After the tragic passing of The Tragically Hip’s frontman and chief architect, Gord Downie, in 2017 due to complications from cancer, his absence has been felt in the greater musical and pop cultural sphere. Thankfully, Downie left some music, which will be released this week as Away Is Mine, his final album.
Downie, whose significance to pop and rock in Canada cannot be overstated, recorded this 20-track collection shortly prior to his death. Half of it is a studio recording with all the bells and whistles that come with post-production, while the latter half is the same set of songs, with a stripped-down acoustic focus.
The album delivers a sort of unsettling yet vibrant contrast, as the clashing organic sounds of the acoustic guitar and mechanical and atmospheric synths create a soundscape that will leave listeners conflicted. The album is simultaneously preoccupied with a forbidding sense of mortality and a vigor for life as a result. The first half at times feels incredibly over-produced, but not so much that it becomes a deal breaker.
Many of the songs, such as “Hotel Worth,” “Useless Nights” and “About Blank,” focus primarily on booming kick drums and pleasant acoustic melodies. “About Blank” and “River Don’t Care” also employ electric guitar riffs that add an element of alt-country flair, while “The Least Impossible” and “Traffic is Magic” get the same electric guitar playing into more classic-rock-esque riffs.
“No Solace” and “River Don’t Care” take on more of an experimental quality, with the former introducing a synthesized percussion loop paired with a fat bass line that gives the song a sort of hip-hop sound. The latter employs combative 8-bit sound effects in the background. The experimental quality of this first half has its benefits, such as with “About Blank,” where the song borders on dance-pop. However, there are also songs like “Useless Nights,” which are so distorted and overloaded that the mixing is just a mess—making the song feel grating to the ears.
All this is to say, if you’re not a fan of the production, there’s still something for you here.
The acoustic half of Away Is Mine features no fancy drum loops or bizarre soundbites—just Gord Downie and his guitar serenading listeners with folky ballads that are still certain to please. The vocals sounds nearly identical to that from the electric versions of the songs. So on certain songs, the singing doesn’t quite match the sound quality of the more organic pieces. While most posthumous records tend to lack a je ne sais quoi due to the artist’s absence, Away Is Mine should provide fans of Gord Downie something to cherish for years to come.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.