Pow wow singer and Bon Iver collaborator Joe Rainey directs his astonishing voice thru industrial grit, widescreen orchestrals and chaotic DIY synth noise on "Niineta", his debut for Justin Vernon's 37d03d label. Completely singular music.
Rainey was brought up in Minneapolis, with a heritage that links to the Red Lake Ojibwe - an indigenous tribe that has a sovereign state in northern Minnesota. And while he didn't grow up there, he long felt the pull of a culture that at various times has been blotted out by the USA. Rainey has been involved in pow wow singing since he was just five years old, and has performed in bands as well as building up an immense archive of field recordings. 'Niineta' is his debut album, but he's been performing for years - in 2016, he even brought Justin Vernon to tears during a festival show in Wisconsin. It was enough for Vernon to invite Rainey to contribute to his last album, and sign him to the 37d03d he runs with The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner.
The record is an example of how pow wow traditions can be synthesized into different forms without losing their musical core; Rainey's range and vocal style roots the album in tradition, but his production and willingness to experiment fires "Niineta" into the future. With help from Fog's Andrew Broder, Rainey has put together a distorted, abstract backdrop that happily ducks from jagged beatscapes into luscious orchestral cinematics without any unintentional jerkiness. The music is consistent with Rainey's pow wow tradition, but acknowledges decades of music that too often has sat distant. 'b.e. son' loops vocal phrases across each other over blown-out percussion and sweeping strings, and 'easy on the cide' foregrounds a beat that sounds rougher than gravel, Autotuning Rainey's lead vocal and contorting it evocatively.
On 'no chants', a frazzled TR-808 kick booms beneath tape saturated pulses, creating a soundscape that's not a million miles from Kanye West's game-changing "Yeezus" - but this isn't homage, Rainey uses the distortion to hint at darker elements, a disturbance in his culture that's violent, deafening and charged with emotion. The album's lengthy finale 'phil's offering' is also its most impressive, building slowly over looped crackle that gives a rhythmic click to Rainey's unforgettable vocal performance - eventually the track disappears into an industrial blur as processed field recordings reveal Rainey's heritage. Trust us, this ain't like anything you've heard before.