Big Pharma by Zoon Album Review by Leslie Ken Chu. The band's new album is now available via Paper Bag Records and DSPs


Big Pharma


Read, watch, or listen to any coverage of Zoon, aka Daniel Monkman, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear their music referred to as “moccasin gaze.” If it wasn’t already time to ditch the term—it was a throwaway descriptor they jokingly used in an interview once—it certainly is now with the arrival of the Toronto-based Anishinaabe artist’s genre agnostic new EP, Big Pharma.

The EP is a firm indictment of an industry that puts profits over people, the consequences of which Monkman has witnessed firsthand. Growing up in the small town of Selkirk, Manitoba, they were surrounded by addiction and the loss of human life from overdoses. Monkman themselves stepped away from music for eight years due to their own struggles with substance use. Discovering the Seven Grandfathers, a collection of teachings rooted in Potawatomi and Ojibwe tradition that demonstrate what it means to live a good life, Monkman set upon a path towards recovery.

As Monkman explains, healing is a pillar of Indigenous tradition as well as their own message as an artist. Big pharma, then, stands directly opposed to that tradition and Monkman’s mission. Encouragingly, Monkman doesn’t stand alone on Big Pharma. They’ve enlisted a formidable cast of collaborators, one for each of the EP’s five tracks.

On Big Pharma, Monkman scales back the layers of chopped, looped, and distorted guitar and electronic effects that submerged listeners on Zoon’s breakthrough album, 2020’s Bleached Wavves. But Big Pharma has its own immersive, abstracted moments. Vaporous guitars and keys wash out Cadence Weapon‘s placid raps on “Oil pastel/Dope sick.” “Wanna conquer the world / They don’t care about the climate / Their ways is toxic / Ain’t got no conscience,” Cadence Weapon accuses, a charge that applies to a litany of bad faith actors. And “Oopeeum”’s guest, mystical folk artist Jasmine Trails, is no stranger to dreamy soundscapes; she with her airy voice, she adds vocal ambience to “Oopeeum,” making it one of Big Pharma’s most textured songs. Like much of Zoon’s music, the drifting “Oopeeum” is anchored by the steady beat of weighty drums.

Musically, Big Pharma also features some of Zoon’s most beautiful, peaceful songs, like the tranquil “Astum” featuring Nishnaabeg academic, author, musician, and poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. An acoustic note-picked melody flows like a stream on Sunnsetter guest spot “Red river.” Grammy-nominated composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Peter Olsen graces “Rain in a new city,” a song that throws back to Do Make Say Think at the Canadian post-rock titans’ most serene. And like those moments, the song conjures images of rain on a tin roof. Lilting, finger-picked guitar notes and distant police or fire truck sirens colour the song with a tinge of melancholy.

Growing up around trauma, Monkman kept to themselves as an adolescent. But they found freedom of expression through music; writing lyrics allowed them to discover their voice. It’s a testament to how confident they’ve grown in themselves that they can now pass the mic to other artists. They can stand on their own, but Big Pharma reaffirms an important truth: that they have the support of their peers if they ever need it.

Order Big Pharma by Zoon HERE


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