Tag Archives: Coke Machine Glow

Gordon Downie — Coke Machine Glow (Album Review)

Gord Downie's Coke Machine Glow

Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow

In order to fully understand Gord Downie’s new record Coke Machine Glow you first have to understand the parameters of the comparisons. Downie, the point man for The Tragically Hip, has long established himself as the mildly eccentric singer for one of the most successful Canadian rock bands ever. The Hip’s peers are no less than the biggest of the big (The Guess Who, Rush), but with Downie’s new solo project he’s hoping you’ll join him on a journey that will propel his work into an entirely different class of company.

Best described as the land of the earthy poet kings, this is the place inhabited by artistic giants like Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Cockburn and Daniel Lanois. To be lumped in amongst these universally respected, artistically vibrant solo artists takes a massive leap of faith considering Downie is the reigning monarch of beer hoist rock. And when it comes down to it, reluctant mucho props forthcoming, Downie ably meets this challenge.

Coke Machine is a wonderful success for a number of reasons:

1) With the exception of The Rheostatics, I can’t think of anyone whose imagery more effectively defines the term “Canadianna” (see the “Lofty Pines”).

2) It is not — in any way — like a Tragically Hip record. I’ve got a theory going that security on this release was so tight not because the record company were worried about leaks, but because they didn’t want advance word getting out that the record was full of mandolins, accordions and fiddles, thereby alienating the bulk of their cash-cow Hip following (check the jug-band rock of “Yer Possessed”). But I digress.

3) The impeccable eccentricity of it all. With a list of musicians helping out that reads like a who’s who on the permanent guest list of the Horseshoe Tavern, the seemingly disparate contributions of people like Jose Contreras, Dale Morningstar, Andy Maize and others are all unified under the sparse, challenging umbrella of sound they create.

4) If song titles like “Nothing But Heartache In Your Social Life,” “Boy Bruised By Butterfly Chase” and “Insomniacs Of The World, Good Night” don’t reek of titles lifted straight out of The Smiths songbook, I’ll eat my Meat Is Murder CD.

The greatest achievement with Coke Machine isn’t in any one actual song. There’s not a lot of the highest highs here. But as a whole, it’s all both unique and comforting, a sound that can only be described as Kawartha cottage porch rock. Held together by what seems like a case of beer, a half-dozen friends, some acoustic guitars and a few discreet hot knives behind the woodshed, Downie has managed to create a piece of work that defines what Canadian music truly sounds like in all its simple, naive majesty.

This review was originally published March 20, 2001 via Chart Communications.

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2001

Gord Downie's Coke Machine Glow

Gord Downie's Coke Machine Glow

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2001:

1. Gord Downie Coke Machine Glow
2. The Strokes Is This It
3. By Divine Right Good Morning Beautiful
4. The Avalanches Since I Left You
5. Ours Distorted Lullabies
6. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club BRMC
7. The Dears Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique
8. Spiritualized Let It Come Down
9. Ashley Park The American Scene
10. The Constantines The Constantines

Since I started unearthing these Top 10 lists a week or so ago this is probably the first I’ve felt close to entirely comfortable with.

My #1 album in 2001 was Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow and I continue to maintain it’s a brilliant Cancon canon album. I think I might have even given it a 5 out of 5 rating at the time, which is something I’ve done max 10 times in my years of music writing. What’s so special about Coke Machine Glow is it’s so guilelessly “art.” The fact that it was a solo album by the lead singer of a beer-rock arena-level band was secondary. Here, Downie dove deeply into his poetic narratives and then surrounded those stories with alternately beautiful/weird/exciting complimentary music courtesy of The Diner Is Ruined and a cast of related Can-indie veterans. This is the album that proved that Downie was definitively on the side of good.

Gord Downie “Chancellor”:

Everybody had Strokes fever back in 2001 and it was totally deserved. Is This Is? was a super-relentless dance party. It was bold and free and it’s still a great listen today, which is more than I can say for every other Strokes record. It’s funny, I got this record, Spiritualized’s Let It Come Down and Mercury Rev’s All Is Dream on the same day and I remember the V2 Records rep at the time being mad that nobody cared about All Is Dream, but why would they? There were two other nuclear bomb statement albums on everyone’s desks.

“Last Nite,” if you’ve never wildly danced to this song at a club you’ve been at the wrong clubs:

I love By Divine Right and consider them one of the under-appreciated pillars of Canadian indie rock, so I was pretty excited when Good Morning Beautiful came out. In hindsight is more “good” than “great” an album — still Top 10, but probably lower. I would’ve ranked it this high at the time because of the epic hippie jam “Hugger Of Trees.” It’s a song that can cut through all my layers of Grinch.

By Divine Right “Hugger Of Trees”:

Man, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You. Four billion samples, legal bullshit, mystery… none of which matters because if you know this album at all and I say the words “Radio,” “Flight Tonight” or “Frontier Psychiatrist” you should be experiencing an immediate Pavlovian reaction.

The Avalanches “Since I Left You”:

The voice of Jimmy Gnecco from Ours remains one of the most powerful, most chilling things I’ve ever heard. When Ours’ Distorted Lullabies came I out I was convinced they were going to become the biggest band in the world. I’m not sure why they didn’t. I suspect drugs, record company bullshit, band troubles, etc., etc. — the usual stuff — all had a hand in it. Mostly though, I’ve come to learn over the years that most people don’t actually like intense music. They can’t handle the emotional gravity of it all and just want something to hum along to. In the grand scheme that’s probably why Ours never hit it. It’s the world’s loss.

Ours “Meet Me In The Tower”:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are the perfect rock band. They’ve got black leather jackets, their music’s kinda noisy and dangerous, and the band members themselves are often difficult mumblers. Which all makes them hella cool.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Spread Your Love.” I was at this “video shoot,” which wasn’t really a video shoot so much as a proper concert with pro cameras capturing everything:

This would be the second year in a row I had The Dears in the #7 spot, this time for Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique. The best thing about this EP is it gave the band an identity. Something that was theirs alone — which is extremely underrated a commodity in the music universe. This was the dangle that made people want to know more.

The Dears “Autotomy”:

At #8 was the aforementioned Spiritualized record Let It Come Down. This was supposed to be super-huge and it was. Something like 115 people worked on this record and it shows.

Spiritualized “Out Of Sight.” Fuck, this song’s big:

And in every Top 10 list there must be something you no longer care about. For this one it would be Ashley Park’s The American Scene. I remember really digging on this album when it came out, but I’ve never been back to it. And in the sign of true listener death for me — I haven’t bothered to rip the album into iTunes.

I haven’t ripped #10 into iTunes either. That would be The Constantines debut album. I feel no need or desire to revisit this record. I rode that hype train at the time, and enjoyed parts of that journey, and that’s enough.

Other album lists…

2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1


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