arctic seems to have reopened the band’s penchant for introspection, and Niizhwaaswo shows that it’s possible to be brutal and soft at the same time.
Top Tracks: “Jan. 3rd”; “Niizhwaaswi”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)