Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: Broken Social Scene’s “Feel Good Lost”
Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001
Jan 06, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Under the Radar's very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums (and movies and TV shows) from 2001.
Broken Social Scene are one of the pioneering bands of indie rock as we now know it, proffering exuberant and imaginative anthems and ballads that have influenced many of the band's Canadian successors and alternative music on the whole. Their 2001 debut album of exploratory post-rock instrumentals didn't overtly foretell this. Feel Good Lost was an ambient free-form record extending an explicit prescription for those who would play it. It also invited like-minded musicians, and then listeners, aboard a ride without a confirmed destination. Before growing the Canadian collective that would become a magnetic movement, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning were solidifying their musical friendship while working on abstract atmospheric compositions in the wee hours of Toronto mornings. These nocturnal deep dives fortified the chemistry that would entice the local talent amongst them to augment it. It was perhaps without intent that a culture of recording and performing with interchangeable combinations of contributors was taking shape. Within Canning and Drew's arrangements you can feel the presence of their guests, who would be involved in the formation of the ensemble that seized and stretched the indie world's T-shirt collar the following year with You forgot It in People. Contributors including Do Make Say Think's Charles Spearin, Leslie Feist, prolific indie violinist Jessica Moss, and Stars' Evan Cranley all stepped into the broad channel when an opening was spotted. The result is a wonderful reveal of process, offering a seat on the couch in an immersive rehearsal.
The whole vibe of the record feels just as it was described by Canning-recorded after midnight on a Reel-to-Reel 8-track in Drew's basement. And that gives character to the organic motivation to become fully absorbed in music making for its own sake, something of an intangible that makes certain records more tangible. It may not sound like a compliment of a record that you nearly forget you are listening to it, but in this case it most assuredly is. The euphonious quiet of Feel Good Lost blends into whatever space it fills, imperceptibly altering the mood. It's environmental soundscaping is analogous to freestyle rap lyricism, in many places seeming to coast on intuition. The watercolor studies, and that's what they are more than structured songs, gaze upon their own mechanics. It's fair to laud the commitment to a conceptual course while decrying the drifting of focus within individual expressions of it. Some tracks get spun around in the mazes of their own indulgence, fraying as they sink deeper into their shapelessness. Still, there is a lot to appreciate about the freedom of recordings created in isolation and unbound by expectation.
Here are mostly plunges into the currents of streaming ambience, with the players pursuing anything set in motion with curious abandon. "Guilty Cubicles" floods like whitewashed country sunlight in a daydream directly before "Love and Mathematics" approaches the leisurely groove of Do Make Say Think, their Toronto neighbors and fellow collaborators. The improvisational tempos with an island mist continue through the balance of these swatches that make up a cozy ambient rock quilt. "Blues for Uncle Gibb" is a cave dive with a heart rate at rest, suggesting Yo La Tengo's comparable sojourns and there are pages from The Books' multi-media pastiche style referenced on "Stomach Song." "Mossbraker" and title track "Feel Good Lost" take you out to sea even further until you're surrounded by waters, with depths fabricated by murky bass reverberations, creatural horns, and looping guitar string extensions almost more textural than sonic.
Broken Social Scene's benchmark, You Forgot it in People, came a year after their debut and was a dynamically arranged rock album that pulled in some of the sprawl of its predecessor. It isn't without irony that the instrumental organs of that masterpiece poignantly scored the independent film Half Nelson. The ranging compositions of Feel Good Lost meander as if searching for motion imagery to populate and could be a film score in its own right. A lot of deserved attention and accolade is given to You Forgot it in People, unarguably an essential alternative album, but silently and unassumingly a year before, the foundation of Broken Social Scene's visceral rock melodics was brewing. It was as if they were working out the aesthetic gestures that distinguished the more structured recordings to come.
This past November, Feel Good Lost was reissued by Arts & Crafts to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of an album that introduced a revolutionary rock group in gorgeously understated fashion. The digital remastering and first vinyl pressing since 2003 pull out all of the nuances of a band discovering its identity while whispering in your ear that it's alright to get lost.
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