Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Forgiveness, proclaims this rock record. The song “Water in Hell” alludes to this with vaguely political disquiet. But what am I to make of forgiveness as a theme, when the just-mentioned song sits side by side with what appears to be an ode to jerking off – “Me and My Hand” – the woozily romantic final track? Pre-empting these two ill-matched songs is an entire album of the inwardly political and weirdly triumphant. With world-sick tensions on the rise since their founding days back in 1999, Broken Social Scene (BSS) returns to remind us – ambiguously, perhaps – that forgiveness is in perennial bloom. This is what sustains this record, much as you’d suspect it sustains the band themselves (read Stuart Berman’s unfortunately not-so-great officially sanctioned biography of them to get some idea of this).
Forgiveness Rock Record is enjoyably appealing from its very first listen, with an immediacy taming BSS’s normally wild’n'woolly instincts. Eclectic sounds pile up, as every BSS album will attest, but this time it’s all rhythmically tighter. Monkish producer John McEntire, of Chicago band Tortoise fame, provides new restraint over the percussive and sonic textures. Quoted in an interview from 2000, McEntire revealed, ‘The drums are the foundation for everything else.” It pinpoints where Forgiveness Rock Record diverges from the band’s previous self-titled album. “We hate your hate” proclaimed that 2005 Dave Newfeld produced album, and it was notable for sonic indulgences and messy dynamics, a weary romanticism writ large. This album, by contrast, is the sound of BSS honing their craft and setting aside the righteous hatred. If you were one of the ones that hated the slow, kitchen-sink version of “Major Label Debut”, this album will appeal greatly.
Lead-in track “World Sick” has an all but classic giddy, gauzy feel. It’s also the longest song on a surprisingly even-tempered album. Shot through with Charles Spearin‘s authoritative bass line, a police siren, and a chest-hugging triumphal chorus, the song is possibly one of the best things they’ve ever done. Spearin’s recently released solo album, The Happiness Project, is a spectral haunted thing of beauty, making much of the lilt and implied melody in human voices of ordinary speech. He appears to bring some of that cool cerebralism to BSS, balancing out Kevin Drew‘s firecracker emotionalism. The next song, “Chase Scene,” has an electro-patterned synth beat that feels entirely out of place at first listen but eventually weathers down to pop standard status after several hearings, no less so than the obvious future single, “Texico Bitches.” In fact, the opening four songs, rounding off with “Forced to Love”, is a sustained bid for anthemic conciseness.
After the opening gambit the album loosens, flowering into BSS’s familiar tangled scrub. Lisa Lobsinger coos her way across tunes like “All to All” and “Highway Slipper Jam”. This latter tune’s ramshackle happy potpourri feel is broad enough to feature some mighty fine yodeling and whistling as accompaniment. The band also revisits the now traditional Emily Haines-tinged balladic entry, usually built up around a simple conceit, and equally always, dreamily fantastic (all three of the stalwart BSS ladies sing on it this time, which has never happened before, but unfortunately it’s a difference that ends up making not much of a difference after all). Even a weak song like “Art House Director” moves along with heft, while “Ungrateful Little Father” starts strong and finally breaks upwards into the sky as it distends into ringing angelic voices. ”Romance to the Grave” follows a similar divide, moving from moonbeam wispy beauty to silver-edged song-craft. Indeed, Forgiveness Rock Record cleverly summarises elemental Krautrock rhythms, ambient swooshes, and electronic textures whizzing around, always in deference to the songs themselves.
Could this be the album of the year? I wouldn’t quite say so. There are missteps and fuzzy moments. Confession: I’m one of the ones that liked the slow version of “Major Label Debut”, and so I find this album a pleasant mystery; vastly hooky and always on the verge of catching something substantial, yet at last unmooring itself with the sense that an intervening couple of years has unstuck these fellows a little. There had been talk from Kevin and Brendan Canning that perhaps BSS could have come to an end as early as 2008. Forgiveness implies a coming to terms with events, but recent interviews have shown Kevin’s sense of impending doom to be as charmingly alive as ever. After all, how can you forgive what you can’t name? Broken Social Scene’s entire career has been one long leap into the unknown. With a little help from their friends, of course. And we love them for that.
– REVIEW BY DARYL FERNANDEZ