superioryouareinferior is a potent critique of Canadian society and values and Rae Spoon’s definitive statement of personal empowerment.
Where do you start with Rae Spoon? A prairie-born product of the 1980s, Spoon has built an impressive career by usurping stereotypes and expectations with every new project. Whether working on experimental art projects about German train lines, writing short fiction inspired by their childhood home, or creating a multi-media biographical musical documentary, Rae Spoon is a creative force that has never lingered long enough in any one discipline long enough to be pigeonholed.
Before establishing Coax Records, an essential and voice for inclusivity and diversity in Canadian music, Spoon was releasing their music independently, supporting their musical endeavours by crisscrossing the country multiple times, playing live anywhere that would have them. Besides being a necessity for their livelihood, all that touring also served as a form of research into “Canadian Gothic”, a theme Spoon described to me as the connection to “the presence, haunted structures, the search for identity, elements of darkness and skepticism to my experiences touring in Canada” in 2009.
That theme figures prominently on superioryouareinferior, Spoon’s beguiling Polaris Music Prize-longlisted album from 2008. The record, like its creator, defies easy categorization. At turns rootsy and folk-based, Spoon’s brand of country troubadourism is infused with inspired moments where computerized beats and samples add an unexpected — yet totally organic — twist on the genre’s more staid tropes. Spoon weaves mini geography lessons into their lyrics. From seas to seas to sea, they not only recount visits to physical landmarks and historic sites but offer a glimpse into a soul laid bare, a life not many of could ever expect to experience.
Never ostentatious or overly ornate, superioryouareinferior somehow still delivers epic grandeur right from its opening acoustic strums. Spoon’s voice, piercing and poignant, commands attention right from the first note of “Great Lakes”. The song is a gentle rumination on one’s own abilities and tenacity. In hindsight, it’s evident Spoon is singing from “the other side” of self-doubt and that the answer to the question is an unequivocal yes. But their haunting delivery more than hints at the precarious, tenuous experiences that inform the song.
Bittersweet images like being “drawn and quartered and dragged behind / The wagons of our time” (“Bones In A Museum”) hints at the extent of trauma and persecution Spoon faced while touring without ever overtly going into great detail. Instead, these eleven songs tell their stories through poetic suggestion and metaphor. Whether it’s the ocean standing in for society’s immovable ignorance on the hymn-like ballad “Strength From Within” or long dead spirits ensuring that the atrocities of colonialism are never forgotten (“Come On Forest Fire Burn The Disco Down”), Spoon finds a way to universally translate the essence of each song.
Don’t let its lowercase stylization fool you into thinking it’s a diminutive record; superioryouareinferior is a potent critique of Canadian society and values and Rae Spoon’s definitive statement of personal empowerment. Ten years ago this month, Spoon’s decade-old Canadian Gothic thesis was the number one album on my inaugural Polaris Music Prize long list ballot, and it continues to be a thoroughly satisfying listen that resonates with relevance.