Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
Meet Me In The Basement
Broken Social Scene at Criminal Records in Toronto
Frank YangA local scribe much wiser than I recently pointed out that everyone – in Canada and Toronto specifically – has some baggage when it comes to Broken Social Scene, and you can take it from the fact that I’m quoting him that I wholly agree. This is the band that, for good and bad, came to be the musical ambassadors for Toronto to the world, would become pretty much inescapable both in the music world and the real world (swing a stick in Toronto, hit a BSS-er) and launched a thousand bands with far more members than they needed.
For my part, I was almost as taken with You Forgot It In People as everyone else in 2002 and 2003 – I say “almost” because some people love(d) this record A LOT – and was as excited as anyone to see the attention that it brought on a city that, to that point, didn’t seem to have a real face in the burgeoning indie rock world and for a while, they and their offshoots – anyone remember the show at Lee’s in June 2003 featuring BSS, Stars, Feist, Apostle Of Hustle, Jason Collett and Amy Millan? Seriously – theres photographic evidence – could do no wrong.
But that perfect, You Forgot It moment could only sustain for so long, and when the self-titled follow-up came out in 2005, the bloom was coming off the rose, at least from my point of view. Though it had some epic high points, Broken Social Scene felt overly long and meandering; there may have been a great record buried in there but it was in desperate need of an editor. These are points that only became clear to me later – the record still made my 2005 year-end list and 2006 Polaris Prize ballot – but that was more me wanting to like it more than I did at the time. By this point, the band seemed to have become even more ubiquitous than before – something I’d have not thought possible – and when they closed out the inaugural Virgin Festival Canada in 2006, I was grateful for both their amazing full-band performance and promise to take a break and go away for a little while.
They didn’t, of course. Rather than hibernate, they multiplied and both Broken bandleaders – Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning – released sorta-solo records that were essentially Broken albums, but without the weight of expectation that would accompany a proper BSS release. Neither really grabbed my attention, but to be fair my Broken Social burnout was still very much in effect and the records would have had to be pretty spectacular to get me past that… which they weren’t. And, of course, they continued toured as Broken Social Scene albeit with relatively pared-down lineups. Hiatus? Not so much.
And so seemingly without ever actually going away, they’ve returned with Forgiveness Rock Record and I, well I can’t say as that I’ve been hankering for a new Broken Social Scene record, but would like to think that I’m in a place where I can again regard them objectively. The decision to record with Tortoise’s John McEntire behind the boards rather than longtime sonic architect Dave Newfeld has an interesting effect on their sound, as McEntire’s more tidy and precise aesthetic is rather diametrically opposed to the “capture the chaos on tape” approach that’s defined their recordings thus far. Quantitatively speaking, Forgiveness is definitely cleaner than past efforts, with the sonic spaces more clearly defined and songs marginally more structured and compact, but just as you can’t catch water with a net, even a shiny new net, you can’t contain Broken Social Scene.
With the new record, there’s still a sense that the band are throwing things into the pot, creatively speaking, and seeing what kind of alchemy (if any) results. As such, it has the sort of maddening unevenness that’s practically a BSS signature, where really the most you can hope is that the highs are enough to offset the lows. Amongst the peaks on Forgiveness are the sprawling leadoff jam “World Sick”, punchy jangle anthem “Texico Bitches” and “All Is All”, a shimmering, almost completely un-BSS-like electro-pop jewel starring Reverie Sound Revue’s Lisa Lobsinger. And as for the valleys… well the record isn’t filler-free but it never gets as lost as Broken Social Scene did and all things considered, that’ll do. It doesn’t recreate the glorious sense of possibility and excitement that existed around the band circa 2002 and 2003 – which are completely unrealistic expectations, I will be the first to admit – but it does provide a solid argument that any reservations I have over all things Broken and Social may be my issues and not theirs.
I’ve talked before about the wonderful in-store culture that’s developed in Toronto, and on Sunday, Broken Social Scene helped push that along with an ambitious four-shows-in-one-day itinerary that saw them play sets in each of the city’s four major independent record stores, starting at Criminal Records and winding down Queen West to Rotate This, up to Little Italy’s Soundscapes and wrapping up in the Annex basement of Sonic Boom. With tickets given out to those who purchased copies of Forgiveness Rock Record, I’m not sure how anyone would manage to hit all four performances – short of buying four copies of the record – but I’m sure some found a way. I do find it remarkable that even though my relationship with BSS has waxed and waned over the years, so many remain utterly devoted to the band. And so it was that Criminal Records was packed front to back on Sunday afternoon as the band – numbering seven or eight, I think there was a horn player hidden behind one of the monitors – shook off the previous night’s drive back from New York to kick off their mini-tour.
They started off easy like Sunday morning (or early afternoon) with You Forgot It‘s “Lover’s Spit”, giving themselves the space to get tuned in for the marathon day to come before moving into the new material. Interestingly, Kevin Drew went guitar-less, instead working a bank of keyboards or just handling vocals. I hadn’t seen BSS live in almost four years so I didn’t know if this was a new development or something that had been in the works for a while. Either way, it wasn’t as though there was any sort of stringed instrument deficit up there – all of Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin and Sam Goldberg were armed with guitars or basses, but unlike past performances where it seemed that many guitars were just piled on top of one another, they seemed to be working with very precise arrangements. It wasn’t math-rock, but definitely not just jamming it out. All of the Forgiveness material – “Texico Bitches”, “Ungrateful Little Father” and “Forced To Love” sounded pretty solid if delivered a bit low-energy though Whiteman did more than his part to liven things up with some running man moves and jumping jacks. He also took the mic for the final song of the set, another return to Forgot It with “Looks Just Like The Sun” though it was preceded with some debate amongst the band as to exactly how the song went and what the lyrics were. Not that tidy, then, and I’m sure that they picked up some steam with each subsequent show as well as members as they woke up, but this was a pretty cool start to a very cool idea and a great hello and thanks from the band to their fans, their record stores and their city.
Broken Social Scene play a full and proper hometown show on June 19 at the Toronto Islands, and just announced a massive North American tour for the Fall. Dose, Beatroute, Torontoist, Pitchfork, Macleans, Blurt, The Aquarian, Interview and Chart have feature pieces on the band and their return.
Photos: Broken Social Scene @ Criminal Records – May 9, 2010
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “Fire Eye’d Boy”
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “Hotel”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “7/4 (Shoreline)”
Video: Broken Social Scene -“Fire Eye’d Boy”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (A Better Day)”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Her Disappearing Scene”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Major Label Debut”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Cause = Time”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Almost Crimes”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Lover’s Spit”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “I’m Still Your Fag”
MySpace: Broken Social Scene
Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, who helped Mr Campbell understand said power of Twitter, tells Pffffft his favourite things about Toronto. Not listed is the Toronto Reference Library, but you can be sure that Abraham likes it enough to undress – respectfully – when Fucked Up play a free show there on May 28. Beatroute also has a chat with the FU frontman.
Also with a new video are The New Pornographers, for the sort-of title track from Together. Beatroute, eMusic, Metro and The Quietus have interviews with Carl Newman, whose band will be at the Sound Academy on June 15.
Stream: Shad / TSOL
The Wilderness Of Manitoba has scheduled a record release show for their full-length debut When You Left The Fire, due out June 22 – they’ll be at the Music Gallery on June 25 with Evening Hymns as support. Before that, they’ll support Matthew Barber at the Mod Club on May 12 and Basia Bulat at the Phoenix on June 4.
The lineup for this year’s Wolfe Island Music Festival has been announced and as always, it’s a great sampling of some of the best in Canadian music set in about as laid-back and chilled-out environs as you’ll find anywhere. Taking place in the Thousand Islands just offshore from Kingston, Ontario on the weekend of August 6 and 7, the Friday night will feature performances in the town of Marysville from The Sadies and Cuff The Duke, amongst others, and the Saturday lineup will feature The Weakerthans, Shad, Think About Life, Bahamas, The Acorn, Diamond Rings, Memoryhouse and Jim Bryson. I attended the 2007 edition of this festival, and it was a marvelous time – highly recommended.