“The Land, The Water, The Sky” is a force of nature


courtesy of Katherine Paul

Singer Katherine Paul’s third album is an immersive exploration of her home and community.

Indra Deshmukh, Copy Editor

Black Belt Eagle Scout melds genres and cultures in her poignant, immersive album, “The Land, The Water, The Sky,” released Feb.10.

Black Belt Eagle Scout is the stage name of singer-songwriter Katherine Paul, a multi-instrumentalist and self-described “Indigenous queer feminist”. Paul, who is Swinomish and Iñupiaq, grew up in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, where she enjoyed traditional Native American music and was a jingle dress dancer at pow wows. As a teenager, Paul was drawn to the riot grrrl and alternative rock scene. She taught herself drums and guitar, moved to Portland, forged her career as a musician and released two albums. When the pandemic hit, Paul craved a sense of community and found herself returning to her childhood home. “The Land, The Water, The Sky” is her reflection on that journey and on her ties to her culture and family.

Paul has never shied away from exploring her identity through songwriting. Her dizzy, dreamy instrumentals fuse grunge, alternative rock and Indigenous influences, building a uniquely mesmerizing sound.

The album opens with the striking, heady rhythm of “My Blood Runs Through This Land.” Paul’s lyrical voice stands out against the defiant guitar, proudly proclaiming her love for her home: “Find it in the land and sea / I feel it like no other being / My connection to this land.” It’s the rush of being embraced by your surroundings, feeling like one with them, that acts as a guiding theme for the rest of the album. Notably, Paul always uses the intimate “you” in reference to the land, depicting it with as much humanity as any friend or family member.

It’s the rush of being embraced by your surroundings, feeling like one with them, that acts as a guiding theme for the rest of the album.

While “My Blood Runs Through This Land” is ruled by instrumentals, “Sedna” is where Paul’s ethereal, whispery vocals come to the forefront. The song’s title comes from the Inuit goddess of the sea, who sinks to the bottom of the ocean at the end of her tragic life. Woozy and atmospheric, “Sedna” mixes hope and melancholy as Paul discusses fighting for a place on the verge of being destroyed: “Look in your eyes / See you alive / Long goodbye.” 

Paul has an incredible talent for painting lush settings with both lyrics and sounds. Listening to this album, you are watching multicolored salmon swim downriver (“Salmon Stinta”), you are wandering through the forest (“Treeline”), you are knee-deep in the ocean with saltwater on your skin (“On the River”). Each song is a miniature portal, transporting you to Paul’s poetic world. 

No track embodies that sense of location like “Blue”, which was inspired by a moment where Paul looked out at the islands on her reservation and contemplated her grandmother doing the same, years before. Though the song begins with an outpouring of loneliness, Paul describes finding a feeling of solace in knowing that her family is linked through generations of love for the same land.

The name “Sčičudz (a narrow place)” refers to the Sčičudz trail along the Pacific Ocean. In this track, Paul takes us on a walk down this forested path, her love for her surroundings obvious with every beat of the drum. “I know it’s like a part of me is you,” she sings, and this is the essence of the album – each richly storied location is so intertwined with Paul’s identity that she couldn’t be herself without them. As she walks us through her lands, it’s a journey through her life as well.

The forest setting continues in “Treeline”, a haunting song punctuated by instrumentals reminiscent of wind through the trees. Pensive and dark, “Treeline” is defined by regret and what-ifs – “I wish I would’ve told on you / So I wouldn’t be on fire”, Paul intimately sings.

But where “Treeline” is somber, “Understanding” acts as a surge of hope. Paul is deeply vulnerable on this track, with a confession of her struggle with self-love that flourishes into powerful, cathartic instrumentals. It shines with optimism.

“Don’t Give Up” is the album’s swooping culmination, a quiet declaration of strength and confidence. Paul ties the album’s central discussion of self-discovery and intergenerational support together, singing, “I don’t give up / I was only seventeen / I was only seventy.” The song closes with a tribute to Paul’s inspiration – “The land, the water, the sky”, she repeats as the music surges around her.

The album description on Paul’s website reads, “When you stand on ancestral lands, it is impossible to be alone. You feel the arms and hands that hold you up, unwilling to let you fall into sorrow or abandonment.” With “The Land, The Water, The Sky”, Paul gives back to her home in a torrent of affection that will leave listeners wonderstruck.