A decade after its release, Julie Fader’s solo debut album never fails to deliver.
Most will remember September 21, 2009, as the night Fucked Up won the Polaris Music Prize and stressed out every CBC radio producer who had to figure out how to say their name on air. But there was another artist at that gala that everyone was buzzing about: multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Julie Fader. She features prominently on Great Lake Swimmers’ Lost Channel and Chad VanGaalen’s Soft Airplane, both shortlisted nominees for the prize that evening. Though I can’t remember exactly what he said (and can’t find video evidence of it online), gala host Grant Lawrence singled out Fader in the audience, acknowledging her contributions to the two nominated records and her reputation as a valued and dedicated session musician and touring band member. Fader’s silent “Fuck off, Grant” glare back at Lawrence was priceless, if not understandable. Outside In, her debut solo album, had come out a mere thirteen days earlier; for all intents and purposes, Julie Fader was a novice in the spotlight as a solo artist.
Though the attention made her visibly uncomfortable at the time, it was (and still is) wholly justified: Fader has long been a pillar supporting a pantheon of Canadian music artists. Outside In showcases the timeless quality of Julie Fader’s songwriting and the singular expression of her musical style. That it remains her only album (not counting Reminisce, Fader and domestic partner Graham Walsh’s 2015 album as Etiquette) is the bitterest of pills. Though it’s a crying shame she’s not yet followed up Outside In, the consolation is Julie Fader consented to sharing these eleven intimate, lush, and honest songs with us.
The cadence of Fader’s sparkling voice is conversational, comfortable. She sings like she’s sitting across from a confidant, casually shooting the breeze, all defences down. And yet, you get the sense throughout Outside In that, while an adept musician, Fader finds being at the helm of her own songs slightly foreign. “If you had told me / a year or two ago,” she sings on opener “Maps”, “I’d be this close to letting go / And saying so / I wouldn’t have believed you”. Still, her lyrics — perhaps the most overlooked and underrated element of Outside In — are deeply personal, impressionistic vignettes. Whether being moved to tears by another musician’s music during a long-haul airplane ride on the plaintive “Flights” or the self-reflective, confessional journal entry of “Lullabye”, Fader is unflinchingly human.
Fader’s music is equally as affecting as her lyrics. Walsh, acting as producer and Fader’s primary musical collaborator, provided polish and sheen, but Fader’s songs were already fully formed jewels. The sombre, melancholy melodies of “Eavesdropping” and haunting echoes of “723” reverberate in the consciousness long after the music stops playing. At the time she released Outside In, Fader was often lazily saddled with an “indie-” qualifier. Calling her music “indie-pop” or “indie-folk” did little to suggest the enduring beauty of “Middle of the Night” and “Mixed Messages”, songs so well constructed as to be instantly classic.
In a way, I don’t blame Julie Fader for her silence as a solo artist these past ten years. Fader’s willingness to “plainly but not painlessly” share her vulnerability and humanity makes Outside In a reliable well of comfort and compassion. No matter how many times you draw strength from Julie Fader’s music, it always has more to give the next time you need it. It never fails to deliver.