Memories, meaning and reflections on Rae Spoon’s bodiesofwater

Music | by Emmet Matheson

Dave Todon

Rae Spoon
Underground Cafe
Tuesday 18

Ten o’clock is late at night if you’re a kid, early if you’re a writer.

You’re listening to bodiesofwater, the new Rae Spoon, album after you’ve put the kids to bed. You more or less quit writing about music not long after you wrote about Spoon’s transcendent 2012 dark electropop album I Can’t Keep All Our Secrets. A new Rae Spoon album is exactly the kind of thing that will pull you back in the game.

You have an interview with Spoon tomorrow. You’ve interviewed them before but it’s been a while. The first time was back in the very early 2000s when you did these kinds of interviews all the time. Spoon had just put out their second album, Throw Some Dirt on Me and was coming through town. They were a country singer then.

You’d never knowingly talked to anyone transgendered or nonbinary before that first interview and your strategy was just to avoid the topic altogether which, at the time seemed preferable to saying something and making a total ass of yourself.

You don’t know how to approach it now.

The next day, when you bring it up, Spoon will mention that back then a lot of people didn’t feel safe coming out as trans or nonbinary. You’ll wonder about the role you played in people not feeling safe. You’ll mention that your life now is full of non-binary friends, neighbours, coworkers. You’ll ask Spoon if they feel like a trailblazer, if they have a sense of how different things are now, especially touring as a nonbinary musician.

Spoon will answer by talking about how they used to tour by Greyhound back in the day.

“But that’s gone now,” they’ll say, referring to the busline’s recent announcement that it’s cancelling all Western Canadian routes this October. “I eventually learned how to drive and I’ll be driving this tour. I’m looking forward to it.”

The title of Spoon’s new album, bodiesofwater, really puts the album’s theme out there. The relationship between humans and nature — sometimes metaphoric, sometimes literal — plays out across it. Climate change runs through nearly every song. Even “In My Town,” which shows how a #MeToo story can play out at a local level, where more intimate power dynamics are harder to topple than those involving public figures — “which person has lost nothing, which one is not around?” — ends with a tidal wave.

Water as destroyer emerges again in “It’s Getting Close” and “Undertow.” In “Seascape”, the ocean is a source of safety and solace; a place to go to find “whatever keeps you breathin’.”    The real threat is clear in “You Don’t Do Anything,” a stark, rumbling song critical of pipeline expansions and BC Hydro’s Site C Dam.

“I live in Victoria now,” they’ll say. “And being close to the water there affects everything.”

Spoon, originally from Alberta, has lived in Montreal, Berlin, even Vancouver along the way. Each of these places left their marks on Spoon’s style, from the early country stuff to the electronic experimentation and now, there’s almost a ’70s West Coast singer-songwriter vibe to bodiesofwater. It’s pop so sophisticated it nearly dabbles in jazz.

But it’s the direct simplicity of the anthemic “Do Whatever the Heck You Want” that shows Spoon’s mature voice. “Should I be an artist even after I turn 40?” Spoon sings and a chorus cheers “yeah!”, because of course. You yourself just turned 41 and, artistically, you’ve never been stronger.

“I’m not actually 40 yet,” Spoon will tell you. “And obviously, I’m going to continue to be an artist after 40.”

The song’s earliest version was “Do Whatever the Fuck You Want” and had 30 F-Bombs, but Spoon changed the lyrics, Canadianized them even, while playing festivals with children around.

“There is a version that I made with a post-punk band in the UK,” Spoon will tell you. “I think we’ll put it out later. It’s more punk and angular.”

While you’re listening to “Do Whatever the Heck You Want” thinking about how it is at once both insistent and considerate, your youngest daughter, not yet seven, emerges sleepy-eyed and soft of foot.

“I heard music,” she says and scampers up beside you.

You start the song over for her. You hope she hears and absorbs its confidence. “Do you like it?”

“I do,” she says, and rest her head on your shoulder. “It has bad words.”

“Heck isn’t a bad word,” you say.

“Heck is a bad word,” she says.