We lost Gord Downie this week.
I can’t pretend to be the greatest fan of the Tragically Hip. I first heard them in college, intrigued by a poster for their third album, Fully Completely. I bought Day for Night and Trouble at the Henhouse and Phantom Power and enjoyed them all, but didn’t carry them in my heart the way so many other people did. I found out only years later how legendary the band was in their native Canada, and how revered Downie was in his home country.
And to be fair, he’s revered here, by many, many people. When he announced in May of last year that he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, the outpouring of support and love was extraordinary. The band’s farewell tour and final show were events, even bringing out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, himself a devoted fan of the Hip. It was something to see.
Downie kept working straight to the end. His final album, a double-CD song cycle called Introduce Yerself, will be released this week. Sadly, Downie did not live to see it. He died last Tuesday at age 53. If you want some idea of how important his passing was to Canadians, consider this: Prime Minister Trudeau issued a statement eulogizing him. “When he spoke, he gave us goosebumps and made us proud to be Canadian,” it reads, in part. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest – like Gord himself.”
Rest in peace, Gord.
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Stranger Things is back this weekend, and I am absurdly excited.
If you somehow missed Netflix’s runaway hit last year, just know that it’s a perfect pastiche of Stephen King and ‘80s movies, like if The Goonies were about not only a plucky band of kids but also about a telekinetic teenager who could kill at a moment’s notice. It’s a perfect nostalgic cocktail – it isn’t particularly deep, but it is a lot of fun, and decidedly creepy in all the right places. I’m very much looking forward to the second season, which lands on Friday.
One element that sets Stranger Things apart is its music. In addition to a bevy of ‘80s hits, the score is crafted by members of the band S U R V I V E, who create synthwave instrumentals on vintage instruments. Their work is a little bit Vangelis, a little bit Wendy Carlos, and all neon-dappled dispatches from the Me Decade. It’s exactly right for a slice of Spielbergian cinema like Stranger Things.
Now, one might think it cynical to note that multi-talented musician Klayton scheduled his second album as Scandroid, his ‘80s-inspired synthwave project, to land one week before Stranger Things 2. But I don’t think it is. Klayton’s a shrewd marketer, and he knows people will be in the mood this weekend for what Scandroid has to offer. He couldn’t have timed it better, actually.
Who the hell is Klayton and what the hell is Scandroid, you ask? Klayton is the mastermind behind the electro-rock-metal-whatever project Celldweller, the industrial metal outfit Circle of Dust, the synth-driven soundscape machine FreqGen, and Scandroid, his love letter to the retro-futurism of the 1980s. Klayton has been producing his own work for his own label FiXT since 1999, and lately has been releasing two or three albums under various names each year.
You’d think, given the rate of his output, that he would start to suck, but he hasn’t yet. Monochrome, the new Scandroid album, is his third new thing of the year, including the Scandroid remix album and the surprisingly gentle new Celldweller, Offworld. It’s clear, though, that a lot of his work this year has gone into Monochrome. Like its predecessor, it’s a perfect recreation of that 1980s sound, from the drum fills to the blipping bass lines to the vocal effects. And like its predecessor, it’s more than a pastiche. It’s clearly a labor of love, a sincere valentine to a sound he grew up with and still cherishes.
There’s a lot to love about Monochrome, from the songs that were released early (the great “A Thousand Years,” “Afterglow,” “Rendezvous”) to the deep cuts (the title track, the epic “The Veil”). Throughout, Klayton keeps that vintage sound fresh, and if you enjoyed the first Scandroid album, there isn’t a lot that would keep you from loving this one.
But there are a few things, mainly the disjointed nature of the whole thing. Start with the fact that there are four instrumentals and a remix padding out the runtime. Then consider the two covers – one of the instrumentals is a re-working of John Williams’ “The Force Theme” from Star Wars, which really feels out of place here, and the other is a full-on dive into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that somehow manages to be audacious without quite going far enough. That leaves only six new Scandroid songs with vocals, not counting the intro “2518.”
The effect is a pretty bumpy ride, as an album. Where the first Scandroid album flowed beautifully, even incorporating a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Shout” into its mix, this one feels like Klayton had enough tracks on his hard drive to fill an album and just shoved them all onto the same CD. On a song-by-song basis, these are all pretty cool tracks – the instrumental “Oblivia” works in a very ‘80s sax sound and still manages to be expansive, “On the Face of the Deep” is similarly widescreen, and while I don’t think it belongs, I enjoy “The Force Theme” more than I expected to.
This is an album that raises the question of whether albums are meant to be complete journeys or a series of individual tracks on a disc. I’m always a fan of the former, but even with its cohesion problems, Monochrome is an enjoyable second effort from a project I remain excited about. I’m down for anything Klayton wants to do, and he hasn’t disappointed me yet. It might be time to slow down a little, though, and work on creating something that holds up as a complete journey next time out. I’m happy to hear as much music as Klayton wants to throw at me, but some more gestation time could have transformed Monochrome from an enjoyable hodgepodge to a fully formed statement.
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Gonna call it early this week. Next week, Weezer and Julien Baker, and maybe one or two others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.