Monday, January 21, 2013

A Band At Transformation

Listening to a record...and by record I mean a real live vinyl the best way to really appreciate the music. Especially through headphones. I've been sounding like a broken records on this topic lately...did I really just say that...whatever. My favorite way to unwind after a day has been to lay out on the couch with the headphones on listening to music. It gives me a chance to not just decompress but to really hear the music. Listening at work or even on the computer while doing other stuff it is just background noise. The car is a good place but there are not crashing. But laying in the dark with just the music is a great way to experience all the nuances of an album.

Take the latest record from my number-2-most-favorite-band-of-all-time The Tragically Hip. It came out in 2012 yet did not make my top 10 of the year. I never really gave it a close listen, so it never really formed in my mind. I found it to be a disappointment. This has been a trend with The Hip whose last few records have taken time to grow on me. Last year I did a primer (click here and here) on them and the last few records all seemed kind dull to start before springing to life. That happened when I was writing the primer and took the time to really listen close.

The latest record is called Now For Plan A. Last week I ordered the vinyl from MapleMusic in Canada even though I have had it digitally since it was released. I figured they are one of my favorite bands and I should just in principle have whatever media the record came out on (I have all the previous CDs already).

I have listened to it closely about 3 times now and I can say I have better appreciation for it. The Hip are definitely a band that are aging. I don't mean that in a bad way. Here's a better description: they are maturing. It's easily their most mellow record. There are no fist pumping anthems, though "The Modern Spirit" tries, but there is lots of finely crafted music here. The sense is that the band is slowing down some, interested less in simple rocking and more in experimenting and crafting the music. No chugging chords but more complicated guitar interplay.

Lyrically it is vintage Hip in that it's strange and appears kind of fake-deep but is really more clever. Gord Downie is one of the more enigmatic lyricists out there. Scanning the lyric sheet for a sample I can't find one that really speaks to me. There's no "Nautical Disaster" or "Bobcaygeon" here. The usually references to Canada about. They are without a doubt a Canadian band.

On the whole it is a good album. Not my favorite Hip album, probably in the bottom third, but something has to be down there, right? I am glad they aren't just making the same records over and over again. The record has a vibe and a personality of it's own. More relaxed, more restrained. The Hip are at the point in their career where it is perfectly fine for them to do that. Choice cuts include the title song, "At Transformation," "About This Map" and "Goodnight Attawapiskat."

Here's the video for "The Lookahead." It has Sarah Harmer helping on vocals and features the band's sense of humor. Or should I say "humour?"

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