Sister Ray's 'Communion' Is a Riveting, Reflective Debut
Published May 11, 2022As we grow, our identities and perspectives can change, but pieces of each meaningful stage of our lives are forever carried with us. These defining moments can be both joyous or traumatic, and often out of our control, but learning to embrace the past so that we can carry on stronger is crucial.
Born and raised in Edmonton and currently based in Toronto, Ella Coyes writes about their struggle with identity by dismantling feelings of insecurity and slowly rebuilding them into something they can control. On Communion, their stunning debut album as Sister Ray, Coyes wonders if our experiences are entirely personal or if they are byproducts of a larger story based around our surroundings and communities.
On "Good News," Coyes recalls brief occurrences of anguish surrounding their family's Métis background, loosely sketched out while muted acoustic guitar strums channel this vulnerable energy into something that sounds lighter and more cheerful than its somber subject matter. Communion consistently questions internal guilt: in the repetition of "do I seek justice or merely my own comfort?" that Coyes reflects upon on "Justice," or their admission, "I was inconsiderate at best / I was just looking for power then" on "Power." Coyes' vocals are raw — yet soaring and elegant — as they pull you in to say something heartbreaking in an unflinching and direct way, attempting to firmly take hold of the grief and shake it out.
Communion is also a breakup album, but it's about the context of life's events leading up to that point, and an examination of how the choices we've made will affect our future. "Reputations" is a driving folk song with an affirming strut as Coyes sharply asks, "You always said you'd give me something to sing about / Was that a promise or a threat?" as they come to terms with beginning a new chapter without this person. On "Crucified," Coyes moulds a spacious, lush atmosphere with their sparse guitar playing – inwardly gentle and impossibly arresting as its naked tones reverberate uninterrupted, like a tender wave of warmth over the song's theme of self-doubt. In contrast, radiant guitars dance playfully around a slick drumbeat and Coyes' matter-of-fact poetic delivery on "Visions."
As Sister Ray, Coyes spent several of their formative years playing countless solo shows in Edmonton, awing audiences with their rawness and quivering openness about trauma and heartbreak. Years of growth and lived experience have soaked into Communion, giving it a wise and witty tone, as riveting as it is poignant, distilled impressively on Sister Ray's first studio release.
Communion sounds like we are staying up late with Coyes, lying in bed thinking about regrets and shitty choices we hang up on, blankly staring at the "stars on your ceiling." Similar to likeminded singer-songwriters like Julien Baker or Adrianne Lenker, Sister Ray is the kind of artist that can silence a crowded room. On Communion's opening song "Violence," Coyes asks, "are you hearing the silence?" Sometimes the silence is apathy, but sometimes it is a small, unspoken gesture of support – and that means everything. (Royal Mountain Records)