The first words on X Marks The Swirl, the new full-length from Vancouver, British Columbia-based queer Filipinx artist-MC Kimmortal, are a mantra: “I am made of stars,” Kimmortal intones, repeating the phrase on each go-round of the chorus to album-opener “Stars.” The song doesn’t start with these words, though. It starts with the sound of water flowing—calm and steady and swift. It is the sound of water running through unsurrendered Coast Salish land—land on which settler Vancouver now sits, and where Kimmortal lives and works.
Her new record reckons with these facts, and works as a road map for understanding the plurality of identities the land contains. The record’s title plays with the notion of a static endgame, flipping the traditional “X marks the spot” into something less stable and essential. Kimmortal made the record as part of a process of growth, learning, and unlearning. The final product is a careful, eclectic, and community-minded collection of electronic pop, hip-hop, and soul songs that are, like the many voices and creators present on the record, committed to a radical restructuring of settler states.
X Marks The Swirl arrives five years after Kimmortal’s Sincerity, which was a contemplative, serene acoustic endeavor. The years that followed Sincerity were marked by intense growth; as Kimmortal entered her early 30s, she decided to step more fully into her work as a musician. “Almost every year, I had to decide, ‘OK, I’m doing this on purpose. I’m going to be intentional about pursuing music as a career,’” she says. She began learning to produce her own beats and speak in musical terms. When she started working with producer David Tallarico on X, that knowledge allowed the two of them to communicate and create on equal footing with one another.
That tightly controlled production environment was key to making a record as structurally and conceptually ambitious as X; Kimmortal’s musical knowledge means that her vision is present not just in every word, but also in every sample and note. “It really allowed for my words to sit in a certain way, and to find a home in the tracks and the music,” she says. “With music, you can orchestrate tones and emotions. I really wanted that to come through, and to marry that with my words.”
That intention extends to Kimmortal’s collaborators on the record, which include Nuxalk/Onondaga rapper JB the First Lady, Stō:lo/St’át’imc multimedia artist Ostwelve, MCs Jillthy and Missy D, and rapper Khingz. All of them belong to Vancouver’s grassroots artist-activist community; two years ago, Kimmortal, Missy D, and JB the First Lady formed a collective called 333, which embodies the change they want to see in their surroundings.
“I wanted to celebrate my community,” she says. “I’m so proud of the people around me. I’m really moved by artists around me that are speaking honestly from their perspective. There’s power in decentering the narratives that we’ve been consuming for so long. When we’re doing that on purpose, it’s essential for us to know where we are on the map, who we are on the map, [and] also to be honest about our privileges. I hope this album opens up conversations because there’s a lot of power in that, when we’re activating through conversations, through movement, through whatever it is what makes us feel engaged.”
Though X is explicit in its sociopolitical concerns, Kimmortal says that overt messaging isn’t always necessary. “Sometimes we don’t need to have a whole speech or have a perfect analysis of how this system is so broken,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just about us shining together.”
“Stars” reflects Kimmortal’s commitment to togetherness in that repeated mantra: “I am made of stars.” The words gain added power by the careful, relational emphasis Kimmortal places on her words. “I think I’m always trying to break down how things are said, and I’m trying to do that because I want to find myself in things. As an artist, I find that imperative to feeling like I’m engaged.”
Much of X is written, sung, and spoken in an intentional dialect and rooted in a radical decolonizing politic. Over the corroded, saccharine slink of xylophone on “Sad Femme Club,” Kimmortal speaks directly to her listener: “Welcome to the sad femme club / Baby, you are enough.” Tender, spoken word interludes, which are spread across the record and bridge the space between tracks, are accompanied by kulintang drums played by musicians Babette and Corrine from Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society. “I wanted to assert my voice in it, my personal story,” says Kimmortal. The interlude at the end of “Ice Palaces” is personal, describing her identity and relation to her surroundings: “I’m an uninvited guest from an archipelago,” she says in staccato eighth-notes. Following “Longing” is a poem/prayer dedicated to Kimmortal’s grandma.
At the end of album closer “Submerged” comes another prayer, this time for Kimmortal’s community: “Dear goddess, keep me woke to a movement bigger than my own / May my ‘sorry’s not come out unless I commit to action / May I learn what it means to love in abundance / We are the ones we have been waiting for.” The album ends as it began: from the land, with listeners carried off on the healing, bubbling sounds of Coast Salish waters.