Broken Social Scene stays solid

Canadian band’s ‘scene’ grows to include 17 members, but no major label

Keri Carlson

As the number of its band members increases, Broken Social Scene’s intensity decreases.

For the Canadian band’s third album, the group adds six members, bringing the total to 17.

Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene told the Daily that recording this self-titled album was a two-year process, taking place between tours.

That might account for the album’s relaxed pace. Even with such a swell of musicians, rarely do the songs feel claustrophobic. The music has room to breathe.

The song “Hotel” sounds like vocalist Kevin Drew is singing outside a nightclub – muffled dance beats thump behind Drew’s whispered ohs. Occasionally the club doors open, and a bright burst of horns rings clearly.

“Hotel” and other songs, such as “Windsurfing Nation” and “Bandwitch” stand out for their dubby and gyrating beats. But even the beat-oriented songs connect with the rest of the album. Broken Social Scene’s songs take more time to settle than those in the band’s last album, “You Forgot It in People.”

On this past album, each instrument or voice made an individual presence. The wavy guitar on “Pacific Theme” or Leslie Feist’s breathy vocals on “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl,” was the song’s highlight.

The new album, though, throws the mix in water. The instruments are muddled into a mild psychedelic haze. This makes the melodies subtle rather than assaulting, as they were on “You Forgot It in People.”

” ‘You Forgot It in People’ set out to do some things. When we did those things, we made this album,” Canning said about the new album’s development.

It’s a vague description. But that seems to fit the theme.

Beyond just the music, the lyrics take on an elusiveness. Often the words are difficult to understand; they too are mixed in the haze. Just looking at the song titles – “Our Faces Split the Coast in Half,” “Finish Your Collapse and Stay for Breakfast” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (a Better Day)” – demonstrate Broken Social Scene’s direction.

The one notable exception is the song “Major Label Debut,” on which the hushed music makes Drew’s images of guest lists and passports audible.

Canning said “Major Label Debut” was originally recorded for a XM station in London when Broken Social Scene signed with major label Mercury Records in the U.K.

“That went belly-up. We’re not affiliated with them anymore,” Canning said, which adds a twist of irony to the song.

Canning didn’t come across as bitter or angry; he seemed to shrug his shoulders. Through most of the interview, he expressed an outlook that was neither good nor bad, just the way life goes. (Maybe it’s a Canadian thing?)

“You don’t want to add anyone else’s opinion in the mix,” he said. “There’s enough people in the band anyways.”

It makes more sense that Broken Social Scene is not on a major label, and instead on Drew’s own Arts & Crafts label. It’s the same one that has put out projects from Broken Social Scene members, such as Stars, Apostle of Hustle and Feist.

“We’re building something that is housing our friends,” Canning said.

By staying with Arts & Crafts, Broken Social Scene avoids the fate of its name and remains a community.