Review Summary: The most visceral album you'll hear all year
Retribution is a powerful, dark and visceral experience channeled through the traditional folk style of Innuit Throat Singing. Through indecipherable yelps and demented vocal manipulations this album goes to a place of sheer primal intensity, this is folk that hits harder than your favourite metal band. Tanya Tagaq may be in need of an introduction as the experimental nature of this album at first is difficult to appreciate or understand. It is loud and strange sure, without the important context this album can appear to be senseless. Tanya was born in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada. For those less familiar with Canadian geography it is cold as *** up there and home to large populations of Innuit native populations. In some circles Innuit Vocal Games are seen as a fun and cultural tradition, using unique throat singing techniques to manipulate the vocals in otherworldly and primal overtones and undertones. This practice is often performed in pairs of native women who jam out in sync with one another. Tanya practiced and learned the art of Innuit Throat Singing in highschool and during her time as a student of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design she created her own unique solo style of the art form to pair with visual arts and would go on to bring some of the first commercial music releases featuring Innuit Vocal Games to the mainstream for which she won the Polaris Music Prize in 2014.
It is impossible not to consider the context of the album when appreciating this album. The primal and adlibbed style of her vocals can be off putting, even downright overbearing at times, but at the same time there is a level of mystique and a very interesting history of culture behind her style. Her music focuses on the struggle of the environment, the struggles of native populations and the pains they suffer. Her past releases where much more raw and intimate featuring minimal instrumentation and using vocal layering as backing instrumentation, Retribution however is much more grand. While vocal layering continues to play a vital role on this release, Tanya has brought on more collaborative artists to bring out the darkness of the atmosphere. The beats on this album are thunderous, layered with squealing violins that swell and explode over Tanya’s intense vocal delivery.
One of the greatest successes of this album is its ability to create a convincing and suffocating atmosphere. Tanya delivers a masterful performance of tension building, the backing instrumentation is eerie even reminiscent of horror soundtracks. Often songs start off chanting and calm but as the song progresses becomes more deranged, more panicked and frenzied in a slow enough but consistent progression to turn songs from native folk to sheer horror in a matter of minutes. Listening to this album with headphones at night is a real experience in of itself.
While this album is excellent at building tension it does seem to struggle with progressive songwriting at times. Where there is storm there is no calm, songs often become frenzied or build tension but there is often not a satisfying release until the beginning of the next song. This is an exhausting album to listen to and more interludes or beautiful moments thrown into the mix would be highly appreciated through this album’s runtime. There is believe or not a rap song with excellent delivery by Canadian artist Shad and a beautiful interlude entitled "Sivulivinivut” to break things up but it is over all too soon.
This isn’t an album for everyone but for those willing to open their mind up to Innuit Throat Singing are in for one of the strangest, most visceral and dark albums of 2016. Sometimes Tanya takes her odd vocal delivery too far such as on the track ‘Summoning’ but perhaps it isn’t meant to be comfortable. This is an uneasy album meant to reach your primal level and bring you into the daily struggle of native Canadians. Tanya has a bright future ahead of her and I look forward to seeing her represent her culture and her enigmatic artistry for the world to hear.