Idols of Exile
n our Best Albums Of 2005 article, my Stylus colleague Ian Cohen commented on the latest record from Broken Social Scene by saying that it “[sounded] like six of 2005’s best albums playing at the same time.” While I like Ian’s analogy, and I can see why he chooses that description, I have to differ slightly from his viewpoint. I would say that rather than just any records, they would be the records of all the contributing bands (Stars, Metric, Do Make Say Think, Apostle Of Hustle, et al) and solo artists (Feist, Kevin Drew) that clash their sounds together on massively channel-layered productions for BSS. Whether this product is greater than the sum of its parts, well, you be the judge. But the more I listen to it, the more I believe that Idols of Exile was beating very closely to the heart of Broken Social Scene. And why not? The man whose name adorns the album, Jason Collett, shreds one of the many guitars in the arsenal of Broken Social Scene’s production.
Having released an album of collected older works into one product (2003’s Motor Motel Love Songs), Canada’s favourite (note, that word IS spelled correctly) label, Arts & Crafts, has given Collett the opportunity to do a proper debut album with Idols. Collett has kept a great deal of his own early folk and roots influences (he names Dylan and Kristofferson, but traces of Tweedy and Sexsmith are also imminent throughout the album’s entirety), but he has also invited a good number of his old Scene-ster pals along for the ride (understandably, not wanting to stop the collaboration gravy train of this posse). And as expected from the album’s pretense, this is not an alt-country album enjoyed in solitude. Just as Collett’s work with BSS would be best be described, this work begs to be a part of or help dictate a sizable chunk of a social setting.
The inaugural duo of tracks, “Fire” and Hangover Days,” display Collett’s two vocal partnering pieces with Amy Millan and Emily Haines, respectively. To the casual observer, this screams of a top-loaded album, but it serves exactly for the opposing purpose, to dictate the flow of the album instead of interrupting it later on. Both opening duets are slightly-memorable, if not incredibly average, as Collett really muscles the reins from these two, usually show-stopping, songbirds. The from-the-ground-up structuring of songs like “We All Lose One Another” and “Almost Summer” reap the rewards of their simplicity by inducing sing-alongs after a very few listens (not to mention imbedding their slightly off-key harmonious climaxes into your subconscious).
In one of the more jarring moments from the album, Collett proclaims near the beginning of “Pink Night” that “he likes it when his girlfriend calls him a cock-sucking faggot.” Instead of feeling out of place, however, Jason picks things up with nary a pause in his tempo, only adding to the “glass is half-full” undertones of the entire album.
Though an explanation may not be needed, this upbeat nature could very well stem from Collett’s embracing of the limitless present and his distancing of himself from his appallingly normal suburban upbringing. The Toronto-area suburb in which Collett was brought up thrust his psyche into the desire of living a more “alive” existence in the heart of the city. Here he seems to be at peace with himself and his surroundings, concrete suburbia a distant and escaping thought. If any setting comes to mind within the album’s runtime, it may look more like a vast Canadian Shield-esque backdrop of barren beauty; Idols is not quite “country” enough to tackle the road to the prairies, but the headspace of the album is clearly in a place with plenty of room to breathe. The massive list of collaborations for this album is a red herring as it never once strays even close to claustrophobia.
Idols of Exile is solid proof that, although we may see these same names together all the time on various records, groupthink is not an issue. They are not frantically producing Broken Social Scene bush league albums. This is clearly a set of individuals with their own musical visions and tendencies. And just as Collett has shown us here, they could probably manage pretty well on their own. But every few years, they conglomerate, collaborate, and take everything they love about music and sonically blow the doors off every single second of it. It’s the in-between where they all can really show us what they are made of.