Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a prodigiously talented Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg singer-songwriter, teacher, and author who explores decolonization and Indigenous resurgence in her fiction and nonfiction books, poetry, and music. For her fourth album, Theory of Ice, Simpson reworked some of her poems into songs, collaborating on the music with bandmates Ansley Simpson and Nick Ferrio and producers Jonas Bonnetta and Jim Bryson. The results are dazzling. Ice, water, and snow melting or freezing are potent metaphors for change and transformation, whether in song titles like “Viscosity” and “Surface Tension”—on which the Weakerthans’ John K. Samson contributes backing vocals—or in vivid images of frozen lakes, rivers moving in one direction, frozen waves, shards of hope, and drops of light. Simpson delivers her powerful and beautifully articulated messages about pain, anger, and forgiveness with a calm, gentle voice, sometimes singing and sometimes softly speaking. Backing her is a mix of vocal harmonies, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, and understated percussion that’s perfectly calibrated to surround and enhance her vocals. A devastatingly beautiful cover of “I Pity the Country,” by the late and underappreciated Indigenous singer-songwriter Willie Dunn, sets his lyrics about the exploitation and brutalization of First Nations peoples against a hypnotic, dreamy backdrop of guitar and drums that evokes the Velvet Underground. But the showstopper is the closing track, “Head of the Lake,” set in “the thinking part of the lake,” where “the smoke did the things we couldn’t,” “singing broke open hearts,” and “we made a circle and it helped.” It’s a hopeful ending to a breathtakingly lovely album.


Read Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's story about Jeremy Dutcher from Musicworks 130.