Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Broken Social Scene - "Forgiveness Rock Record"

In some ways it hardly seems like five years since the last proper full length offering from  Broken Social Scene, yet it also somehow feels like an eternity.  The lines get a bit blurred perhaps, given the nature of the band's composition, in that they never really seem to be completely absent or on hiatus.  Even the two founding and constant members found time to crank out material between BSS projects, albeit branded as "BSS presented". So you have to wonder if there was any discussion across their collective as to whether anyone would still be listening.  My guess is if such a conversation did take place, it was probably followed by something along the lines of it doesn't matter, as long as we like it.  Almost as if the band has come full circle back to 2002 when it mostly mattered that friends had gathered to make music, and if someone else was listening, that was cool too.

Forgiveness Rock Record sounds like what a third album by a band this good should sound like.  The typical mentions of maturity will and already have made their way around review circles, but the album sounds like much more than maturity.  It sounds like reconciliation and perhaps finality.  The constant challenges of which players from the revolving cast will be involved on recordings and tours.  The constant fan chatter through the webisphere around who made whom and which sub-project owes the most to older brother scene.  This recording boasts a core lineup, with many of the usual suspects taking on pure guest duties.  The consistency of main players is part of why this is probably the band's tightest album to date.

"World Sick" was released well in advance of the album, but was the perfect track to warn listeners that the band was still alive and fresh, but the sound they could expect is quintessentially Social Scene.  Even without Dave Newfeld at the controls, there are signature layers of deliberate confusion balanced perfectly with hooks that are unmistakably Social Scene.  The "Presents" projects put out by Drew and Canning sounded like BSS, but what is telling through this record is just how impactful Peroff, Whiteman and Spearin are in turning the songs into bonafide Social Scene ditties.

For my money, Kevin Drew's stamped songs have always been the band's absolute best and in some cases the absolute worst.  Every album this band has made has been littered with filler.  Clear and near misses would be a more reasonable description.  "Chase Scene" misses terribly in my opinion, resembling some Flashdance soundtrack tinged falsetto affair gone slightly array.  There are a couple other tracks that don't match up to the sum of the parts, but if one hits play for the first time with the reckoning that 3-4 tracks tend to miss the mark on every release, then the album is framed with the right type of perspective.

A few minor mis-steps are far outshined by some of the gems on FRR.  "Texico Bitches" is Drew at his best.  Embracing repition of melody in a way that is gratifying rather than redundant.  Even with less of Newfeld's sonic dissonance, the band manages to take perfectly normal and almost radio friendly songs, then litter them with busyness and squishy percussive sounds.  This track is one where they "sound like Broken Social Scene".  In the way that people have started describing other bands as sounding "like Broken Social Scene".  Pavement and Dino Jr. are still present in the under current, but BSS are now officially in that category where their sound is niche enough to be copied.

I wasn't sure on "Art House Director" initially.  It still doesn't strike me as Whiteman's best foot forward either as a BSS member or as the Apostle of Hustle, but with my bias firmly and unabashedly displayed I've warmed up to the track since he is my favourite BSScener and the horns are really well placed on that one.  Other shining stars are "Ungrateful Little Father" (classic Drew), "Water In Hell" (classic Canning), and "Sweetest Kill" (this album's Hotel).  The real sleeper on FRR is "Meet Me In The Basement", the instrumental.  Given the prominence of Do Make Say Think staffers and the Scene's original penchant for lyric free tracking (a la Feel Good Lost), it seems like this song should have happened long before now.  The horns/strings are spectacular, the track length is perfect, and the hook is undeniable even for people who need to hear voices with their hippie rock.

I purposely held off on getting too involved with this album immediately.  If I didn't like it, I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and genuinely admit such was the case.  Broken Social Scene are the best band in Canada and one of my two favourite bands on the planet.  So there is a real hazzard in not being able to review an album like this objectively.  Not rushing in turns out to be the best approach, since an initial lukewarm reaction to Forgiveness Rock Record has been replaced with full on adoration. 

This is a quality recording from the quinessential 2000's indie rock band.  There is already chirp regarding it being their last, and if such is the case, they have settled into their skin perfectly and embraced their chaos in a way only Broken Social Scene can.  History will tell where this recording fits compared to their previous heavy hitters, but once you take some time to sort through a couple misses, Forgiveness Rock Record bookmarks s/t nicely with You Forgot It In People.  Not too shabby a legacy if you ask me.