Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles : The Grand Bounce

Downie's third solo recording retains the indie rock-poet aesthetic of its predecessors, while splicing in a measure of arena-sized muscle borrowed from his daytime gig.

Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles

The Grand Bounce

Contributors: Gord Downie, Julie Doiron, Dale Morningstar, Josh Findlayson, Chris Walla, Dave Clark, John Press
Label: Universal
Canada Release Date: 2010-06-08
UK Release Date: 2011-03-22
US Release Date: 2011-02-15
Artist website

On his first two solo albums, singer, songwriter, poet, and all-around Canadian Renaissance man Gord Downie broadened his artistic horizons while burnishing an indie credibility that casual observers didn't even know he had. Moonlighting from his main gig as frontman of the Tragically Hip, Downie crafted complex and ambiguous pop songs with scope and poignancy. There was not a firm delineative boundary between Downie's solo work and the Hip's output, mind you; his initial effort, 2001's bizarrely elegant Coke Machine Glow, was composed of leftfield variations on the musical tones and themes that made up 2000's Music @ Work, the Hip's most indie-friendly LP from a production standpoint. Even 2003's much weaker Battle of the Nudes, for all of its slam-poet excess, shared numerous elements with Downie’s writing for his more famous band.

Once again collaborating with a hinterland who's who of his Canuck contemporaries (namely Dale Morningstar and Dave Clark of the Dinner Is Ruined, Josh Finlayson of the Skydiggers, and former Eric's Trip member and longtime solo artist Julie Doiron) and produced by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, Downie's third solo recording, The Grand Bounce, retains the indie rock-poet aesthetic of its predecessors while splicing in a measure of arena-sized muscle borrowed from his daytime gig.

The latter is especially palpable, and gloriously so, on the album-opening surges of "The East Wind". A favorite literary image of impending chaos and upheaval from the Greek poets down to Conan Doyle and Tolkien, Downie deepens the title phrase's inherent menace with references to the Canadian poets Todd Burley and Al Purdy (the latter's beer-soaked existentialism has long been a touchstone for Downie, who narrated and starred in Douglas Bensadoun's short film based on Purdy's "At the Quinte Hotel" in 2002). There's also an inverted invocation of Canadian painter Tom Thomson's famed The West Wind in the title, if you want to parse it (Downie is also a painter, and one of his works graces the album cover). The embedding of all of these elements into a four-and-a-half-minute rock song that soars on crescendoing strums and Downie's harmonizing with Doiron (a noteworthy complementary star on the record) is a statement to the depth and breadth of his craft.

The stabbing rhythm of "The East Wind" recurs frequently throughout the rest of the album, eventually constituting a half-formed leitmotif of sorts. It drives the growling, gothic "The Dance and Its Disappearance", underscores the nautical disaster metaphors of "The Drowning Machine", and revs up the desperate nocturnal momentum of "Night Is for Getting".

But The Grand Bounce is hardly all restless relentlessness; Downie and the Country of Miracles make the time for tweetering indie-rock shuffles like "Retrace", "Moon Over Glenora", and "Moonslow Yer Lashes" (Downie has an evident lunar predilection). Even more indelible are songs like "As a Mover" and "Gone", wherein Downie's underrated melodies climb almost imperceptively to majestic heights. That formidable melodic sense can sometimes let him down, though. "Broadcast" misplaces expressions of the haunting vastness of the Great Lakes in a meandering off-path journey with little effect (or affect), and the album's coda "Pinned" is an unintelligible piano-plinking whisper of grief.

Furthermore, I'm still struggling over what exactly to make of "The Hard Canadian". The instrumental backing is uninspired and the melody is wedged between predictability and ironic recycling, but the lyric sheet reveals Downie facing up to the pitfalls of the hard-bitten rural proletarian mode of expression that he is clearly attracted to and fitfully embraces. He'll sing about the isolation, the obtuseness, and the misanthropy of such a figure with the apparent detachment of the omniscient narrator, but is he implicating himself when he wonders if "The Hard Canadian" is "just mean or willfully dense"? Where in this stark landscape does our Renaissance man stand? You never really know with Gord Downie, and you should never really expect to. That's an integral part of the pleasure.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.