Review: Tanya Tagaq's 'Retribution' Gives Environmentalism Art-Rock Bite

Our take on Canadian avant-garde star's fourth album

Tanya Tagaq's fourth album is 'Retribution.' Credit: Katrin Braga

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. On "Retribition" and "Summoning," both past the seven-minute mark, bleak tundra winds slowly crescendo into blizzardy chaos. Tagaq views our treatment of the earth, most importantly the melting snows in her home country, as an ultimately apocalyptic scenario and paints it with appropriately murderous fury. "My mother grows angry, retribution will be swifffffft/We squander her sssssoil and ssssuck out her sweet black blood," she venomously rages on the titular environmental tract before it slowly boils over into a dissonant, distortion-saturated art-metal blizzard full of screams.

Elsewhere Tagaq combs the depths of her throat, her guttural explorations exploding like a distorted bass guitar whether with her improvisational band or in collaboration with Tuvan throat singer Radik Tulush or Inuk singer Ruben Komangapik. The only sore thumb is "Centre," a funky, existential team-up with Canadian rapper Shad that seems almost too light for an album this bursting with aggressive timbres and weighty sentiment. Retribution ends with a desolate, frigid cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me," closing an album about literal and metaphorical rape with panned whispers and claustrophobic shudder. One of the avant-garde's most dynamic performers finally gets the studio album her unique vision deserves.