Review | Tanya Tagaq

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Tanya Tagaq, Retribution, Six Shooter Records

Inuit Canadian throat-singing artist, Tanya Tagaq, first achieved wide recognition for her work on Bjork‘s 2004 album, Medúlla, leading to eventual collaborations with Kronos Quartet and Shooglenifty. Her follow up record to 2014’s Animism sees the artist setting her sights on a world in ecological peril – drawing connections with women’s and indigenous peoples’ rights. More aggressive than the blackest death metal, it is a challenging listen from start to finish and makes zero compromises – with nary a trigger warning in sight.

‘Ajaja’ features feral child vocalizations set against an ambient soundscape, setting the unsettling mood of the album. Title track, ‘Retribution’, is more of an incantation than a song proper that shares a similar sensibility to ANOHNI‘s ecofeminism from her own debut record earlier this year as well as Yoko Ono‘s vocal performativity. Tagaq conjures the earth having her revenge on the toxic men who rape her.

Tagaq has made it clear on no uncertain terms that Retribution is about rape: the rape of the land, women and children in particular. Album closer, a cover of Nirvana‘s ‘Rape Me’ is quite possibly one of the strongest covers of that band’s work to date. Tagaq turns the song into something entirely original and singularly her own.

Tagaq herself is a survivor of Canada’s infamous genocidal Residential School System – a woefully under known chapter in Canadian history, and she has courageously risen from its tyranny to launch a very personal and very political battle cry. Militaristic boots march in and out of focus throughout the record, riffing on the toxic, militaristic death grip that has taken over the planet.

‘Centre’ – featuring MC Shad – offers up a surprising sound shift that manages to feel effortlessly logical in a way that few could pull off. Paired with a hip hop beat and solid percussion, Shad and Tagaq marry the urban and the indigenous, creating deeply resonant commonalities. ‘Cold’ – a meditation on global warming and the destruction of arctic ecology – features spoken word by Tagaq explaining the changing of ice into water, concluding that Gaia will have revenge because “Gaia likes it cold.”

On muscular tracks such as the drone-heavy ‘Nacreous’ and seething ‘Sulfur’, violinist Jesse Zubot paired with the equally adept percussionist, Jean Martin, create terrifyingly visceral soundscapes that could easily outdo any cutting edge psych-horror film to date. Except this horror show seeks to vindicate the suffering soil, intersecting with the consistent smites against marginalized identities.

Perhaps the most contemporarily resonant album of 2016 – when now more than ever before lines are being drawn and the land is being fought for tooth and nail – Tanya Tagaq has created a singular army of wise ones out to exorcise each demon from the soil, one by one.

Megan Beard

Live Tour Dates:

25 Nov Trinity St. Paul’s Church Toronto, Ontario

26 Nov National Arts Centre Ottawa, Ontario

20 Jan Recyclart Brussels, Belgium

21 Jan 4AD Diksmuide, Belgium

23 Jan Howard Assembly Rooms Leeds, UK

24 Jan Cafe OTO London, UK

26 Jan Corsica Studios London, UK

28 Jan Hau1 Berlin, Germany

28 – 29 Jan CTM Festival Berlin, Germany

4 Mar Roy Thomson Hall Toronto, Ontario

9 Mar Lincoln Center New York, NY

13 Mar Martha’s Vineyard

Performing Arts Center Martha’s Vineyard, MA

4 May Partridge Hall St. Catharines, Ontario

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