U92 on the Review: Tanya Tagaq’s “Retribution”

November 18, 2016

Originally published in The DA (WVU's student newspaper)


If Inuk-Canadian throat-singer Tanya Tagaq’s last album, “Animism,” was an exploration of the spirits that make up our natural world, her newest release, “Retribution,” chronicles those spirits as they grow increasingly angered by human activity.

Tagaq’s fourth full-length opens with a slow build from the windy sounds of the arctic tundra, centering the listener in her homeland before the voice of a child echoes out, calling us into the song. An Inuit drum beats out the slow pace as a man chants in Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit peoples of northern Canada) what can only be described as a mournful hymn.

The opening track “Ajaaja” transitions into the titular “Retribution” as Tagaq delivers her introductory poetry, “Our mother grows angry. Retribution will be swift. We squander her soil and suck out her sweet, black blood to burn it. We turn money into God and salivate over opportunities to crumple and crinkle our souls for that paper, that gold.”

As the intensity of her delivery builds, we’re introduced to a layer of her signature vocal stylings, somewhere between the snarl of an angry wolf and a seer channeling the beyond in nonexistent tongues.

Unfortunately, “Retribution” is a bit of an early peak for the album. Tagaq’s mangled barking and wailing builds to a righteous fury over the eight minute track, but she never quite hits that peak throughout the rest. Listeners expecting that visceral explosion of sound on each track will be let down as the album moves into more experimental territory.

This is, however, not to say the rest of the LP isn’t incredibly well arranged. Aside from the vocals, Tagaq finds her stride with contemporaries like Jenny Hval and Holly Herndon, or stretching back a few years, Bjork and Nine Inch Nails.

The music transitions between chilling dark ambient tracks like “Summoning,” complete with a Penderecki-reminiscent string section, and pounding industrial grooves like the seventh track “Cold.”

Similar to the opening of “Animism,” a cover of the Pixies’ “Caribou,” “Retribution” closes with a cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me.”

Just as “Caribou” related perfectly to the 2015 release’s ideas of animals and nature, “Rape Me” works by giving a voice to Mother Earth, “Retribution’s” pseudo-protagonist. As Kurt Cobain wrote it, the song is from the point of view of a rape victim experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. The narrator has become so disillusioned with what is happening that they accept it and welcome it at this point, just as humans have become so disconnected from the earth that we continue to destroy it for our own greed and profit.

Tagaq’s previous work has won multiple awards, and it’s easy to see why.

There’s a very slim selection of contemporary alternative music that bridges ancient traditions with modern sounds, and “Retribution” does it with such a strong message of aboriginal independence and environmental justice that it’s nearly impossible to listen to without inspiring action.

I certainly look forward to future work from Tanya Tagaq, and hopefully some collaborations with like-minded artists to draw out the full extent of her prowess.

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