Tanya Tagaq is one of those artists of whom it is said "You have to go see her live," as if the recorded artefact simply won't convey what goes on at her show. And maybe it won't — the last time I saw the Inuk throat singer perform, she guided hundreds of people at Nathan Phillips Square in a song that felt, to me, like a sympathetic orgasm (her music can be quite open to interpretation). On her fourth album, Retribution — perhaps even more so than on her Polaris Prize-winning 2014 album Animism — Tagaq achieves an experience as potent as, and analogous to, her live show: Retribution is immersive, cathartic, potentially even transformative.
Before Tanya Tagaq is about to perform, she takes a few moments to speak to her audience. There’s the usual business of thanking everyone for coming out and introducing her band, though she also likes to talk about what’s on her mind—sometimes for a good 10 minutes before we hear a note of music. In the context of what follows, the preamble feels less like an introduction than a farewell, like the sort of address you hear from astronauts before they’re launched into space, or an escape artist who’s about to pull off an elaborate, death-defying stunt.
When the Great Barrier Reef was falsely reported dead this past October, many were quick to share their condolences. Yet the reef fights on through chemical and solar bombardment, unmoved by trivial human sympathies. Canadian artist and inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq probably finds this commiserative attitude towards non-human life laughable. On her latest album, she deploys her virtuosic and often deeply unsettling adaption of the traditional vocal style to characterise the 'natural world' as a brutal, menacing force hungry for revenge on puny civilization.
North Canadian vocal gymnast Tanya Tagaq became an unlikely alternative rock star with 2014's Animism, her sui generis blend of Inuit throat singing, PJ Harvey-esque avant-belting and political bloodletting. (It earned her the Polaris Prize and a stage at Bonnaroo.) Her fourth album, Retribution, is her strongest outing yet, shedding practically all of Animism's tethers to pop structure and mirroring her freer, convulsing, lung-busting, throat-flexing live shows. The highlights are the album's lengthiest stretches.
Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq won Aboriginal album of the year at Canada’s Juno awards last year, but she is unlikely to end up on the coffee tables of right-on world music fans: this is a violent and stirring meditation on apocalyptic climate change. She stations herself at the raw and unpretty end of the already guttural world of throat singing, voicing an array of constipated growls, lupine snuffles and girlish yelps – to some listeners it will sound merely silly, and almost everyone will be turned off by the baggy hip-hop track Centre, a reminder that you don’t go to environmental rallies for the music. But elsewhere Tagaq is riveting, especially when multitracked and given eight or so minutes to range jazzily around art-metal backdrops.
“I’m devastated that this is how we live.” Those are chillingly direct words from Tanya Tagaq, Polaris-winning throat singer. That tragic sentiment comes from an interview with The Globe and Mail, in reference to her cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” on new album Retribution, a song she chose as a response to the prevalence of misogyny, abuse, and assault against indigenous women. Tagaq’s music is in fact fueled by a seemingly inexhaustible list of injustices, her traditional-indebted songs addressing ultra-contemporary issues.