Review Summary: Feel Good Lost may be somewhat tedious, but its meek display of splendor is certainly noteworthy.
Broken Social Scene can be described in any number of ways, but predictable is not one of them. On their first album, this group was aiming for something sublime, something that words would not properly convey. Evoking images of abstract happiness and unreachable heights, the music on this LP can transport you to a place far beyond the bounds of rationality. Feel Good Lost is the result of these musical artists indulging in their experimental inclinations and barely finding themselves in a blurry, but dazzling dream state.
On the first few listens, this album is almost impenetrable. As a fan whose gateway into Broken Social Scene was their subsequent release, You Forgot It In People, I was immediately taken aback by Feel Good Lost's total strangeness. This is not an album that you blare through your speakers during a late afternoon drive; it's one that you passively absorb as it takes you far, far away. Once I stopped listening to this as a sort of indie rock album in the vein of You Forgot It In People and more as a subtle ambient, post-rock record, it was much easier to follow along. In my experience, Feel Good Lost was hard to initially get into because it often felt so beyond the scope of human nature and beyond our world as we know it. Now that I've been able to deconstruct this LP, developing a more clear-cut opinion has been more feasible.
The first obvious element of this album that makes it seem devoid of human contact is the dearth of vocals. Being a primarily instrumental endeavor, Feel Good Lost frequently digresses into sequences of delicate sonic textures and humble musical ideas. Many of these tracks are without a definable structure, making them sound like an indistinct stream of ethereal sounds. Listening to the album in its entirety feels like staring into a bewildering painting and desperately searching for something remotely objective, something concrete. There is no guarantee that this LP will grant you what you are looking for. It's a vast enigma, but it's one that strikes the listener as wonderful and divine.
An interesting trait of this record is the democracy of instruments. While Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning are really the only masterminds behind this release as opposed to the enormous lineup Broken Social Scene has become known for, they employ an impressively broad array of instruments to their work. As a result, no one instrument dominates the others. You can find a smirking bass adorned with violins in "Mossbraker" or even an unexpected harmonica lead in "Blues for Uncle Gibb". Drew and Canning strive to craft a deeply visceral experience with little reliance on melody. When vocals are used, which is rare, they work quite well. On "Stomach Song", several layers of spoken word coat the underlying guitar and basslines in what begins to resemble an extraterrestrial sound. "Passport Song" shakes things up a bit on the first half of the record with subdued but equally powerful female vocals that wiggle their way into the mix of percussion and ambient seclusion. The sonic richness of the song allows it to transcend the practical and logical to arrive at an imaginative haven of untapped energy.
The LP starts off incredibly strong with two entrancing post-rock gems. "I Slept with Bonhomme at the CBC" glides on a breeze of light guitar, electronics, and other delicate strings. The second track, "Guilty Cubicles" represents the album's largest spurt of raw emotion with a spellbinding consolidation of beauty and mystery. It's just a shame that not every track delivers this same level of sentimental intensity. Some tracks become slightly repetitive, detracting from the initial charm and intrigue they present. By the time some of the songs have already flirted with the listener's deepest emotions, the song is again trying to woo the person into an even cloudier trance. However, tracks like the high-spirited "Cranley's Gonna Make It" put forth a level of engagement that brings a pleasant vibe to this perplexing album. The problem is that the quest for the meaning behind this album may ultimately be fruitless. Some may find utter magnificence, while others may find monotony. For me, this album is a little bit of both.
Broken Social Scene's debut bestows upon the listener's ears some truly captivating, otherworldly material, but it also becomes disoriented by its own ambition. A few tracks on this LP, while certainly not bad, are so overshadowed by the record's glistening moments that they go in one ear and out the other. Feel Good Lost lacks any immediacy whatsoever, yet there is something about its shyness and mystery that keeps me guessing and coming back for more. This album will most certainly befuddle many listeners, but then again, this is what it truly sounds like to get lost in your own thoughts.
Cranley's Gonna Make It
I Slept with Bonhomme at the CBC