Wednesday, October 19th, 2005
No Smiling Darkness
It’s an Arts & Crafts kinda day. For starters, The Montreal Mirror talks to Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene about the making of their eponymous new album, which he succinctly describes as “a big fucking mess” (he’s a little more positive about it in talking to The Ottawa Sun). I’ve been listening to Broken Social Scene a fair bit over the past couple weeks trying to formulate an opinion, and I think Mr Drew has hit the nail on the head.
But that’s not necessarily a negative thing – I’ve always felt that chaos is a fundamental part of what makes Broken Social Scene work. The ever-shifting lineups, seasonal declarations of breaking up, the police beatings… it’s more than just mystique, it’s integral. Their live shows are ramshackle, sometimes sublime, sometimes shambolic, but always unpredictable and volitile. And that’s part of what made their breakthrough You Forgot It In People so amazing – it managed to capture that spirit of reckless creativity, pure and undiluted, and it was to this honesty of artistic intent that the teeming masses responded to. But after all the touring, press and critical hosannas, the question is – what do you do for an encore?
Broken Social Scene is unavoidably more self-conscious than its predecessor. There’s no way it couldn’t be – this was one of the most hotly-anticipated releases of the year (in indie circles), and that sort of pressure had to have had some effect. I mentioned a couple weeks ago upon initial listens that it was a dense record, and that I was hearing the mix more than the music. More than anything, for all of the seventeen people listed as being BSS-ers in the liner notes, this album belongs to producer Dave Newfeld. If on People he was a documentarian, this time around he’s a conductor. At first pass it may well sound like the mess Kevin Drew describes, but with further listens you realize that every sound on the record is meticulously and deliberately placed – compared to organicism of People, BSS sounds almost synthetic in its cut-and-paste composition. Some have commented that Broken Social Scene sounds like a shoegaze record, and there’s some truth in that – it does offer up a huge wall of sound but it’s arrived at through layered arrangements and countless overdubs rather than distortion, delay and reverb.
With a few exceptions, the (mostly) structured pop songs of the last album are traded in for looser jams and grooves and even the poppier numbers are bent, twisted and otherwise sonically deconstructed. What struck me the most is how the “secret weapons” of People – namely the vocals of Ms Feist, Haines and Millan were utilized. Instead giving each lady a song to sing and make her own, it sounds like their parts were recorded, chopped up and thrown into the mix like any other instrument. Any one of these ladies could have turned any song into a classic if their voices had been allowed to carry the song, but BSS don’t take the easy way out. After all, this is a band that claims to have omitted the catchiest numbers from the record, perhaps for later release, perhaps to hide away forever, in the name of self-preservation.
So as I expected, it’s a grower and it’s growing. Hell, it took me well over a year before I truly and fully appreciated You Forgot It In People, so it would be unfair of me to pass a final judgement on Broken Social Scene after just a couple of weeks. And even if I were going to, it’d still be some completely useless combination of intrigued, confused and ambievalent. But I still feel compelled to listen, and you know what’s interesting? I was listening to the album via headphones while writing this, and by sealing myself in with the music and concentrating on it and everything going on, it really began to reveal itself. This record is going to make you work, but I suspect in the long run it’ll be worth it. If you’re still undecided, listen to it on a good pair of headphones. This record was made for headphones.
And more news from the world of A&C:
Pitchfork finds out what’s going on in the world of Stars. Amy Millan’s long-promised solo Honey From The Tombs is now looking like a Spring release, backed up by Amy herself who chimed in on the Broken Telephone message boards with promises of a March release. Interestingly, no word about the previously promised Set Yourself On Fire remix album but the news of a cover of The Pogues’ “Fairytale Of New York” more than makes up for it. I don’t know if Torq’s arch, precise delivery will be a proper substitute for Shane McGowan’s whiskey-marinated essence but Amy doing Kirsty MacColl will be awesome.
The Austin Chronicle looks back fondly at the career of locals (locals to them, not me) American Analog Set, whose protestations that this final tour and album don’t necessarily mean the end of the band are sounding less and less convincing. At least promises of a tour-only 12″ and a final b-sides/rarities comp will make a decent going away presen Andrew Kenny also contributes a list of “Top 10 things I’ve learned from 10 years in the AmAnSet”.
The Winnipeg Sun has words with Feist. Chronologically speaking, this piece was published before the Toronto Sun one I posted yesterday. Oh well. But do check out another video for “Mushaboom”, this one directed by Patrick Daughters. I love this one – the a capella intro, the wire-work, the dance numbers… sublime. Thanks to Donewaiting for the link.
BrooklynVegan looks at the Pitchfork/Arts & Crafts conspiracy (henceforth abbreviated to PFACC, pronounced “faaakkkk”), noting that all reviews of non-BSS-family A&C bands have received grades of 6.8… Interesting.
…and that’s all the Arts & Crafts scuttlebutt I have for now.
I have Ingrid at V2 to thank for tipping me off about the Ukula Bright Lights Festival going down at the Distillery District on November 5. It’s a hell of a lineup – check it out. Elbow, The Duke Spirit, Islands, The Meligrove Band, The Call Up (featuring current and ex members of The Dears and The Stills, respectively), Stirling, The Coast and The Empires. How’s THAT for a show? Tickets are $25 and should be on sale very soon at the usual outlets. Grok the poster here.
I think that’s enough for today.
np – Rogue Wave / Descended Like Vultures