Our Lady Peace: The Once and Future Age of Spiritual Machines

As 2020 winds down, one of Canada’s alternative rock mainstays looks back – but only for the purposes of moving forward. As Our Lady Peace prepares to release Spiritual Machines II, the follow-up to their seminal 2000 album, it’s worth examining how the original holds up after twenty years.

By Bennison Smith 

Age of spiritual machines
10 – 15 billion years ago,
the universe is born

– “R.K. Intro”

Ray Kurzweil’s tinny narration kicks off the Spiritual Machines album – and appropriately so.

Our Lady Peace’s fourth record is loosely based on Kurzweil’s non-fiction book: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999). The popular futuristic work inspired the Canadian band to churn out this concept album a mere year after the release of their third record, Happiness… Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch (1999).

They did so with Kurzweil’s blessing, as well as his input. Kurzweil (credited as “R.K.”) recorded several passages from his book as brief spoken-word excerpts for use on the album. The excerpts serve as eerie connective tissue between the album’s ten musical tracks.

The panic of the future rears
You dig, you jerk
You find another way
– “Right Behind You”

Spiritual Machines is a lot of things.

Artistically, it takes Kurzweil’s vision of a digital future populated by machines that think, feel and pray – and then runs with it.

Considering its futuristic themes, the album’s release in the first year of a new millennium was a timely one.

As well, the album served symbolically as the end of an era for Our Lady Peace.

It is the last OLP album produced by Arnold Lanni, the producer who guided the band creatively beginning with their grunge origins on the Naveed (1995) album. Shortly after the release of Naveed, the band was catapulted into sustained commercial success.

Lanni produced all four of their early records and departed after Spiritual Machines. His replacement on the Gravity (2002) album was one Bob Rock (a name which never fails to provoke a reaction across the OLP fandom).

Album cover for Spiritual Machines (2000). Photo: Wikipedia

Save for a few tracks on Gravity, Spiritual Machines is also co-founder and lead guitarist Mike Turner’s last contribution to the band – for now, anyway.

Turner’s understated approach, along with his ear for melody and timing, helped to elevate the record to a creative high the band hadn’t realized up until then – and arguably hasn’t quite realized since. Listeners should pay attention especially to the penultimate track, “If You Believe”  for an excellent example of Turner’s technical wizardry on the guitar.

Spiritual Machines represents the “old” Our Lady Peace, before the band chose another direction. And for that old OLP, it’s hard to think of a better send off than this record.

It’s also very interesting that the band, featuring an almost completely different lineup save for Raine Maida and Duncan Coutts, has chosen to embark on a sequel record with the upcoming Spiritual Machines II.

Like a machine,
I’ll fix you from the start
– “In Repair”

It is impossible to have a conversation about OLP without mentioning lead singer Raine Maida. Inevitably, such a conversation will turn to the topic of his voice.

Bassist Duncan Coutts recently acknowledged on an episode of Canadian Music Podcast that Maida’s voice is simultaneously the group’s “gift and curse.”

It is a gift because his distinctive vocal register can be instantly recognized by a listener, regardless of the style or tempo of the song Maida is performing.

For the same reasons, his voice is also a curse when the band is attempting to branch out creatively and seek new audiences.

Over his career, Maida has famously sung up and down the vocal range. Depending on the song and the record, he will sometimes sing in a deep, resonant baritone. Sometimes he will also sing in a falsetto so pronounced that the lyrics will become virtually unintelligible.

For an effective blend of both ends of the Maida scale, listeners can simply listen to his baritone and falsetto layered on top of one another in the verses of “In Repair.”

And how many times has your faith slipped away?
Well is anybody safe?
Does anybody pray?
– “Life”

Despite being a record about robots, Spiritual Machines brims with life.

“Life” is, of course, also one of the album’s big singles and a classic OLP radio anthem.

The life of the album begins with an urgent declaration of solidarity on “Right Behind You” and reaches its apex with “The Wonderful Future,” a song featuring bass and percussion that are evocative of a slow, but persistent heartbeat.

“The Wonderful Future” is a track with interesting subtext, which will be discussed in a moment.

I’m drowning inside your head
– “Are You Sad?”

For all its futurism, Spiritual Machines is still very much a product of the 1990s (i.e., on “Everyone’s a Junkie,” the lyrics contain a slightly dated reference to “endless television”).

The themes of the record, however, remain universal.

In the face of a seismic change, the record’s central narrator struggles to maintain their grip on their relationships to those closest to them. They offer solidarity (“Right Behind You”), support (“In Repair”), comfort (“Are You Sad?”) and express regret for what they couldn’t do (“Middle of Yesterday”).

The themes on the record are effectively conveyed by some of Maida, Turner and Coutts’ most proficient musical work – not to mention the work of then-drummer, Jeremy Taggart, whose distinctive performances behind the kit underpinned much of the band’s early success.

She needs to know I’m alive,
but I’m flesh and I tear
– “The Wonderful Future”

The burden of caring for other people, when their problems become your own, permeates tracks early on the record.

Caring for other human beings is a worthy cause. But it also takes a toll.

Meanwhile, by the end of the record, the narrative presents a contrasting vision with “The Wonderful Future” and its aforementioned subtext.

The song’s narrator seems to have begun a relationship of some sort with a spiritual machine. The relationship described in the song seems ethereal, maybe even vapid.

Where there were human bonds holding the narrator back earlier in the record’s narrative, they instead seem elevated by the bond they have formed with this machine, whether it be one of simple friendship or something else.

On “Middle of Yesterday” the narrator was full of regret for doing wrong by another person they once cared for. At that midway point of the album, they seemed to be hopeful for a resolution of some kind. But on “The Wonderful Future” they don’t seem to care anymore now that an angelic machine of some sort is in their life instead.

How we, as listeners, are supposed to feel about this narrative development is naturally open to interpretation. But it’s a significant note to end the album on before the last Kurzweil spoken word track (“R.K. and Molly”) is slipped in for good measure.

Does the album’s narrative imply that society itself is headed on a parallel path to the narrator regarding its relationship with technology, digitization and artificial intelligence?

And does that path represent an ascension as a society?

Or perhaps a downward spiral?

We will have to see if the band is up for tackling these questions – and more – on Spiritual Machines II in 2021.


Bennison Smith is a budding Our Lady Peace superfan. One of the highlights of his fandom so far was being asked multiple times to “please sing a little quieter” by fellow audience members at an OLP concert. Bennison’s fandom for OLP began in earnest with the Burn Burn (2009) album and has only grown since. He was pleased, but not terribly surprised, to be recognized by the Spotify algorithm for placing in the top 0.5% of Our Lady Peace listeners on their platform.

Bennison’s conclusive rankings of all things Our Lady Peace:

Favourite OLP album: Spiritual Machines (2000), of course
Least favourite OLP album: Healthy in Paranoid Times (2005)
Favourite OLP song: “Blister”
Favourite Raine Maida look: the long-haired days of the “Fear of the Trailer Park” tour circa 2002/2003

Canadian Music Picks 2019: Contemporary

We dive deep into some newer tracks, littered with a few favourites, on the Canadian contemporary music scene.

By Serena Ypelaar

Hey readers! Happy Canada Day. If you’ve either been reading The Mindful Rambler or spoken to me for more than a sec, you’ll know I’m obsessed with music, especially in the alternative rock/indie/punk genres. Last year I broke down some of my top Canadian music picks, both contemporary and classic. This Canada Day, I’ve created a new list of tracks for your summer – all by Canadian artists.

Toronto-based indie pop band Alvvays. Photo: Rolling Stone

I thought it’d be nice to revel in the present and look to the future this time around, so I’ve got a strictly contemporary playlist for your listening pleasure. Without further ado, here’s the latest curated #CanCon playlist, courtesy of The Mindful Rambler.

CanCon: Contemporary 🍁

Just Here With My Friends – The Darcys & Leah Fay
You Already Know – Arcade Fire
Map Of The World – City and Colour
Afraid Of Heights – Billy Talent
It’s Alright – Mother Mother
Bathed In Light – The Dirty Nil
There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back – Shawn Mendes
Saturday Night – Arkells
Side Walk When She Walks – Alexisonfire
If You Want It – Sam Roberts
You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
Forest Fire – Wintersleep
How I Feel – A Tribe Called Red, Shad, Leonard Sumner, Northern Voice
Johnny + Mary – July Talk
Who’s With Me – Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker
Rhythms – Sum 41
Icebreaker – Tanya Tagaq
Get Over It – Hollerado
NVR 4EVR – Death From Above
Trust – Half Moon Run
Don’t Matter to Me (feat. Michael Jackson) – Drake
Ballad of a Poet – Our Lady Peace
Want What You Got – The Beaches
Everything is Alright – The Glorious Sons
All I Need – Shad, Yukon Blonde
Gold Guns Girls – Metric
I Feel It All – Feist
I Don’t Know – The Sheepdogs
Ultestakon – Jeremy Dutcher
The Lion – Monster Truck
Boujee Natives – Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Pressure – Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs
Saved By A Waif – Alvvays
The High Road – Three Days Grace

Let me know what you think of this year’s selections!

“Canadian” is not a genre

As we near Canada Day, we question Canadian content standards and come up with some top playlist picks for the long weekend.

By Serena Ypelaar

I didn’t come up with the title for this post myself – it’s a slogan coined by Dine Alone Records, the Canadian independent record label based here in Toronto.

We can take some pointers from its message, as Canadian art is often dismissed – from literature, to visual arts, to music, and more. It’d be interesting to see what percentage of music in our libraries is Canadian – I’d wager most Canadians have 15% or less. But the fact is that there is so much Canadian music out there – and it’s good. 

9053598741_0e3efbb889_o
Canadian Indigenous singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo: Flickr

What is it about being Canadian that automatically garners less attention? We even have poorer-quality versions of American reality TV shows, and a terrible Netflix selection compared to our southern neighbours to show for it.

In our current political climate, feat. a tariff war with the United States (which, let’s be honest, flares up every so often like a chronic wound), why not support Canadian musicians and invest in some local talent?

Here are some concise, but by no means comprehensive, top picks for quintessential Canadian listening. Enjoy my quick recs below.

A Tribe Called Red: Essential Indigenous electronic/hip-hop; mandatory listening. Songs to Start With: “R.E.D.,” “How I Feel”, “Bread & Cheese”

Billy Talent: Political commentary & punk rock all in one. Crisp guitars; crisper lyrics. Songs to Start With: “Try Honesty”, “Devil in a Midnight Mass”, “White Sparrows”

July Talk: Jarring juxtaposition of vocals – guttural/masculine vs. soft/feminine. Songs to Start With: “Headsick”, “Blood + Honey”, “Picturing Love”

Alexisonfire: “The sound of two Catholic high-school girls mid-knife-fight”.* Songs to Start With: “Boiled Frogs”, “Get Fighted”, “Midnight Regulations”

*I can’t describe it any better than they already have…

City and Colour: Mournful lamentations nursed by Dallas Green’s voice. Songs to Start With: “Casey’s Song”, “Waiting…”, “The Lonely Life”

Arkells: Anthemic, buoyant daytime rock with a touch of motown. Songs to Start With: “Where U Goin”, “Cynical Bastards”, “John Lennon”

28521842711_254f6e659b_o
Mike DeAngelis and Max Kerman of Hamilton band Arkells, at WayHome Music and Arts Festival 2016. Photo: Flickr

Death From Above: Industrious duo at the junction of bass & drums. Songs to Start With: “All I C is U and Me”, “Crystal Ball”, “Romantic Rights”

Tanya Tagaq: Daring, innovative, and traditional Inuit throat-singing. Songs to Start With: “Uja”, “Sila”, “Retribution”

Mother Mother: Three-layered high-pitched vocals on a base of synth and strings. Songs to Start With: “Ghosting”, “The Stand”, “Infinitesimal”

Sum 41: Sprawling spitfire of classic punk rock with heavyweight choruses. Songs to Start With: “Still Waiting”, “Open Your Eyes”, “With Me”

USS (Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker): Lucid, lively electronica fuelled by lyrical emotion. Songs to Start With: “Damini”, “Vulcan”, “Freakquency”

Arcade Fire: A convergence of 6+ hipsters producing indie rock with accordion and keyboard at the fore. Songs to Start With: “Ready to Start”, “The Suburbs”, “No Cars Go”

Monster Truck: 70s style blues rock backed by organs. Long hair & denim required.   Songs to Start With: “Don’t Tell Me How to Live”, “Old Train”, “For the People”

Hollerado: Personable indie rock with a genuine sound and hard-hitting beats. Songs to Start With: “Too Much to Handle”, “So It Goes”, “Got to Lose”

Drake: No description needed for Toronto’s resident rapper… Songs to Start With: “Passionfruit”, “Over”, “God’s Plan”

Our Lady Peace: Low, crooning vocals replete with reassuring lyrics. Songs to Start With: “Innocent”, “All You Did Was Save My Life”, “Angels/Losing/Sleep”

Avril Lavigne: Do I even need to explain this? Songs to Start With: “Complicated”, “Sk8er Boi”, “I’m With You”

Cancer Bats: Gritty underground metal; shredding, cymbal-smashing oblivion. Songs to Start With: “Hail Destroyer”, “Beelzebub”, “Gatekeeper”

Three Days Grace: Bass-heavy garage-rock with brutally honest insights. Songs to Start With: “Just Like You”, “Never Too Late”, “Last to Know”

Sam Roberts Band: Even-paced alternative rock with laid-back guitars. Songs to Start With: “Brother Down”, “Them Kids”, “If You Want It”

Half Moon Run: Serene assertions on the human condition, featuring folksy acoustics. Songs to Start With: “Nerve”, “Trust”, “Narrow Margins”

Wintersleep: Guitars, synth, and experimental riffs with a sprightly rhythm. Songs to Start With: “Lifting Cure”, “Metropolis”, “Santa Fe”

alanis
Alanis Morissette. Photo: Wikimedia

Of course, there are also the Canadian classics, which you might consider revisiting for the long weekend. I’ve created a track-by-track vignette of essential Canadiana:

  • Rush – “YYZ”
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Working for the Government”
  • Bryan Adams – “Summer of ’69”
  • The Guess Who – “American Woman”
  • Gordon Lightfoot – “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”
  • Shania Twain – “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”
  • Alanis Morissette – “Thank U”
  • Sarah McLachlan – “Building A Mystery”
  • Great Big Sea – “The Chemical Worker’s Song”
  • Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”
  • Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi”
  • Leonard Cohen – “Treaty”
  • k.d. lang – “Constant Craving”
  • Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
  • Barenaked Ladies – “Canada Dry”
  • The Tragically Hip – “Bobcaygeon”

Obviously I omitted a bunch of bands/artists, mainly because I don’t listen to them enough to consider myself worthy of making thoughtful recommendations. Other Canadian artists are included below.

Shad, Lights, The Dirty Nil, Anne Murray, The Jerry Cans, Shawn Mendes, Sloan, Tegan and Sara, Michael Buble, Metric, Simple Plan, Young Empires, Joni Mitchell, Nelly Furtado, Bruce Cockburn, Jann Arden, The Trews, Corey Hart, Alessia Cara, Ron Sexsmith, Diana Krall, Stan Rogers, BROS, Feist, The Beaches, Moneen, The Darcys, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Said the Whale, Constantines, Marianas Trench, Silverstein, Broken Social Scene, Big Wreck, Nickelback, PUP, Dear Rouge, Blue Rodeo, Hedley, Fucked Up, Toronto, Great Lake Swimmers, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Teenage Head, Down With Webster, Thousand Foot Krutch, Matt Good Band, The Tea Party, The Sheepdogs, Hey Rosetta!, The Elwins, IllScarlett, Prism, I Mother Earth, Black Lungs, Chromeo, Japandroids, Whitehorse, Protest the Hero, The New Pornographers, Joel Plaskett, Northern Voice, Serena Ryder, Lost Cousins, Moist, Neverending White Lights, Platinum Blonde, Stabilo, Saint Asonia, Finger Eleven, Templar, Theory of a Deadman, Wolf Parade, Yukon Blonde, Born Ruffians, Black Bear.

Over the years, so much of Canadian identity has been built on what we’re not (namely, American). Let’s talk about what we are, for a change. It’s something Canadian music does well, if we only listen.