Beatrice Deer’s sixth studio album, SHIFTING, features lyrics written in three tongues: Inuktitut, the indigenous language of her childhood growing up in a northern village in Nunavik called Quaqtaq; French, most commonly spoken by Québécois farther south; as well as English. “Whatever music I’m writing, whatever language I feel coming forth,” she told CBC Radio in November, “I’ll use that language.”
The Montréal-based songwriter explores themes of self-discovery on SHIFTING, preserving her own cultural ancestry through song while overcoming the trauma and emotional hurdles of her own past. “Leave the past behind/ Leave the pain behind,” she sings on lead single “HISTORY,” a bittersweet tune built around shimmering guitar and motorik rhythm. The record is more massive and textured than previous outings, aided by overdriven guitars and ominous synth pads that provide a lavish backdrop for songs like “AANNGIQ,” which features breathy throat singing in its crescendo.
Known as katajjaq, this form of singing was suppressed by colonists and missionaries in the early 1900s who feared the art form to be satanic. According to an interview with Cult MTL, Deer says it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that the practice began to be performed publicly again, inspiring a surge of artists like Tanya Tagaq and PIQSIQ fusing throat singing with other genres in recent years. “We’re proud to be able to throat-sing because we almost lost this part of our heritage through colonization, and now we’re bringing it back,” she says. “We can do whatever we want with it, and wherever we want to.”
Deer refers to her own music as “Inuindie,” incorporating elements of shoegaze, folk rock, and the post-punk revivalism of ’00s acts like Metric. Yet for all of her disparate sources of inspiration, though, SHIFTING is an incredibly focused album. No matter the subject or sonic idea, Deer navigates to a place of self-assured strength by the end of each song: an acceptance of life’s constantly-shifting circumstances.