The Final Deviation (The Tragically Hip, Man Machine Poem review)

I remember when I first really heard about The Tragically Hip. I was in my first year of high school (2003), sitting in Social Studies 10 reading about the Canadian government, it’s culture, and the landscape of the country. There was a section dedicated to famous Canadian culturemakers and The Tragically Hip were cited as one of the most famous rock bands out of the Great White North.

Sure I had heard songs of theirs before, but I didn’t really know their music. I probably should have though. With my love of different musical formats, and enjoying musicians which evolved over time, The Tragically Hip were accomplished trend setters.

The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
released June 17, 2016
******** 8/10

12963581_10153539787382816_7230878515610451399_n

The Tragically Hip, sometimes simply known as The Hip, are a Canadian rock band, consisting of lead singer Gord Downie, guitarist Paul Langlois, guitarist Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, and drummer Johnny Fay. They have released thirteen studio albums and two live albums. Nine of their albums have reached No. 1 in Canada, they have fourteen Juno Awards, and they have also received an assortment of Canadian Music awards over the years.

I wrote about this detail once already, last week during my review of Gord Downie’s newest solo album, Secret Path, but this is likely the last studio album that The Tragically Hip will ever release. Following Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer last year, the band toured heavily across Canada to promote Man Machine Poem, with their final stop taking place in Kingston, the band’s hometown. The event was broadcast globally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on TV, internet, and radio as a media special, for approximately eleven million people.

Though it has been confirmed a few times and in a few ways, just as other reviewers have mentioned previously, this album was recorded BEFORE Gord Downie received his terminal diagnosis. So we shouldn’t try to read anything into it’s content, and instead take it at face value.

This is a solid record.

It isn’t perfect though. It’s not the best The Tragically Hip album I’ve ever heard, nor is it in the upper echelon of rock records. But it IS really entertaining, inventive, and full of a darkness which kind of permeates throughout the album. And as much as I hate to say it, sometimes they sound like Radiohead, especially on opener Man and closer Machine, and well, also on Ocean Next. It was co-produced by Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) and Dave Hamelin (The Stills), and this is an experimental album that makes simultaneously draws you in and forces you to sit on the sidelines. So much of what we hear is straight up exploration from a band that has been playing together for over thirty years.

Tired as Fuck reminds me of classic Hip, but also definitely has a Broken Social Scene taste on its lips – Here in the Dark and Hot Mic are arena rock with no aftertaste. To top it off, In Sarnia and What Blue definitely have that pop and blues aesthetic which have given Gord Downie his pensive and romantic credibility for the past few decades.

It’s interesting, because it’s not fully experimental, nor is it completely a middle-of-the-road Tragically Hip rock and roll experience. And I think that’s a good thing. If we got a completely inventive album, many fans would struggle to connect with it, but if it was solely rock then it would feel stale. Instead, this album is fully, completely it’s own hybrid.

This album, like the entire back catalogue of The Tragically Hip, is not a send off of the band as they are, but a snapshot of a moment.

 

 

 

It was over fifteen years ago that I first heard about The Tragically Hip. They were already almost twenty years a band at that point. But they weren’t popular music like the indie and hip hop I was absorbing at the time, and so I wrote them off.

I shouldn’t have done this to myself, and now I have to live with the knowledge that I could’ve been enjoying The Hip for years. Do yourself a favour, listen to this record, and then start backtracking through their discography. It’ll be worth it. Yes, it could be a just a theory, but 30 million Canadian can’t be wrong, right?

Tim!

Canadian Sweethearts (Arkells, Morning Report review)

The Canadian Sweethearts were a Canadian rockabilly duo that were popular during the 1960s and played together almost 20 years. They are probably best known for their song Eeny Meeny Miney Moe, but the most important allusion I want to make between them and the musical act being considered today is that both group were metaphorical Canadian sweethearts too.

And while The Canadian Sweethearts did break out into the US markets with their fun and high-energy track, I hope these gents can do it proper too.

 

 

 

Arkells – Morning Report
released August 5, 2016
******** 8/10

arkells-morning-report-artwork

Arkells are a Canadian indie rock band that have roots in the eastern coast. Yay for Canadian content! They’ve signed with Dine Alone records, and are now also on the Universal Records Canada label as well. Morning Report is their 4th album-to-date, and by far the most adventurous album they’ve done thus far.

I’ve been a fan of them since that first single Oh, The Boss Is Coming! was released back in 2008, but I didn’t pick up any of their records until I saw them live in January of 2015 with my sister and her beau. After that fateful show, when I decided to start attending concerts on the regular again, I immediately picked up their back catalogue which at the time included the still somewhat fresh High Noon, now a Juno award winner.

These guys are from Hamilton, Ontario and they are a fucking national treasure, they should have the international market dead to rights by now, but somehow they haven’t broken through that US wall just yet. In the fine tradition of acts like The Tragically Hip, Sloan, Sam Roberts, and April Wine, these guys are Canadian rock stars who should be bigger than they are.

Morning Report takes quite a few notes from that previous album, exploring more of a pop-rock tone, to ensure continued strength and representation ALA tracks like A Little Rain and Savannah, but this is not why I love this band. It’s because in between those harmonies, you find that they are still exploring and making music that makes them happy.

The first two tracks, Drake’s Dad and Private School do a great job of this, but by far the sweetest and most emotionally wrought song of the whole record is Passenger Seat. It breaks my heart EVERY time I listen to it.

This of course is followed by another pop-rock ditty called Making Due, proving that this album is all over the place with it’s tone. Produced by Joe Chiccarelli , Tony Hoffer, Brian West and Gus van Go, Morning Report flows in and out, sampling from Arkells spectrum of songs, but somehow making this an even more enjoyable effort than High Noon.

I suspect that it’s because every song plays heavy on the lyrics and instantly likeable voice of lead singer Max Kerman.

And then there is Come Back Home, which is also quite rough to listen to. Two guesses of what it’s about. But that song is followed up by a song of friendship in the form of A Little Rain (A Song For Pete). As I mentioned, while the tone is all-over the place, lyrically this album does a great job of dealing with those post-college years, the ones that no musician really wants to deal with. When all your friends long-term relationships either turn into marriage and family or fall apart.

In the most simplest of terms, and the most authentic of emotions, Morning Report is an examination of the after effects of your early twenties.

 

 

 

It’s tough being a Canadian musical act. Sometimes you get all kinds of proper attention on a global scale, and sometimes you fight for decades but never get to the open seas. I know that Arkells have the ability to reach higher and higher, and by playing festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, they are sure to gain more attention, let’s just hope whatever happens, they remember they are Canadian sweethearts.

Tim!