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“When you’re aging, and those around you are aging – people get sick, and people die,” Kevin Drew says. “There’s no real way to convey your pain or grief without being self-indulgent within the high-five denial – but regardless of the personal details, it’s a reality.”
Aging, the third solo album from the co-founder of Toronto’s beloved indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene, was the inevitable title of Drew’s meditative new record – because he was living everything that comes with it.
Compared to his shambolic solo debut Spirit If (2007), with its 23-piece band and romantic musings, to the black-light synth-pop-tinged Darlings (2014) and its carnal obsessions, Aging’s collection of minimalist piano ballads is darker and more contemplative than anything Drew has released before.
Influenced by the passing of friends and mentors, as well as the health of friends and family, Aging brings together songs written over a decade marked by the signifiers of midlife – love, loss, and illness – all while wrestling with the hard truths of aging: How do you deal with the blunt-force impact of loss? What does it mean to look and feel different than you did before?
Across the eight tracks on Aging – which runs a compact but potent 33 minutes – can be found the spirit of Drew classics like “Lover’s Spit” and “Sweetest Kill,” but with a sense of sorrow rarely heard on previous material. The writer of some of indie rock’s most life-affirming and celebratory anthems has become world sick.
Lyrics like “We gotta find some time / Everybody’s dying for the time” from first single “Out In The Fields” are as doggedly hopeful as Drew has ever been – yet sound more like an impassioned plea than his typical rallying cry.
The themes that have preoccupied much of Drew’s two-decades-long career are still present – the power of love, resisting apathy, the pursuit of connection – but the subject matter once exclaimed with the youthful fervour of a wide-eyed idealist now carries the weight of someone trying to make sense of the world in the throes of grief.
In 2021, Drew found himself at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse studio near Kingston, Ont. where he had been making records for the last decade. The initial goal was to make a children’s album, but as Drew and longtime collaborator Nyles Spencer started recording, they found themselves working towards an album about getting older, pulling from a collection of songs both old and new that fit together sonically and thematically.
When your mind is occupied with the great beyond, a simple song like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” the opener to Side B, could be a reassuring nursery rhyme as easily as it could be a
reflection on death and rebirth: “Don’t be afraid of the dark / The light always comes back on / It’s never off too long.”
“Pain is a hard thing to let go until you’re ready,” Drew explains. “And that’s kind of where I was at with this record. Music, for me, is a release – it’s a place where I can go and express what it is that I want to say.”
The urgency with which Drew needed to use his music as a release can be felt on the first two tracks, driven by a simple kick drum, layered piano, and synthesizer. When he sings, “They’re coming for me tonight / And my friend died” on album opener “Elevators,” we can feel the world closing in on him.
When he laments, “People are so scared / They don’t know why they’re scared / So they try hard to act like they’re not scared” on “Out In The Fields,” we can see him searching for answers.
Aging finds the typically declarative Drew asking more questions than ever. “We partied into your grave. Was that okay? Was that okay? / We partied to be saved. Was that okay? Was that okay?” Drew asks on “Party Oven,” a piano ballad about partying the pain away of losing someone – while contemplating if cremation is a lonely exit.
These are the kind of late-night ruminations that make up the beating heart of Aging. When Drew bemoans the “common ways we love and die” on “All Your Fails,” it evokes the feeling of a racing mind on a sleepless night. And no song is more emblematic of the album's nocturnal tone than the slow-burn piano dirge “Awful Lightning,” where Drew declares, “My skin is cold / I’m not aging right / Awful lightning / Strike me down.”
Even the most hopeful songs on Aging sound less like a diagnosis of the times than a distressed recognition – it’s the voice of someone who has imparted advice to people for years accepting that they may not have listened.
There are times when it’s hard to know whether Drew is singing these songs to someone else or to himself. So much of the record is expressed outwardly to an audience – but given the sadness and loss at the core of the album, it’s possible these songs have become mantras for himself.
When he sings “I think you’re gonna get better / I think you’ll be back on your feet soon” on the closing track, it’s as likely that he’s providing comfort to the listener as much as to himself.
Therein lies the humility and vulnerability of Aging – an artist that has spent 20 years making empowering music and asking audiences to take care of each other is using the very same medium to take care of himself.
“No matter what you’ve heard or seen / Don’t forget that love is free”