When I was 16, my parents took me on a trip out West. On that trip, we spent three days at the Grand Canyon. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the most striking thing I saw on that trip, not because it wasn’t amazing, but because it was just too much to take in at once. The beauty of the Grand Canyon was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, too much to be appreciated in three short days. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return to see it again and let it sink in. That’s kind of the way I feel about Tanya Tagaq’s Auk~Blood. There’s so much going on and it’s so unlike everything else that I can’t quite get my head around it. And I want to return over and over.
The album is avant garde to the extreme. Tagaq is, after all, one of the only Inuit throat singers to work as a soloist. While throat singing is a vital part of her music, it isn’t that obscure practice alone that makes Auk ~ Blood though. There are songs here, not just experiments or vehicles for her voice. It’s not an easy listen, but there is definite substance and passion and emotion that is worth the time to discover. The two tracks featuring Buck 65 are certainly more down to earth, but even their hip-hop leanings don’t exactly make this radio friendly. It takes time.
So often, experimental music loses its sense of song and its soul. Tagaq navigates successfully past both perils. These songs are out there on the fringes without a doubt, yet they’re consistently cohesive, pushing to the limits without breaking down the structure into something entirely inaccessible. The songs have an emotional character, particularly evidenced by the conflict between desire and naivité in "Hunger." Perhaps it is the ancient tradition of which she is a part mixed with her experimentalism, but the album is at once primal and sophisticated. Even a guest appearance by none other than Mike Patton could easily slip by. Tagaq is simply good enough to assimilate him.
It takes time, but come back to see the strange beauty of this album grow. It’s just too much to expect to appreciate all at once.