March 30, 2022 Our Lady Peace – Spiritual Machines II (Album Review)
When MuchMusic USA debuted in 1994, it placed a whole new array of musical artists in front of American audiences, a line-up that had previously been entirely ignored by the MTV monopoly. The TV channel, which would eventually become Fuse, introduced viewers to the likes of The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, The Tea Party, and a young but very much beloved Toronto act known as Our Lady Peace. Thirty years, nine studio albums, endless accolades, and countless smiling faces later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
And the predictions of the past have forged the future. Thus, the latest chapter in the multi-platinum band’s career is the sequel to their Art Rock collection Spiritual Machines, which originally debuted in December 2000. With the aptly-titled Spiritual Machines II, the Alt-Rock quartet once again engrosses listeners in the world of inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Originally released as a limited NFT on October 28, 2021, the album became available to a much wider audience on January 28, 2022, thanks to Shelter Music Group (BMG).
Produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek (with additional production by Jason Lader), Spiritual Machines II, much as its forebear, draws heavily on Kurzweil’s teachings, now moving beyond AI to dig deeper into the future of our society. Composed of 15 tracks—five of which are Spoken Word narrations/predictions from Kurzweil himself—the material explores everything from celebrity culture in our current times to the debate over progress and what it means in our technologically advanced times. With throwbacks to its sister record, as well as classic songs such as 1997’s “Superman’s Dead,” their latest was no small undertaking.
But such a concept—no less, one that was initially born two decades ago—was never meant to be easy. So, for their tenth studio offering, Our Lady Peace—Vocalist Raine Maida, Guitarist Steve Mazur, Bassist Duncan Coutts, and Drummer Jason Pierce—has set out to do the impossible. Bucking any expectations of modern studio flourishes, they instead opt to remain entrenched in the roots of the project.
So, Kurzweil is given free rein to explore concepts such as Universal Basic Income (UBI) and the shifting pursuit of meaning, AI that exhibits intelligent behavior equivalent to and indistinguishable from that of a human being, and more. These moments, of which “Escape Velocity” (featuring EMTEE) is one of the finest, musically speaking, provide a framework for the band’s portion of the narrative.
And Spiritual Machines II is not entirely speculative, as is evidenced by its first proper track, “Stop Making Stupid People Famous.” Here, funky bass and guitars that spin like Disco balls shine their glitter on Maida’s immediately recognizable vocals. Joyfully mocking the celebrated ignorance of the song’s titular individuals—with help from Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot—Our Lady Peace takes a succinct, to-the-point approach to their catchy if a bit quirky opener.
What follows runs the gamut between somewhat sleepy (“Holes”) offerings that rely heavily on their delicious rhythms to stellar experiences (“19 Days”) that offer catchy choruses meant to demand your attention. The latter approach is found in tracks such as “The Message,” which from its very first notes promises glory. Slinking across the senses to deliver sultry textures and ‘80s influenced grooves, the bizarre composition proves a highlight of the collection, one that even spotlights Kurzweil’s namesake keyboard.
Though the midtempo “Simulation,” dancy “Run,” and atmospheric “Good Die Young” fail to deliver eargasms of enlightenment, they are balanced by moments like “Wish You Well,” the sequel, if you will, to Spiritual Machine’s “Are You Sad?”. Its languid melodies are relaxing, a palette cleanser that sits as the antithesis of “Future Disease,” a song that echoes back to the funky step of opener “Stop Making Stupid People Famous” with its lo-fi ‘70s influences and spelling beat. This leaves the album’s closer, “Temporary Healing,” to tie together any loose strings with its beauty, slowly fading into an as yet unknown future.
Despite its astronomical intentions, Spiritual Machines II can lag. It is a journey that was never meant to be taken piecemeal; and for this, listeners must commit to the concept behind the art, appreciating the interconnectedness between Kurzweil’s words (and keyboard) and their integration into the Our Lady Peace narrative. No simple feat, the band is due great respect for their ability to pick up where they left off so many years ago, and deliver an organic second chapter in their ongoing futurist saga.
If you’re a die-hard Our Lady Peace fan, then Spiritual Machines II is nothing short of a dream realized two decades later. If you’re new to the band somehow, well, this might not be the best way to introduce yourself to these exceptional Canadians. Because the record, while managing to flow organically from its predecessor, does not necessarily offer the pinnacle of Our Lady Peace’s abilities. It’s a proud realization of a strong concept and definitely a brave (new) record, impressive in its intellectual depth and sonic minimalism. In short, Spiritual Machines II has moments that are substance over style—something that, when creating art, is not a bad problem to have. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Spiritual Machines II 3.5 out of 5 stars.