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Noise From The North

 

Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene

Arts & Crafts, 2005

Rating: 4.1

 

Posted: October 18, 2005

By Peter Landwehr

The watchword for Broken Social Scene on You Forgot It in People was "variety". The band's sophomore album was a blend of styles ranging from folk to post-rock that evoked a strange combination of childlike joy and depressive melancholy, and managed to win the Canadian band a Juno Prize and a large underground following. Identifying leaders of a 17-member collective (whose participants cross-pollinate with other bands) is hard. Nonetheless, the delay in the arrival of the group's self-titled third release can be at least partly laid at the feet of producer David Newfeld, who set out to surpass his impressive work on You Forgot and has refused to release Broken Social Scene until satisfied. Whether he and the group have managed that is debatable, but Broken Social Scene is certainly an equal, albeit more difficult, successor to the band's last work.

For Broken, the band has created a sound that is still instantly identifiable as Broken Social Scene but is more coherent than that of You Forgot; it retains that album's sense of being many singles that work well as a unified group, but each track on Broken has a similar texture and energy. Newfeld's role in this process has been to pull specific instrumental and vocal lines out of this chaos for optimum effect. While very disorganized on first listen, after several spins the cleanliness behind Broken's noise becomes clear.

Despite forgoing accessibility for complexity, in many ways Broken Social Scene possesses the same pop sensibility as You Forgot; "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)" starts out with choppy guitar noise and and singer Kevin Drew wailing happily, before shifting to triumphant horns with a backing chorus of "aah's". Despite these shifts, the song retains its pop catchiness. "7/4 (Shoreline)", while at heart a simple rock song, is blessed with an unconventional beat and complex drumming. "Swimmers" is a fine synth-driven ballad sung by Leslie Feist that captures the kind of mild but sincere longing that Broken Social Scene has long since mastered. The album grows in complexity as these softer touches are fully absorbed.

Broken Social Scene tries to be an extremely organized indie-rock jam session -- something that a few, but hardly all, of the tracks on You Forgot also tried. In some ways, its spiritual cousin is Sufjan Stevens' Illinois, another continuous album portraying an extremely complex picture that resolves itself as joyous. Unlike Stevens, however, Broken Social Scene decidedly remains a rock group, working in a much narrower vein; the emotion backing each song here is inevitably upbeat yet lined with sadness -- certainly Stevens would not end an album with the joyous exultation that "It's All Gonna Break". The group has lost some of the accessibility of You Forgot it in People, which wore its heart on its sleeve with fewer emotional contradictions, but has maintained the same emotional neediness at the previous album's heart. And to refer to any album that maintains a band's theme while both distilling and complicating its sound as less than a success is an error.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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