Album Review :: Well Sister :: Katabasis

by Alexandra Thole

With a soft peel into the bustling Winnipeg music scene, alt-folk project Well Sister has been releasing regularly since 2020 after her EP Sacred Sites came out in 2015. Katabasis is Jaymie Von Riesen’s first full-length album as her music project Well Sister. 

Katabasis is a sober recollection of Riesen’s struggle with OCD and living to tell the story. Recorded near Riding Mountain National Park for a clear stream of thought, Riesen stayed with friends Eric Roberts and Natalie Bohrn (who make up the band Slow Spirit,) in a safe “cat-cuddling” and “pizza making” environment. Instruments like the saxophone, the harp, and a compelling upright bass appearance, Katabasis is everything and all of what you would expect from musical geniuses in the woods picking each other’s brains.

This album encapsulates the descent and triumph of dark thoughts (even though recovery isn’t a linear thing.) In her track “Companions,” a euphonious track blend accompanies lyrics like, “Please don’t stop, even though all hope seems lost, these days will pass, and while we wait in liminal space.” A hard-hitting line for many people who have dealt with the rattling types of mental illnesses that try to shoot you down and try to halt your growth.

“Cut The Grapevine” is a dreary, confounded cry for clarity on personal growth–and the things you have to do to achieve it. “If we cut the grapevine, will there be a fuller life? Will the death be worthwhile?” Musings of Riesen jump through the song and hold your attention hostage with the intentionally placed raw words, begging for personal translation.

Riesen’s voice in this, though gentle, is all-encapsulating. From kind prose to jazzy saxophone, it is sinful to stop listening mid-album. Katabasis is a transformative view of mental illness, guaranteed a quizzical experience – and will leave everybody turning the volume up a little more.

For fans of: Leonard Cohen, Royal Canoe, Mazzy Star.

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