[14 March 2010]
Canadian indie-rock veteran Jason Collett tends to give listeners what they expect, but that doesn’t mean the results don’t also tend to be tremendously enjoyable. Following the well-blazed trail of boho-folk-roots legends like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Band, Collett situates himself in a fairly traditional milieu when compared to the leading-edge ambitions of his Arts & Crafts labelmates. He’s a straight-arrow singer-songwriter, and excels easily at both sides of that hyphenated calling.
Truth be told, Collett sometimes seems to excel a bit too easily. His songs are smooth and effortless, his singing adventurous and evolved. Combined with the lack of flashy formalistic invention of the type so prevalent in the music of his sometimes collaborators from the formerly-loose-but-now-tightening Broken Social Scene collective, Collett’s painless approach can give his music a glaze of superficiality. There’s naught wrong with being fun, and there’s more than enough self-righteous shamanistic iconoclasm swirling around the A&C stables as it is. Collett’s groovy folk-rock pleasures boast enough energy and weary joy that we can forgive him for failing to subvert the bedrock assumptions of our post-post-modern late-capitalist existence like a good counterculturalist.
Collett’s longstanding weakness for deceptively simple love songs gets intense play on Rat a Tat Tat, his fifth solo release and the truest party album he’ll probably ever produce. His last effort was the fairly ordinary Here’s to Being Here, an album whose contents reflected its title with their resigned existential inevitability. For all the skill and expertise unquestionably on display, the record missed out on the evocative verve of Collett’s breakthrough Idols of Exile. Rat a Tat Tat kicks off in a fashion that evokes both of these albums; opener “Rave On Sad Songs” recasts the downbeat echoes and acoustic resonance of both Idols‘s"Fire” and Here’s to Being Here‘s “Roll On Oblivion”. The addition of accordion and a rambling sing-along chorus pushes it even further into the Band’s territory than usual.
But the tender tone of yearning soon evaporates into a sharp shuffle beat and desperate BSS-style guitar slices. This is “Lake Superior”, and this is Rat a Tat Tat: with infectious grooves and boozy swagger, Collett is hell-bent on swinging hips. He grins as he refuses to relent. Obvious single “Love is a Dirty Word” slaps together reptilian bass rhythms and winking organ flutters. “Bitch City” sees Collett take to sidewalk-strutting with a fedora over his eyes (“You gotta walk light when you’re stepping in shit”). “Love is a Chain” is a pretty conventional pop song about love, but it does its work dutifully. “Vanderpool Vanderpool” sways in a smoky Pan-American haze, slipping from Cajun flourishes to Spanish guitar before finally coming to in windy, blues-swept Chicago. “Long May You Love” relishes the tantric delay of its teasing title phrase’s reference to a certain immortal Neil Young Olympic-torch-extinguishing song. “The Slowest Dance” recalls “Hangover Days” with its languid tableaus of weary underground romance.
Taken as a whole, Rat a Tat Tat is the sound of a confident and laid-back artist wallowing in homespun delight. The album is all self-possessed abandon, getting its kicks and sidling away under the dim glow of streetlights. Follow if you will, for Jason Collett is entirely sure that you know the way.