Sunday, April 18, 2010

Broken Social Scene, "Forgiveness Rock Record"

A new BSS album almost feels like gravy on their career. They've got nothing left to prove as a unit, and they can all fall back on their bazillion side projects and continue to make a healthy living in music. But they're smart folks, they know how to get the whole gang gets back together and make it feel like it's a Big Event. In no small part, you can chalk that up to their stinginess in the studio. With only three proper albums released in the past eight years, they've been careful not to overflow the supply chain.

I listened to "You Forgot It In People" about 836 times when I was writing up my end of the 00's musings and it only reinforced how far ahead they were of their peers at the time, and how amazingly fresh that record still sounds next to anything released in 2002 (in any genre). The self-titled third album was a decent stab at following up the unfollowable. It's not easy to make a record that successfully captures the sound of fifteen people being on stage, so as a production experiment, it accomplished its goal. But the songwriting felt bloated and inconsistent, with songs frequently venturing into the 5-6 minute range when 3-4 minutes would have been enough.

Simply put, "Forgiveness Rock Record" manages to splice together both the strengths and the weaknesses of the last two albums, not hitting the consistent highs of "You Forgot It In People" but largely avoiding the meandering lows of "Broken Social Scene". It's a comfortable-sounding record that won't disappoint longtime fans but in addition to treading on familiar ground, there are a number of fascinating surprises.

"World Sick", the seven-minute album opener, could have been a downtempo outtake from the last albums. I was hoping for a few more fireworks (their other albums start at 100 MPH) and wishing that the album would mix it up and show me something new or be relegated to the back of the listening pile fairly quickly. The wait was short. The second track, "Chase Scene", fuses industrial rock with bright, made-in-LA soft rock strumming and lullaby harmonies that could have jumped off a late 70's Fleetwood Mac Record. In 2010, it feels ridiculous to suggest that a rock band should focus more on electronics and less on guitars. But these are far and away the most inspired parts of the album.

"Forced to Love" is even better, smothered in Leslie Feist's gooey, breathy vocals and a pulsating metronomic beat like something from Blondie's "Autoamerican". In the gauzy final minutes of "Ungrateful Little Father", they embrace the shimmery ambient headspaces from their first album and "Beehives" collection. It's a style that's been with them from the start of their career, but the band has always seemed to hold those songs at arms length, treating them as throwaway studio experiments that aren't suitable for their "real" records. But I've always loved it when they go all 4AD on us.

Hopefully we can all agree on one thing, it's a GREAT album title with great cover art, if nothing else.

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