If you love humbly designed folk music with a modern, relevant edge, Canadian songbird Jim Clements has just produced the record that you’ve been waiting for in A Failure. There’s no need to argue – A Failure is the preeminent singer/songwriter LP of the 2010s and contains eight of the most fluidly constructed and sharply relatable songs of our time. It’s a step up for Clements’ already sterling body of work, and might just be the record to bring his cherished underground sound into the mainstream once and for all, where most of us can agree he has always truly belonged.
In the song “The Backup Plan,” which is easily one of A Failure’s best tracks, Clements uses his signature style of lyricism to take apart our natural psychology as individuals. We make plans, set up safety nets, and even though they fall through more often than we could ever hope for, it isn’t about the fact that they fell apart, but more in how we choose to pick up the pieces. Clements isn’t self-righteously correcting the error of our ways in this song, but rather trying to keep us from making the same mistakes he has.
A Failure doesn’t repel away from darkness nor chaotic self-realization, but the “The Advice Song (Just Give Up)” is Clements at his most desolate and insular. It might actually be the song that I enjoyed the most on the record, as it boasts his willingness to get down and dirty both in his lyrics and music if it means he’ll be able to get his point across to the right people. A Failure wasn’t targeted towards the Top 40 bubblegum pop crowd, but Clements didn’t deliberately try and make it inaccessible to folks outside of his general audience. On the contrary, I think that even in its most suffocating tracks he’s trying to reach out to people who might have dismissed him in the past.
This is by no means a freewheeling folk rock album; it’s a jarring provocative social dialogue from the most prolific songwriter that Canada’s seen in a half century. I’m not exaggerating when I stress how grinding a listen this is, but at the same time I also believe it to be Jim Clements’ most artfully conceptual and sonically textured release yet. I don’t think that outsiders are going to reject A Failure in the same way that some mainstream outlets had his work in the past; it’s just too sophisticated, heartfelt and aesthetically pleasing to be ignored.
Anyone who lives for premium melodies and thought provoking lyrics should consider A Failure to be required listening this autumn. It’s the perfect soundtrack to the change in the seasons, colorfully connecting us with the ethereal entity that is music and allowing for us to bask in its untainted oasis. Some albums make us happy, others make us sad, but this album does something that few are ever able to achieve – it makes us see the world through the eyes of the artist, whether we’re sensitively ready for the perspective or not.