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Posted on May 3rd, 2010 (3:39 pm) by Ryan Hall

Right when Broken Social Scene hit their stride with You Forgot It In People and especially on their self-titled third album, they sounded like a band that could fly apart at any second. David Newfold’s production constructed teetering towers of song sans scaffolding by folding massive percussion parts in on themselves, burying guitars, giving Kevin Drew’s raspy vocals center-stage before detonating the whole thing mid-epic rave-up. Those albums sounded like anything could happen, and it usually did… sultry R&B breakdowns, gorgeous ambient segues, skittering electronic production…rap interludes. The more wild and wooly they got the better they sounded. After releasing their last album as a collective in 2005, and releasing two “solo” albums during the interim, the full band is back, this time under the helm of new producer John McEntire (Tortoise, Sea and Cake) and a leaner, more “professional” sound that contains the all-out epicness at the core of the Canadian anti-supergroup supergroup.

I realize that I used the word “epic” twice in the introduction to this album. As much as much as I hate that word, there is no way around it. Broken Social Scene, even on paper are “epic”. Consisting of a member or two from just about half of the noteworthy Canadian bands from the mid-nineties on, watching them cram 16+ members on a stage translates as an apt metaphor for listening to them cram 16+ musical voices and personalities into a single song. It looks impossible, but works. For Forgiveness Rock Record, the Scene (who almost outnumber the entire population of the Northwestern Territories) are trimmed to a meager seven-member core ensemble (barring the revolving door guest spots) of Drew, Canning, Spearin, Whiteman, Peroff, Lobsinger, and Goldberg. This newfound focus on managing the assets of this ludicrously talented team pays off in huge dividends; songs on Forgiveness Rock Record emerge as rock-solid compositions that have definite moods, directions, and pacing.

Broken Social Scene's trimming of their massive jams into solid indie-rock songs can be attributed largely to John McEntire, who translates the snare-drum tightness of his past work with Tortoise and Sea and Cake into BSS’s sprawling compositions. McEntire litters the songs with nuanced layer upon nuanced layer of instruments missed on listens one through five. Even the most straight-forward indie-rock songs like “Art-House Director” and “Texico Bitches” have the lion share of an orchestra at their disposal. Non-traditional rock instruments move between woodwind sections, punchy brass sections, electric pianos, kettle drums, what have you.

With Forgiveness Rock Record the listener is finally able to pin down Drew and Canning’s influences. On the Canning-fronted numbers “Water in Hell” and “Highway Slipper Jam,” classic rock elders (or near-contemporaries) hold commanding sway. Canning pens loose Jerry Garcia-like jams to the tune of gold-coast California highways as well as dive-bar fist pumpers with razor sharp hooks. Drew, half dirty-talking-ladies-man, half world-weary-scholar, writes songs that go straight for the gut. Penning slow-building rockers like the excellent first single “World Sick” and the super-tight “Forced to Love,” Drew is in full command as a band leader, his voice acting as a voracious instrument itself, emotionally transparent and incredibly expressive. The commanding officers of Canning and Drew have no qualms with sharing the spotlight with their bandmates. A rotating cast of female vocalists helm the slow-jams. “Sentimental X’s” and “All In All,” recall the hazy, half-syncopated electronic beats and sweeping guitar work that made You Forgot It In People so fascinating. The guest spots don’t end there, Sam Prekop adds his breathy vocals to “Romance To The Grave.”

For an album called Forgiveness Rock Record BSS have two out of those three words pinned down. The “Forgiveness” in the title is a little bit more nebulous, but album-opener “World Sick” seems to point in that direction. Opening with “we’ve got a mine-field of crippled affection/all for the borrowed mirrored connection,” Drew walks the razor-thin line between apologizing for his (and other first-world countries) infatuation with, and public sympathy for, the plights of developing nations and being a reluctant apologist for the type of well-traveled, culturally versed lifestyle that he leads. He gets “world sick” but can’t seem to distinguish if he is helping or hurting anyone with his cultural awareness. While the album wrestles with personal and romantic angst, it can’t help but to reach beyond itself as a rock record and ask, “Is it all worth it? And should rock records even address these questions?” If there is one band big enough to throw its arms around the world it is Broken Social Scene.

Track List:
1. World Sick
2. Chase Scene
3. Texaco Bitches
4. Forced to Love
5. All to All
6. Art House Director
7. Highway Slipper Jam
8. Ungrateful Little Father
9. Meet Me in the Basement
10. Sentimental X’s
11. Sweetest Kill
12. Romance to the Grave
13. Water in Hell
14. Me & My Hand

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Our Rating

82 / 100
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