#2016sucks pretty much sums up the general mood about the last 12 months. As a civilisation, we may not have been at our best this year, but you can’t dismiss 2016 as a total write-off, as attested by DOMINIONATED’s first ever Favourite 50 list.
Canadian music engaged us in some meaningful conversations this year, parallel to–but not apart from–the wider conversations occupying our attentions. Though we lost icons like David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, they left us the enduring gift of their life-long work; in Bowie and Cohen’s case, work that challenged and provoked us right up until their death.
Perhaps it’s just the optimistic view of a new music blog that’s barely got a year under its belt, but 2016 has been an exciting and energising time for DOMINIONATED. From the outset, our goal has been to unplug from the rapid-fire music news cycle and take time for thoughtful consideration with Canadian music and artists. It has meant we’ve posted less often, but we sincerely hope our words and thoughts about Canadian music that has moved us in 2016 have lingered a little longer than they might otherwise have.
There are records on the following list that we’ve already shared with you, some that we never got around to covering, and some we still plan to write about, but all 50 share a creative spark that ignited our imaginations. These records collectively soundtracked the DOMINIONATED team’s 2016, and we hope that among them, you find music that sparks something in you.
I think any review I attempt of Nap Eyes’ Thought Rock Fish Scale will just be a spawning salmon slamming against the cruel rocks of Nap Eyes’ Nigel Chapman’s own prescient poetry. No accolades could out-woo the lyrics on this album, expertly supported by the slacker crush-rock four-piece. The performative art of Nap Eyes is bold extroversion for the absolute introvert, and I think that’s why audiences really vibe to this band. – David Parker
This was my first full year living in Toronto since I was about five years old. I love it here, but it’s easy to be sometimes overwhelmed by the noise, the hustle, the bustle and the unspoken competitiveness that comes along with it. Listening Un Blonde’s Good Will Come To You was my mediation when life felt overwhelming. The new age R&B, the wild sound and the beautiful harmonies Un Blonde created is like the sun on your back on the first day of spring. It’s church without the baggage. It’s a reminder to breathe when things seem like too much. Good Will Come To You is gospel for the godless; as much a tribute to the city (in his case Montreal) as it is to the people who live in it. Un Blonde is a wise beyond his years genius who delivered a lo-fi, wholly original piece of art and most exciting of all is just getting started. – Mac Cameron
Anything that can effectively channel some of the joie de vivre of Sonic Youth’s longer one-note jams–I’m thinking of “The Diamond Sea” and SYR7: J’accuse Ted Hughes–gets at least a nod from me. Two Mountains is an expansive, open album that has some of the darkness of doom metal with a healthy dose of ocean air.
– David Parker
WTCHS put out by far the best and most rewarding loud rock record this year. She Walks, She Creeps is pure horror noise rock. The kind that follows you, startles you, and bashes you over the head when you’re least expecting it. Perhaps it’s an overused comparison on this site at this point but She Walks, She Creeps gives you the same satisfaction a good horror movie does; shakes you to your core but leaves you wanting more. The songs are dense and plodding. Sprinkled with feedback and layered with overblown guitars, howling vocals, beefy horns and Jesus Lizard-like rhythmic precision, She Walks, She Creeps is impossible to turn away from and begs to be turned up.
– Mac Cameron
As the name suggests, CDW is all about Charlotte Day Wilson. The soulful singer recorded and produced the entire album on her own, featuring only River Tiber on “Where Do You Go.” Wilson’s deep and plodding vocals carry you slowly, as she lingers on the bassy beats. This album channels elements of R&B, neo-soul, and jazz. It’s mature and timeless, showcasing Wilson’s weighty vocals and layered production. With only six tracks, CDW is over before it begins, reminding you of the loneliness and fleeting moments Wilson sings of. CDW is a masterful take on contemporary R&B. – Baby O
Simone Schmidt lives on an alternate astral plane. On Still Holding, she and the Highest Order beam more of their highly charged, radioactive, cosmic country energy into our musical orbit, subtly, subversively, reshaping our minds with every listen. It rocks, gently. It grooves, deeply. It grabs hold of your attention, relentlessly. If Still Holding isn’t enthralling you yet, it should be. – Jim Di Gioia
Eschaton’s latest offering Torus conjures to mind Tom Waits’ voice, scowling as he mutters to himself on “What’s He Building?” (Mule Variations, 1999): “What the hell is he building in there? He has subscriptions to those Magazines .. He never Waves when he goes by / He’s hiding something from the rest of us / He’s all to himself / I think I know why”. Eschaton skronks, crashes, and drones their way through 36 minutes of hi-fi tape, all the while making me wonder: what the hell are they building? – David Parker
For maximum impact, Aidan Knight’s Each Other is best experienced like an intimate conversation. The verses of rock-steady highlight “What Light (Never Goes Dim)” are whispered in your ear in Knight’s beautiful baritone before the simple, elegant chorus comes in and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Its abrupt end is the most rushed moment on Each Other; “All Clear” and “You Are Not Here” move at a ballad’s pace, but they’re so heavily invested with layers of ornate musical elements that they feel oddly symphonic.
It’s the details at the heart of Each Other that makes it such a satisfying listen. What appears simple on the surface reveals all kinds of auditory treasures when you allow yourself the time and attention to fully appreciate each finely detailed moment on Each Other. – Jim Di Gioia
On the surface and perhaps at first listen, certain aspects of Monomyth feel underwhelming, maybe too simple. That is Monomyth’s trick, though, they pull you in with a great hook or two and force you to listen deeper. Once you catch the wave they are riding, you realize the brilliance of their craft. Despite not being played at blazing volumes, the guitars are more intricately shaped than they sound and are often heroically executed by songwriters Josh Salter and Seamus Dalton. Happy Pop Family seems simple, maybe even a little silly but Monomyth know (presumably from experience) that the best way to draw in a listener is to lure them with something that appeals to the childish desires of the human mind and then suck them in deeper with layers of complexity and meaning. Happy Pop Family is a great achievement in that sense. You feel the joy right away, but the richness of the songs will keep you coming back again and again with softened edges and a sense of wonder at the mundanity of it all. –Mac Cameron
When I first listened to Il, I didn’t know how to engage with it. I didn’t know what to say in the conversation Jean-Michel Blais wanted to have with me. Perhaps I was trying to impose something on these eight songs they weren’t able to be. Maybe it had something to do with my physiological state at the time; maybe I didn’t need Il the way I need it now. Whatever. It is with me and has been since I went back to re-discover it. Through Il, I appreciate and savour how often the most profound moments of personal enlightenment can come from the most simple of elements. – Jim Di Gioia
“There’s this really stupid attitude that only punks have where it’s somehow uncool to become a better songwriter.”
That’s White Lung frontwoman Mish Barber-Way speaking in an interview with Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) about the staunch views that punk fans can often have toward the notion of artistic growth/change. The comment is worth noting because it’s a helpful starting point from which to understand fully what White Lung has achieved with Paradise. Their previous three records stuck to a pretty consistent, albeit uber effective, formula: Anne-Marie Vassiliou’s blisteringly fast double-time, Kenneth William’s spidery riffage, and Mish’s primal yelps. And while 2014’s Deep Fantasy dabbled slightly with slower tempos and alternative song structures, you pretty much knew what you were getting with a White Lung record.
Paradise is a significant shift away from this formula. While all the hallmarks of the band’s sound are still present, they are repackaged and reinterpreted, making for a far more nuanced album. The guitars and drums are more dynamic than ever before, the melodies are catchier, and Mish’s vocals absolutely soar. Her parts are clearer and far more present in the mix, and she exudes an earnest, straightforward confidence on every track.
Mish’s frustration regarding punk puritanism is well taken. Bands (well, good bands anyway) don’t exist in any kind of stasis; from an artistic, personal, and commercial perspective, it’s just not sustainable. And quite frankly, there’s nothing to be pissed about in this specific case. Paradise is a thrilling, heavy-hitting record that shows a band admirably progressing towards bigger and better things. – Geoff Parent
I’m not a hardcore punk listener, but I appreciate good music no matter where I find it. When PUP was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, I gave them a listen and was instantly hooked. The Dream Is Over is the second album by the Toronto-based quartet and it’s a non-stop, driving, loud, hyper (and at just over half an hour, quick) race through the highs and lows of life. ‘Short songs are punk’ is a phrase you hear bandied about but don’t ever mistake short for simple. The songs on The Dream Is Over tear into you at every level. You laugh while feeling the pain of broken relationships (an ongoing theme) and professional struggles at the same time.
The standout, “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”, is a song that every musician that’s ever toured has written in their head. It hits the truth of wanting to literally kill those you’re forced to spend all your time with, while still being able to laugh about such murderous impulses.
The Dream Is Over is music made for shouting/singing/screaming along with as the band gives its all on stage. It’s music for road trips and manic jumping about; the frenetic energy forces you on your feet, head nodding, bouncing along to life’s disappointments. But in the most oddly positive way. – Kristin Knowles
I was sitting at work the first time I heard this record. I mean, a part of me was anyway. Somewhere around where the frenetic rhythms of “Kowboy” bleed into the total serenity of “Look at What Our Love Has Done”, my head had fully checked out and was off journeying somewhere in the Oort Cloud while my ass stayed rooted in its office chair.
Trancelike, beautifully layered, and impossibly smooth, New Latitudes clings to form and structure like loose-fitting lace. Stylistic nods to Bitches Brew/Live-Evil-era Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and Brian Eno create an atmosphere of pure, unhinged liberation. Incredibly, Matthew “Doc” Dunn and the members of the Cosmic Range created/recorded it over a span of just two days. I suppose that makes sense, though. A record like New Latitudes isn’t so much written as it is captured in a frenzy of lightning-in-a-bottle-type inspiration. – Geoff Parent
Introverts expel an inordinate amount of energy escaping and eluding social situations. It’s our primary source of exercise, no different than working out at a gym. We sweat profusely, drink an inhuman amount of water, and fuss in the most uncomfortable clothing we own while trying to fit in with the preening primates and pathological primadonnas.
Leave it to Andy Shauf, one of our very own, to conjure up a magical affair that not even the most ardent introvert wants to leave early. The Party is the prettiest album I’ve heard all year. Not ‘oh how cute’ pretty, but a devilish pretty, precise and adroit. Shauf’s lyrics, sharply observed, are as impressive as his skillfully assembled arrangements. Every time I revisit The Party I’m the last one to leave. – Jim Di Gioia
In a year defined by death, TUNS emerged in a rebirth. Featuring Sloan bassist Chris Murphy, Mike O’Neill of The Inbreds and Super Friendz’s Matt Murphy, the title of the opening track makes it clear that these seasoned musicians are “Back Among Friends.” The album channels Sloan, packed with jangly melodies and falsetto harmonies making it the perfect pop record. “Your Satisfaction” is especially reminiscent of ‘70s mod revival, warping your perception of time as soon as you press play. This album feels like sunshine in a year of darkness, a hopeful piece to sustain us until better times. – Baby O
There aren’t many bands that can so expertly pull off the sort of throwback rock Black Mountain makes, and that is because most bands going for that sound are not even fucking close to being as good Black Mountain. IV could be one of the best classic rock albums of all time. Of course calling it “classic rock” makes it sound dull, old and almost devoid of relevance and literally misplaces it in the world’s linear timeline, but time is a flat circle, and Black Mountain made a monster of an album that isn’t weighed down by its’ references. It feels like an awakening, a relighting of an ever smouldering fire.
The riff in “Mothers of the Sun” is the best of the year; chiselled, militant but oozing with soul. “The Defector” and its Floydian groove and chorus have a nostalgic resonance that brings me back to middle school every time I hear it. Stephen McBean and Amber Webber’s vocal always sound good stacked on top of each other, best displayed on the heart-filling “You Can Dream”. IV is balanced and surprisingly lean. It hits all of the pleasure zones that Sabbath, Zeppelin and Floyd hit but all in one record. Every time I listen to IV I am transported to simpler times. A time when every band I heard seemed larger than life. It is a testament to the greatness of past luminaries and hopeful and unique proof that even though the “golden age” may have passed there is still rock and roll territory left to be explored. – Mac Cameron
Yes, 2016 definitely was a rough one, but John K. Samson gave us Winter Wheat, an album that feels like a warm hug or a pat on the back. Instead of me telling you about some of the lyrics that make everything feel ok despite hardship, technological challenges, addiction, depression or the loss of beloved feline, I will let the unparalleled lyrics of John K. Samson speak for themselves.
“And when it gets too complicated/and you can’t get to sleep/when the morning seems impossible/ select all delete”.
“We know this world is good enough because it has to be”.
“In for three weeks or in for forever/here at the 17th Street Treatment Centre/Most of us probably not getting better/But not getting better together”.
“May the leaves bustle out the canopy/Shake and photosynthesize everything we’re sorry for/Into one long breath of air”.
“Let it rest, all you can’t change/ Let it rest and be done”.
Feel better, everyone and let Winter Wheat make it a little easier. –
– Mac Cameron
Some artists have a mythos, a larger than life presence that precedes them in our thoughts and the public eye, that speaks even before their music or words do. Leonard Cohen was one of those artists. He loomed over us with his deep, gravelly voice, his poetic nature, his ability to charm, his muses, all before you even hear a single lyric. And the mythos of Leonard Cohen was made even larger this year when, after releasing You Want It Darker–a seminal work if there ever was one–Cohen passed away barely two weeks later. Cohen, much like David Bowie, knew he was dying and gave us his last treatise on death, but really, he gave us a gift.
My first experience with Leonard Cohen came in high school when Jennifer Warnes’ “Famous Blue Raincoat” was released. That song only hit me in a peripheral sense, though. I truly became enamoured and forever a fan in university when I watched the 1965 NFB documentary, Ladies and Gentleman, Leonard Cohen, in my CanLit class. Whatever else I learned in that class, I am forever grateful to have been brought into Cohen’s world for the next 25 years. Regardless of the quality of the album, I was always mesmerised by his voice, his inflection, the way he draws you in. With You Want It Darker, Cohen not only envelopes you with his words but also the music and emotion he invested on it. He speaks of the same themes of love, loss, and life that he always has, yet this time, you know that he’s looking back on his life and trying to distill it into a few songs. It is a musical autobiography that will stand as one of the best.
Throughout the album, Cohen asks us to accept, to move on, all while helping us to heal and grieve at the same time. The naked emotion in all of the songs are enough to move you to tears; there’s so much laid bare as Cohen bids us good-bye. He says it so simply in ‘Leaving The Table’: “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game”.
Thank-you Leonard, thank-you for the words, the music, the emotions you evoked in us. But most of all, thank you for this achingly beautiful farewell. – Kristin Knowles
Part of what makes the latest offering from the boys in BadBadNotGood so appealing is how they manage to utilize classic applications of jazz and R&B without sounding derivative. IV is a dizzying album peppered with epileptic jazz (“IV”), duelling saxophones (“Confessions Pt. II”), and velvety, bossa-nova-tinged lounge (“Cashmere”).
Increasingly known for their prolific collaborations, BBNG integrates this approach into IV with impressive results. Future Islands’ front man Samuel Herring features on “Time Moves Slow”, which finds the band laying down a subtle groove beneath his raspy croon; on “In Your Eyes”, Toronto R&B singer Charlotte Day Wilson stuns with her warm vocal delivery; Alabama MC Mick Jenkins justifies BBNG’s hip-hop leanings on the moody “Hyssop of Love”. The record also gets a boost from saxophonist Leland Whitty’s permanent addition to the band. His feverish playing style is given free reign, and it’s a major reason why IV is the most exhilarating, eclectic album of BBNG’s discography thus far. – Geoff Parent
The Man Who Walks Among the Stars hopes that the next 150 years in Canada will be better than the last 150, marked by healing, forgiveness, and acknowledging painful truths. It’s an optimistic future, but if Canadians do not wish to repeat the sins of the past, we need to accept the collective responsibility of the atrocities committed in the name of our nationhood. Stories like Chanie Wenjack’s and projects like Secret Path that share them are part and parcel of the journey. We are at the start of a long road. There will be obstacles. We may get lost and disorientated along the way. At the very least, we will always have Secret Path, a powerful testament from The Man Who Walks Among the Stars, to help Canada navigate these difficult–but utterly necessary–times. – Jim Di Gioia
Preoccupations’ first album after changing their name from the controversial Viet Cong, is basically a second ‘debut album’, another shot at making a first impression, and what an impression. Preoccupations is just that; when I listen to it, I’m preoccupied with the need to listen to it again, and again and again. The album is steeped in the roots of post-punk with shades of Echo & The Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, and huge nods to Joy Division. It broods while it mesmerizes. When it was first released, I listened to it for days on end, because the songs revealed something new each time. This is sit-in-the-dark, contemplate-your-life music as much as it is get-up-and dance-your-way-around-the-room music. It could be 25 years old just as easily as a few months old; Preoccupations seamlessly bridges the entirety of post-punk and yet doesn’t feel stale or dated.
The songs on Preoccupations all have single word titles, which for me speaks to the singleness of purpose to the music. This album is something you experience, it flows through you and hits your musical memories while creating new ones: the atmospheric beginning of “Anxiety”, with it’s driving anxious, bass; the 11 minute epic of “Memory” (one of my favourites on this album); the finale, “Fever”, whose synths effortlessly drift over the beat and Matt Flegal quavering voice on the refrain of ‘You’re not scared, carry your fever away from here’. It’s so beautifully sad. It’s an album that I would put with my favourite Cure albums in a rotation and let it carry me away. – Kristin Knowles
The first time I saw A Tribe Called Red was at the Mad Decent Block Party back in 2012. I knew next to nothing about them but made sure to be there for the lone Canadian act (support local music!). Needless to say, their set blew me away, and I spent the next several weeks going on and on about how amazing they were, likely to the point that my friends were irritated, but they needed to know about this fantastic combination of tribal rhythms, dubstep, DJ-driven, spirit lifting music. Fast forward to 2016 and the release of We are the Halluci Nation, an album that not only showcases their musical evolution but highlights their political and global worldview.
The first single alone, “R.E.D. (feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear)” (a song that lifts, no, powers you up into the stratosphere with the backbone of tribal chants, overlaid with masterful bars from the featured artists, and driven by forceful guitars that churn non-stop), this album would be worth the listen. But it’s the rest of We are the Halluci Nation that makes this one of the best albums of the year. With contributions from Joseph Boyden (“Soon”), Tanya Tagaq (“Sila”), Lido Pimienta (“The Light”) and more, it speaks not to multiculturalism, but to voices not heard, to voices that have been striving to be heard, that are needed today. And in no way are the featured contributors leaned upon; the music supports, lifts and holds up all of the different voices in the best way. In a year where aboriginal issues are making their way to the forefront, this album stands with Tanya Tagaq’s Retribution as a necessary listen, as more than just music (though such glorious music). It’s a statement. But it’s also just some of the best music you can listen to; put it on, turn it up and let it carry you. – Kristin Knowles
Not long after I started contributing to Quick Before It Melts, close to the end of 2015, I had become obsessed with Daniel Romano’s 2015 LP If I’ve Only One Time Asking. I had loved Attack In Black, but I was hesitant, through several albums, to dive into Romano’s “country” phase. When I finally saw the light, I was smitten and was left looking forward to the named, but unheard follow-up, Mosey. When Jim sent me Mosey, I listened to it non-stop. It was after about four playthroughs that I knew it was a masterpiece. After about the tenth listen I knew what it was not. As I put it in my review; “Mosey is not a country album, a folk album, or a rock album, but a eulogy to those genres that have become gross silhouettes of their former selves.” It is a call to action against and a middle finger to the music industry’s failure to empower and nurture artists and push them creatively. It is a sonic love letter and tip of the hat to The Band and Bob Dylan – who you might think is on the cover if you aren’t paying attention.
Above all, it is the most original and the best Romano has ever sounded. The album is elevated by strings, intriguing interludes, would-be TV show theme songs and “live” recordings. It finds Romano playing almost all the instruments and proving he’s incredible at all of them, especially – to my ears at least – bass guitar. Mosey‘s lyrics are masterful in their own right – funny and painful, absurd and true. It features some of the best songs he’s ever produced including but not limited to “Hunger Is a Dream You Die In”, “I Had To Hide Your Poem In a Song”, “Valerie Leon” and “(Gone Is) All But A Quarry of Stones”.
Mosey is about moving forward and leading by example. It was a major influence in shaping the way I envisioned DOMINIONATED when Jim came to me with a proposal to start a new site after he knew he would be closing Quick Before It Melts. I wanted a music website that contributed to positive conversation about music that mattered to the people that were writing about it. A site free from, or at least not bogged down by press releases, too-quick takes on albums that need more than a few listens through to comprehend or a focus on cool that often does more to highlight what is not cool than the opposite. A site that appreciated the past and looked forward to the future but was not bound by the present. Contributing to this site and being a part of the small but passionate community Jim has so caringly managed is my way of paying it forward and acting on Daniel Romano’s call for better representation with better, or at least different, intentions than the current way many music publications operate. Mosey will always be tied to 2016 and DOMINIONATED for me and all I can do is thank the artist behind it. Thanks, Dan, we look forward to whatever is next. – Mac Cameron
The twenty-four-year-old wunderkind behind this year’s Polaris Prize-winning album has a wonderfully human story behind his rise to worldwide acclaim. Documented in an excellent article by the FADER that coincided with 99.9%’s release back in May, it’s a story that captures a young man’s move from self-doubt to self-acceptance against the backdrop of a burgeoning musical career. Knowing the types of personal demons that Louis Kevin Celestin (aka Kaytranada) had to confront at such a young age, all while dealing with the pressure of completing his debut album, makes the resulting LP—one that is overflowing with skill, euphoria, and confidence—all the more surprising and laudable.
At the end of the day, though, Kaytranada’s incredible blend of house, disco, R&B, and hip-hop is cathartic in just about any context. In a year that will be inexorably remembered for the propagation of discord, division and decay, an album like 99.9% is a reminder of the unifying power of rhythm and the sheer joy that music can still inspire.
And seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to say enough about the rhythms on this record. Regardless of whether you’re listening on a crowded subway car, sitting at your desk, perusing a Canadian Tire, or in a goddamn dentist’s chair, your body will be rendered powerless before its natural desire to move. Inspired in equal parts by artists like J Dilla and DJ Shadow as he is by the rhythms and moods of Haitian music (He and his family emigrated from Haiti to Montreal when Louis was a baby) Kaytranada integrates and switches between styles with an effortless finesse. His drums also just sound different when you compare them to the polished, perfected sheen of many contemporary drum samples. Kay’s drums often have a raw, choppy quality that imbues them with an added dose of humanity. He masterfully utilises backbeats, pocket parts, and real-life-in-the-flesh drummers like Karriem Riggins and BadBadNotGood’s Alexander Sowinski to further drive home the non-robotic nature of his song craft.
99.9% also finds Kaytranada in full control of his role as a collaborator/producer. Whether it’s the trap-leaning “Drive Me Crazy” featuring Vic Mensa, the straightforward groove of “Got It Good” featuring Craig David, the moodier trip-hop/jazz of “Weight Off” featuring fellow Canadians BadBadNotGood, or the show-stopping “Glowed Up” featuring Anderson .Paak, he can morph his songwriting and his production style to bring out the absolute best aspects of his guest stars.
The heightened musical maturity displayed on 99.9% belongs to a person twice Louis Kevin Celestin’s age and experience level. However, the album’s raw passion, energy, individuality, and wide-eyed sense of exploration is wholly indicative of youth; of an uncorrupted talent that shapes instead of opting to be shaped; that is proactive as supposed to reactive. And though he went through personal battles during the record’s creation, none of it feels like a passive response so much as an active step towards self-actualization. 99.9% is a benchmark album chock-full of furiously determined, razor-sharp songwriting and it is a true wonder to behold. – Geoff Parent
There is not a more fitting album to top DOMINIONATED’s inaugural year-end list of spectacular Canadian albums than Tanya Tagaq’s Retribution. It has everything we look for in our music: originality, emotion, a message, a motive, escapism. While many albums on our list have some of these qualities (or even all of them), none feature them so viscerally, so intensely as Retribution. No album this year made me think so hard. No other album forced me to look myself in the mirror and question everything I’ve been taught about myself, my home and my country.
As a student of history, I have been taught to look at, question and search for historical narratives and examine the way they change over time. Initial historical narratives change based on who is writing that history, past or present ideas regarding the subject, and new pertinent information that may not have existed prior.
I also have been taught to infer. For example, given the full-fledged genocide, suppression and government-sponsored, church-led cultural genocide of Indigenous Canadians during the first few hundred years of this Nation’s history, one can infer that the history taught in most schools up until and beyond the last few years (even saying that feels generous) was not written by, informed by, and likely not taught by any of those who were subject to the past traumas of Canada’s colonial machinations.
I was never taught what land or whose land my house or my school was on. My teachers and parents were not taught that, and nor were their parents and their teachers. This is not an excuse for any racism, resentment or misrepresentation that is harboured by white Canadians towards Indigenous Canadians, but merely context for it.
I am grateful for all the things I’ve had the privilege of doing thanks to the colour of my skin, where I grew up and what my parents could afford. But my privilege was pandered to throughout most of my education, and life and has left me with holes in my knowledge, identity and history that I am slowly filling in. For a well-educated person and a history major, I know little about Indigenous history, Canadian policy towards Indigenous peoples and beyond. I can’t help but wonder about the people who didn’t have the privilege or the interest to be taught by real experts and activists missed out on.
Like many Canadians, I have woken up to the fact that Indigenous people are not treated the same way my family and I are treated as citizens. I don’t think there is a single issue facing our country more important than following through with Truth and Reconciliation, figuring out how to fix the conditions on Northern reserves, and how to right Settler Canada’s wrongs. Retribution had a lot to do with awakening that feeling within me.
This issue is tightly tied, and will forever be connected to the environment and that “black gold” we can’t seem to get enough of. It is connected to the earth that we live on, and that feeds us. It is connected to women, who bring life into the world and deserve for this country to be a safe place for their children.
Tanya Tagaq knows all of this. She is an artist, a mother and an activist. She wants this country, this world, to be better. She wants people, governments, corporations to understand how their actions affect the environment, the earth and all of the creatures that inhabit it – including those creatures who make up the very governments and corporations she rails against.
The politics aren’t as spelled out on Retribution the way they are on We are the Halluci Nation or Secret Path, but that is due in part to Tagaq’s preference for getting her message across through physical, painful and sometimes exhausting action and feeling rather than conventional words. Such is the nature of her art. It is emoting on a different level than your run of the mill singer. It’s as if she puts herself through all the anguish her and her family and peoples have ever felt while performing. Every time she performs, it’s real one more time.
The fact that Tanya Tagaq is widely recognized and revered within Canada and is quickly becoming an internationally recognized staple of Canadian Alternative music is incredible. However, it shouldn’t be a reason to pat ourselves on the back and think our work here is done. It should be motivation to follow through with the feelings Tagaq’s music forces you to feel.
If you put on Retribution and force yourself to listen all the way through, you cannot avoid the truth. You cannot avoid the pain or the anger. You also can’t avoid the hope and the courage it must take for Tanya Tagaq to bare her soul like this. By giving us Retribution, Tanya Tagaq has made Canada a better place. It’s now our turn to learn from her and follow suit.
Let’s hope for a better 2017, and that retribution will be swift.
– Mac Cameron