iskwē Swaps Out Electro-Pop Immediacy for Orchestral Haunt on 'The Stars' EP

iskwē Swaps Out Electro-Pop Immediacy for Orchestral Haunt on 'The Stars' EP
You'd be wrong if you thought iskwē's acākosīk couldn't get better. If the Juno-nominated album can be likened to a beautifully destructive storm, then the new The Stars EP, an orchestral reimagining of the electro-pop album, is like a steadily persistent downpour. Maintaining the urgency of acākosīk, The Stars is a pared-down but endlessly nuanced sequel that puts iskwē's voice front and centre, making for a comforting but cathartic experience.

The Stars contains a great many mystifying and satisfying contradictions. It seems effortlessly assembled but it's also grand and cinematic. Compared to the resounding energy of acākosīk, The Stars has been reined in, relying primarily on piano, cello and violin to support iskwē's vocals. Expertly arranged and pitch-perfect, the symphonic feel of The Stars is complicated and thereby made interesting by its intimacy: listening to the EP is like experiencing a casual, spur-of-the moment performance, so unmediated it is, so haphazardly perfect. Couched in the satiny strings and percussion, iskwē's voice contains its idiosyncratic alacrity, making for an overall atmosphere that's soothing but also bleeding.
The new "Lovers Mix" of "Night Danger" augments the original version's leathery and sexy ambience with the feel of fatal tragedy that only strings can. The violin on this track is, in turn, airy and spry, wailing and melodramatic. If the acākosīk version highlighted the delicious and lustfully dizzy aspect of falling in love, then this iteration focuses in on the knowing part of falling in love; it is tear-soaked and conveys the knowledge that everything can so easily, swiftly fall apart. 

But the true star of The Stars is its version of "The Unforgotten," which is a sublime showcase of the mighty force that is iskwē's voice in an EP that already shows us what a gem it is. A communal song reminding us of Canada's insidious racism, the original, Tanya Tagaq-featuring version is absolutely caustic, but The Stars' iteration takes on a soft, sombre urgency. The piano and violin come together in a curious but ultimately amazing way on this track: despite their mightiness, they hush as iskwē lets her inimitably strong vocals tell a story whose lessons the world needs to keep hearing.  

This commingling of delicacy with dire knowingness undergirds The Stars. That these tracks can exist outside of the industrial dressings of acākosīk — and stunningly, at that — is a testament to iskwē's triumph firstly as an artist, and secondly as a storyteller weaving tales with a soul, stories that are simultaneously old and new. (Independent)