Life is good in Toronto.
Nearly three years after their breakthrough You Forgot it in People was released, the new self-titled album from Broken Social Scene finally hit the shelves less than a week after NHL hockey returned from its season-long lockout. The return of BSS and the city’s beloved Maple Leafs in such a short span has caused constant and consistent celebration throughout Canada’s largest city. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but it’s closer to the truth than you might think.
You have to understand: Things have changed in Toronto. Long known simply as the mecca of the hockey universe (seriously, it’s a religion here), Toronto is rapidly transforming into one of the major centers of the indie rock world. Now, everyone in the city dreams not only of being a Maple Leaf, but of being in the Broken Social Scene family as well. And it’s not that ridiculous of a dream. While there’s limited space on the Leafs’ roster, it seems there’s always room for more in Broken Social Scene.
Their line-up was already bursting at the seams on the brilliant You Forgot it in People (henceforth YFIIP), but their numbers have grown again. The fantastic new album includes more than 20 people, featuring members of Metric, Feist, Do Make Say Think, the Dears and Stars. Even Canadian rap saviour K-Os drops in on the frantic track, “Windsurfing Nation.” With this constant adding and shuffling of members, you could say that Broken Social Scene is indie rock’s Wu Tang Clan.
The result is exactly what you’d expect from a band that size: noisy, messy, random and above all, chaotic. Sometimes it sounds like the musical equivalent of throwing paint against a canvas and calling it art.
And yet, somehow, it works.
The countless guitars, swirling group vocals and blaring horns that define the album make a wall of sound so huge and so daring that it manages to make the ambitious YFIIP sound thin and conservative, which is no small feat. Whereas YFIIP was focused, meticulous and clean, Broken Social Scene sees the band throwing caution and formula to the wind. The only real carry over from the previous album is the mandate of being equally catchy and challenging. Not that they’ve ever appeared to be short on confidence, but with this record they seem to be playing with a new swagger, as if they believe they can do no wrong. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that that may be the case.
Songs like “7/4 (Shoreline),” “Superconnected” and the epic closer “It’s All Going to Break” (the only ten-minute long song you’ll ever leave on repeat) are dynamic stadium rock anthems that have been drowned in fuzz and noise, maybe so that no one calls them stadium rock. Appearing at the midway point, “Swimmers” is the catchiest and most accessible track. Metric’s Emily Haines sings in her typically strong and effortless Kim Deal(of The Breeders and The Pixies)-ish tones, helping showcase the band’s impressive pop sensibilities more than any other song on the disc.
On the other hand, “Windsurfing Nation” will shock and surprise even the most seasoned BSS fan. Using countless singers to create a surging, weaving vocal collage, it’s the most daring song on the album, and possibly the most exciting as well. Unfortunately, “Bandwitch” takes a long time going nowhere in particular. It’s a rare moment when the band’s over-indulgence doesn’t pay off, and it kills the momentum towards the end of the album.
It’s hard, and even unfair to say if Broken Social Scene tops its predecessor. It lacks some of the jaw-dropping beauty found in songs like “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” and “Lover’s Spit” that made YFIIP so intimate, breathtaking and ultimately, so great. But this new album is much more focused, with every song heading in the same direction, and a great direction at that. It doesn’t really matter which album is better. What’s important is that they’ve delivered another incredibly solid effort, adding to what is turning into a stunning discography.
And Toronto is happy again.