Friday, December 10th, 2021

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson – OK Indicts

Next up, a Canadian Indigenous folk artist, poet and scholar, and we’re impressed by all three…


Dorian Sinclair: 2021 has been a long and hard year to be an Indigenous person. Our sovereignty is constantly challenged, our communities under existential threat due both to climate change and the actions of colonial governments. Thank god for Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Her academic work on Indigenous resurgence has been hugely influential on me for years, with As We Have Always Done in particular blowing my mind this summer, but she’s a polymath in the truest sense: a brilliant storyteller, theorist, poet — and musician. Her songs are poems in the most literal sense, often set to music after the fact, but no less impactful for that. On “OK Indicts”, the instrumental is spare: thrumming guitar and bass, chiming piano, and under it all the whisper of creaking ice. Against this backdrop, Simpson sings of dissolution. So much of the language of this song speaks to the coming-apart I think a lot of Indigenous people feel, the steady dismantling of the world by capitalism’s grinding force. But there’s resistance too, which is important: “sav[ing] shards of hope” and “sing[ing] like thunder, spill[ing] anger like rain”. In the end, we’re told not to mourn, and even the repeated refrain that “the sky is falling up” comes to feel like an expansion, like an opening of possibilities.

Alfred Soto: I don’t know whether this noted scholar is more at home writing than composing, but as music “OK Indicts” grabbed my attention with its basic guitar figure and background keyboard. At the center stands the singer, dropping one metaphor of collapse and decay after another.

Iain Mew: All of the ice, bone, and shards of hope are perfectly matched in sound and in affect. Each line comes in jagged and cold, and with enough space for it to never settle into routine. 

Oliver Maier: The economical turns of phrase and sirenlike piano chords on “OK Indicts” allow Simpson to convey urgency without lapsing into heavy-handedness. Her voice, implacable throughout the crescendoing arrangement, is like a lighthouse in a blizzard.

Ian Mathers: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson grew up in Wingham, Ontario. Well, that’s what we call it now. Wingham is known, regionally at least, for having one of the earliest community radio stations in the region. Growing up, CKNX from Wingham was pretty much the only radio station we could get when driving around aside from the CBC; I lived in the next county over, in Kincardine. Betasamosake Simpson is about a decade older than I am, and we both went to the same university (Guelph) for our undergraduate degrees. I didn’t know any of that the first, say, six times I listened to “OK Indicts”, so I know it’s not just (just?) any of that context that makes it resonate so much with me. Maybe I should say that makes it score such a palpable hit on me — I was already thinking about how different our experiences of this thing we call a country must have been.

Juana Giaimo: I wish the song developed other sections or maybe just other interactions between instruments, because as the low strumming of the guitar and that tinkling keyboard note repeat throughout the whole song, the tension they have at the beginning dissipates into sounds we quickly get used to.

Nortey Dowuona: The guitar played under Leanne’s threadbare voice is a lot wider than the mix allows it to be, and so is the piano. They’re shifted lower and lower, the bass and drums occasionally yelping from the basement and freaking out the fuzzy backup echoes who don’t know at what time they’re supposed to join in. Leanne, however, can’t pay attention to the heavy cement mixer that’s drowning every instrument and background echo as she mourns the tearing bonds that have filled her lungs and ripped her coat so much it can no longer hold in the warmth needed to keep her alive. She cries out, her voice nearly swallowed by concrete, then falls silent.

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A perfectly executed instrumental crescendo, built around a beautifully steely guitar. Everything starts where it should, growing in scale as the unease of the lyrics digs deeper into your chest, letting the song breathe exactly when it needs to, then hitting like a hammer shattering a crystalline silence. 

Katherine St Asaph: Folk music that reminds me I do in fact like folk music — just the kind with stakes, melody as defiance, roaring force beyond the individual, not the lowkey millennial ennui of [NAMES REDACTED TO MINIMIZE BEEFS]. The lyrics to “OK Indicts” are precise without being self-indulgent — “skin departing bone,” “archiving blindness in meticulous ways” — and flow naturally from the meter rather than being imposed on it, like individual currents. (“Sky blue coat” is the only exception, but one exception per song is already upper-percentiles.) The grief and fury are an elemental engine for a track that’s heavily produced for the genre. On a lesser song those piano chimes would suggest a 1997 major-label alt rock deal; here they sound like lights extinguishing.

Scott Mildenhall: It’s probably not what she intended, but Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s plaintive, breathy ruminations would make for a great Chemical Brothers remix. The spartan dynamics of her indelible melodies work well enough, but just imagine her going “the sky is falling up” again and again as a destructively obtrusive beat built behind her. If anything, it would maintain the mood: impassively ravaged.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: All folk music is fundamentally about haunting, about the song as the ghost of a long lineage of singers, but rarely does this feel as overt as on “OK Indicts.” The song form itself is bare to the point of becoming something hypnotic — that single guitar figure has etched itself into my mind by now — and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s poem-lyric has a similar looping quality, less choruses and verses and more a series of refrains, continually intermixed and repeated. It’s a song with a deep commitment to survivance, of building meaning out of destruction and loss without letting that loss overtake you.

Reader average: No votes yet!

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

One Response to “Leanne Betasamosake Simpson – OK Indicts”

  1. Once again, I did not expect to be the lowest score here. Sorry everyone for lowering the score!

Leave a Reply