Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record

Written by May 4th, 2010 at 10:35 am

Broken Social Scene
Forgiveness Rock Record
Arts & Crafts
Rating: ★★★½☆

It is exceptionally easy to love Broken Social Scene for a number of reasons: they make accessible and challenging art-pop, collectively they’re unequivocally prolific, they’re Canadian, and whether they like it or not they’re easily the most iconic and continuously-evolving indie super-group around. The list goes on and on. But BSS’s paramount quality is their existence as a symbol of committed community. A listen to any of their albums will exhude evidence of a chaotic spiritual collaboration betwixt a group of individuals.

What began as an ambient post-rock collaboration between founding members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew (the band’s 2001 debut Feel Good Lost) would slowly evolve into the gorgeously fragmented super-collective sound nurtured in the mid-decade by the hectic overdriven production style of David Newfield on 2002’s You Forgot It In People and 2005’s S/T. Up to this point BSS’s revolving door policy would envelope talent and spawn projects from the likes of Stars, Metric, Apostle of Hustle, Leslie Feist and Do Make Say Think.

After all the rigmarole surrounding the release and subsequent supporting tour of the acclaimed S/T record the collective shuffled personnel and released two albums under the Broken Social Scene Presents banner, showcasing material spearheaded by Kevin Drew in 2007 and Brendan Canning in 2008.

Forgiveness Rock Record appears as a re-assembling of the BSS diaspora and serves as a strong reminder of the band’s commitment and identity as an art collective. But when a band bolsters a solid history of success, it’s hard for devotees to resist the temptation to glorify the band’s “older stuff” and only indifferently accept the artist’s new music into the cannon—and can you blame them? Try remembering the way the stair-step bass melody of You Forgot It In People’s “Stars and Sons” climbs into a handclapping trance or how the funky palm-muted guitar licks in S/T opener “Our Faces Break The Coast In Half” give way to a celebratory horn section — such rich qualities easily foster a bittersweet nostalgia that further breeds “older stuff” glorification. As good as the new record is, it will take longtime fans a few spins to get acclimated.

When it comes to enjoying Broken Social Scene albums (especially Forgiveness Rock Record), cultivated familiarity is your best friend. Thanks to the production techniques of Sea and Cake/Tortoise drummer John McEntire, a realization of each songs greatness only comes as the layers of rugged instrumentation and complex subtlety are peeled back with repeat listens. As much as Broken Social Scene’s identity is wrapped up in it’s concept as a collective, their most transcendent moments are not their speedy grandiose party anthems but are instead the small soft details like the band setting into a slow almost improvisational groove in “Sweetest Kill” or the hushed vocals of Emily Haines, Leslie Feist and Amy Millan singing in poignant unison on “Sentimental X’s.”

Forgiveness Rock Record has already received criticism for trying to do too much, or trying to compact too many ideas from too many members, all into one record. However, at its essence the album’s cohesive element is a spirit of detail and attitude that is both self-referencing and progressive. A thread of continuity surfaces in the minutia of Kevin Drew’s familiarly whispered tempo count at the beginning of “Me and My Hand” as well as in the momentous Sam Prekop appearance in “Romance To The Grave” sounding as natural as if he has been there since day one. In effect, Broken Social Scene isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel here. They know what their capable of as a unit and when it comes down to the wire, they manage somehow to tap into on command, revealing a beautiful collection of songs that are as eclectic as the members that created it.

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