Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene
(Arts and Crafts)
The turning of the cosmic odometer into a new year is an artificial event at best, but one that still causes personal resolution and revolution. Mine, among others, was to "get over myself" to some appreciable degree, so the easiest manifestation I could come up for this was to go through and get the "big releases" of the year that I had glossed over and see what was up to snuff. What I discovered was: The White Stripes are really good, and rock harder than they ever have (who'd have thought that?); Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! made me want to do that very thing as I was context-appropriately heading to the new Vespa dealership in town for some test-drives, sporting a bona fide American Apparel t-shirt, with them blasting on the car stereo; that I still think the Arcade Fire are kinda feh, I mean its good and all, but it doesn't really grab me like it apparently did everyone else: and Canada's #1 indie rock supergroup (no, not the New Pornographers - they sound great at a party, but I hate them in my headphones) Broken Social Scene is a delightful fruit salad, concocted from all disparate things catchy. There is the roto-moto bass groove of Krautrock, there are strained infectious falsettos like most indie rock thingies out now, and a decided optimistic angle that seems to reside in the hearts of Canadian and Australian pop music. i know its not fair to those countries to categorize their quirky takes on pop music as sounding a little too Up With People! but it kinda stands. Even extemities like Skinny puppy and the Birthday Party were no strangers to corniness at times.
Anyway, Broken Social Scene: there are like 15 or so people in this band, making equitable rotations like a PE volleyball game, the team being made up from members of/performers like Fiest, Stars, Apostle of Hustle etc etc ad canadium. It wouldn't totally surprise me if there was to be found a Barenaked Lady in their woodpile. There self-title album of last year is a winner, glimmering like the sun off a mountain lake like Yo La Tengo used to before they entered couples therapy on their releases. The crystalline strumming on the opener "Our Faces Split the Coast in Half" with alt-Chicago-rock (the city, not the band) horns hooting out a bassline over the skitter scatter of drums, diving and swooping like birds. "Ibi Dream of Pavement" has some definite similarities to, um, Pavement (but really, what doesn't?) with a Godspeed You Black Emporer! (lest I fail to mention every Canadian band. I need some Rush and Chilliwack references to drop) sense of ascension to it as well.
The real meat of the record comes on on "7/4 (Shoreline)" with a sweet sad throb to it and syncopated beat and jangle. Its the kind of song you want to listen to on a train, watching the landscape zip by. And then the gal you met at the independent book store, in her horn rim glasses and tight sweater brings you a cappuccino from the dining car and toasts your mutual decision to leave everything behind and escape to be fed only by your fiery love.
"Major Label Debut" would be the big hit would this album meet the requirement stated in its title, while "Fire Eye'd Boy" chugs along like My Bloody Valentine and Tortoise got together and made a sweet squirming rock baby. Its the kind of upbeat stuff that almost makes my fat ass want to go jogging. Almost. Should this array on confections lull you into cavaties, there is the ramshackle pastiche of "Windsurfing Nation" with appearances by Feist and k-Os toasting over the tumult, to clear your pallette.
The thing about these happy-go-happier Canadian bands, they never come across as sexy to me, but "Swimmers" does some work to rectify this situation, with Emily Haynes' raspy whisper giving off that flouncy blouse foxiness with out sounding all cutesy and cuddle bear about it. On the same tip, things get weird again on the dubby fractured "Hotel" which matches disco-punk keys and a falsetto to make an effective but odd track to get your groove on to. Great title in "Handjob for the Holidays" but this more of a queasy NyQuil rocker than an insistent depiction of that kindest-of-favors a gal can give a feller and not attract too much attention during the school assembly. But its still pretty sexy in a bubbly, innocent way.
The album closes out with the hazy shimmer of "Superconnected" again recalling the cannonball effect of the great driving songs of Yo La Tengo of yesteryear. "Bandwitch" is a intricate odd number that almost doesn't work, but its engine held together with paperclips and novelty band-aids keeps it going. Their kaleidoscopic sense of backup vocals is best exercised on this one, inter twitchings of the metronomes of our collective hearts. "Tremola Debut" is, I believe, a showcase for the tremola, a novelty ukulele/zither-violin hybrid from the Fiftes that I almost keep buying off eBay, and the closer "It's All Gonna Break" is a perfect alamgam of the record of a whole.
If there is a complaint to be made, Broken Social Scene seems almost too fractured, too scattered for its own good, but really that's what makes it good. Its not about a riff, or a melody, or a track, or a singer, but about what comes out of this collective endeavor that is uplifting and heartwarming. Its equally sophisticated and crude, attenuated and slapdash, and completely adorable.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com