The Tragically Hip: In Between Evolution

Zeth Lundy

The Tragically Hip

In Between Evolution

Label: Zoe
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
UK Release Date: 2004-07-12

So remind me again why the Tragically Hip isn't huge in the U.S.? Why does one of Canada's biggest rock bands recede into anonymity when it crosses the border? The last time (quite possibly the only time) I remember the Hip invading the indifferent consciousness of its neighbor was almost a decade ago, introduced by fellow Canadian (and faux bluesman) Dan Akyroyd on Saturday Night Live. Trends come and go, but the Hip has been together for 20 years now (all five original members remain) and they still can't catch some stateside props. Canada didn't hide its bands behind its back and say, "OK, America, guess which one you want!" No, Canada put Alanis Morissette, Barenaked Ladies, and the Tragically Hip out on the table, and you, America, chose the foul-mouthed pretty one and the nerdy sentimentalists that caused you to shoot milk out your nose with "chickity China, the Chinese chicken". Looks like I've answered my own question. Never mind.

The amazing thing about a band like the Tragically Hip is how, two decades into its career, it can remain as inspired and vitriolic as any band half its age. In Between Evolution explosively proves such a statement, as it very well could be the strongest album the band has released. The Hip has never sounded tighter as a collective unit than they do on In Between Evolution; the songs are injected with a newfound sense of intense focus, as if the band's very career depended on it. The album's fringes smolder from the heat of its passionate core. It's raw and human, so yes it is flawed, but you have to respect the band for being so honest and direct.

I must admit, I write all of this while equally surprised and elated, because I have not always climbed to the rooftops to sing the praises of every Tragically Hip release. Its last album of comparable strength was Phantom Power (1998); In Violet Light (2002) had terrific songs, but was thwarted by inexplicably poor production. For In Between Evolution, the band hired the able ears of rock producer Adam Kasper (Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age) who wisely captures the band shooting off sparks, live in the studio, with little interruption.

The Tragically Hip is a perfect cocktail of brawn and brains: the band's electrically charged chemistry appeals to one's most primal rock and roll instincts, and vocalist Gord Downie's stream-of-consciousness lyrics are atypically clever. Downie has a frantic urgency in his voice that comes trembling from his lungs, equally fearless and fearsome. Some folks have lazily dubbed the Hip as "Canada's R.E.M.", but Michael Stipe, despite all his bodily convulsions and riffs on Styrofoam, doesn't viscerally attack like Downie. (Now would be the appropriate time to comment on the inimitable aspect of Downie's voice, but that guy from Interpol has to stop his impersonation before I can make such a statement with confidence.)

In Between Evolution is an album full of stadium-sized anthems, rife with purity and potency. While the songs may loom large like foreboding shadows, a closer inspection reveals ruminations on a tangible, personal level. Some Ron Wood-inspired slide guitar pushes "Vaccination Scar" into its menacing Stonesy riff. Written in response to a British Columbian bridge that collapsed last year and claimed a number of lives, "Vaccination Scar" boasts some of Downie's most sublime imagery: "One thing I remember is / This tear on your bare shoulder / This little silver boulder, this slowly falling star / Never getting older where the moon shocked curtains part / The start of enough / A tear dropped in a vaccination scar". Submerged in eerie bog-rock, "Gus: the Polar Bear from Central Park" searches for the reason behind the titular character's troubles: "The mere mention of the name / Used to be enough to make every bird stop singing". "It's the way the dust clings to the air / After a stranger's been there," Downie chillingly notes in "Meanstreak", the music cascading through minor-key noir behind him.

The up-tempo steamrollers "One Night in Copenhagen", "As Makeshift as We Are", and "It Can't Be Nashville Every Night" all fight for possession of the album's most indelible three minutes -- an impossible battle, I must confess, and one that leaves your head spinning with sound. The latter song, in particular, roars forth with a chorus awash in cymbal crashes and overpowering group vocals, like a bully whose thrashings induce near-rapturous results. Even colossal songs like these are left in the dust by "The Heart of the Melt", which slips the Hip into overdrive and never stops to examine its wake.

Oddly enough, the album's first two tracks are its weakest. "Heaven Is a Better Place Today" and "Summer's Killing Us", while both valiant attempts at battle cry rave-ups, ultimately don't have the same chiseled definition of the songs that follow. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't necessarily important -- 11 great songs out of 13 ain't too shabby.

In Between Evolution doesn't break any new ground, but it sure knows how to stomp the hell out of it. All you young "punks" with your four-minute therapy session singles that populate corporate radio: quit while the money's good, 'cause you're riding one big wave of bullshit that -- if there's any justice in this world -- In Between Evolution will topple like a tsunami from the north. The Tragically Hip has come out on top this time, defending its title as Canada's Most Loved Band, and now you all have no excuse to plead ignorance.

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

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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