Broken Social Scene have always occupied a rather unique space in the modern indie-rock pantheon. In many ways they seem part of a bygone age, some earlier golden era when the dinosaurs of Pavement, Sonic Youth and Husker Du stalked the Earth, full of bite and irony. They have however been creatures of their own time and any list of their rotating cast’s numerous other bands will be a decent account of popular Canadian indie music over the last 10 odd years. They are a not-so-missing link, the line that joins the past and the present of the great North American indie-rock tradition. While as a group they have not had the crossover success that the likes of Arcade Fire have had, their last album, 2005’s self-titled, charted in both America and Europe. The consequent five years of side-projects, the Broken Social Scene Presents... series and constant touring for almost all members has made Forgiveness Rock Record their most eagerly awaited record yet.
The band’s usually sprawling line-up has been reduced to just six core members for the purposes of writing and arranging, though many of their famous collaborators (Emily Haines, Leslie Fiest, Amy Millian, Jason Collett, etc) feature throughout. Recorded in Chicago and Toronto featuring the production of Tortoise man and general post-rock legend, John McEntire, the album does mark somewhat of a new turn for the band. Big beats, upbeat horns and melodramatic synth-work peppering the songs throughout.
While the particular sound that Broken Social Scene inhabit has never been clear cut, things are, in general, murkier than ever here. ‘World Sick’ is the kind of seven-minute misery jam that only Broken Social Scene can pull off and it kicks off the record in style. It slowly builds its groove, super clean guitars and hand-claps giving way to the synth bubbles and rolling drums of the verse which is in turn washed away by the crashes of the chorus which falls away even as it builds, the melody tumbling down over and over again.
The entire first half of the record is in this vein, songs that don’t really sound much like anything Broken Social Scene have done before, but couldn’t really be by anyone else. ‘Chase Scene’ is the perfect soundtrack to its title, one from a hard-edged cop film from the ’70s. The phasered guitars strike single chords and ratchet up the tension over the insistent beat of the distorted drums. The horns and strings come in for the chorus and it ends in a houseband funk jam that it’s all slightly surreal. The poppy pulse of ‘Texico Bitches’ is pure Kevin Drew and is very reminiscent of the sound of Spirit If…, his BSS Presents… album. ‘Forced to Love’ is head-nodding rock while ‘All to All’ forgoes the rock and is pure synth-pop.
The second half of the album is more ‘traditional’ Broken Social Scene, or at least as traditional as its possible to get with a band like this. ‘Ungrateful Little Father’ is a re-entry into a world we’ve been in before with its messy drums and guitar, splashes of noise coming from all angles and catchy vocals that pull the whole song together. It descends into a mirage of gentle sound, all glistening and broken, before petering into glitchy noise after two of the most beautiful minutes you’re likely to hear anywhere this year.
Finishing on the dainty acoustic number, ‘Me and My Hand’, is an interesting way to leave the listener with a smile on their face, a short little joke of a song that is none the worse for its light subject matter. Make no mistake though, this entire album will leave a smile on your face. Its no You Forgot It In People but then, its really not meant to be. This is a different band, living in a different world, and it is a pleasure to hear the evolution of the band in dealing with everything that has happened to them. While it may take a couple more listens than usual to get into the swing of, the reward is all the richer for the extra effort.