Gord Downie Takes an Emotionally Complex Look at Death on 'Away Is Mine'

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Oct 19, 2020

Away Is Mine now supplants 2017's Introduce Yerself as Gord Downie's final solo release, and while it does not carry the elegiac weight of its predecessor, it shares similarities at its emotional core. What began as 10 acoustic sketches between Downie and Skydiggers' Josh Finlayson was taken to the Tragically Hip's Bathouse Studio, further fleshed out with the help of the Sadies' Travis Good, producer and engineer Nyles Spencer, Hip stage crew head Billy Ray Koster, and Gord's son Lou Downie. Recorded months before the beloved artist's passing, it's a record rooted in love, trust, friendship and family.

Presented in "electric" and "acoustic" versions, Away Is Mine's respective mixes give a clear look at the artistic process of two long-time friends and collaborators. In Spencer's hands, the electric version is undeniably a headphone album, not to mention the most left-field entry in Downie's catalogue, sonically speaking. His detailed treatments — looping, reversing, vocal modulations, pitch shifts, sweeping ambiance and gliding synths — were applied with the unknown in mind, as if the songwriter's final words are a transmission from among the stars.

A range of feelings flow from Downie's pen across the listen. Ruminating on death, he sings on "The Least Impossible," "I don't want the dark / I don't want the end / Don't even want the dark preview." In contrast, the acceptance of "River Don't Care" sees Downie declare, "I don't care about nature / Nature don't care about it / I throw all I had at it / Ineffable shit / The pain, the blood and spit." There is hope in "Useless Nights," as Downie holds a note in singing to a prospective saviour, "Please, be good to me." More humorously, "I Am Lost" finds him dryly concede that his eager show of intelligence is "actually kinda dumb," while the instruments drop out from behind the declarative "when I get high" on the title track, as if to wink at the listener.

While Finlayson admits he requested the acoustic mixes "purely for selfish reasons," some songs here benefit from having their studio embellishments stripped away. The acoustic version of "Traffic Is Magic" is more immediately charming without the booming low end that at times dominates the electric version, while "The Least Impossible" gets a noticeable lift from a skilful Finlayson accompaniment absent from its electric counterpart.

Vocally, the pared-down "River Don't Care" brings a vocal slide full of feeling to the surface, though pitch-shifted vocals on "About Blank" and the title track function better when bolstered by other instruments. With either mix, closer "Untitled" remains heart-wrenching, as Downie gently opines, "No one says 'goodbye' anymore / For fear that'll be 'goodbye.'"
(Arts & Crafts)

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