Broken Social Scene is dearly loved as one of Canada’s most famous supercollectives and cites over 17 members in the first page of the liner notes of their latest self-titled album. Best known for their dense, lush instrumentals and a strong experimental sensibility, Broken Social Scene broke out of Canada with their 2003 hipster-meets-hippie staple You Forgot It In People. Having quietly amassed a steady following, BSS spawned a number of successful side acts like Stars, Metric, Feist, and Apostle of Hustle, all of whom seem eager to contribute their own unique talents for BBS’s grand, collective vision.
On first listen, Broken Social Scene comes off as a one-trick pony. Although bewitching as a mood piece, the atmospherics never really seem to extend beyond the ephemeral and ethereal. BSS’s tendency for sprawling pop epics can be exhausting but repeated listens are deeply rewarded: BSS creatively explores the pop song dynamic with a nuanced maturity that is nothing short of exquisite.
From the upbeat, anthemic “Superconnected” to the unabashed prettiness of “Bandwitch,” the album shines from start to finish. Although everything sounds slightly messy and loose, BBS’s spontaneous aesthetic never compromises the staggering amount of talent within the band. Each song threatens to come unhinged, but the intricacies of the songwriting rescue BBS’s penchant for lengthy jam sessions.
There is plenty of perfect sounding pop on Broken Social Scene. “Fire Eye’d Boy” is a near flawless four minutes of whispery yet insistent vocals and skittish high hats galore. The joyous “Windsurfing Nation” bursts into a tremendous crescendo of jittery sounds and swooning vocals. By the time Toronto rapper K-Os appears for his cameo, he is reduced to a single, surprising element that is democratically swirled into the cacophony of sound. Feist’s sophisticated, delicate vocals in “Windsurfing Nation” transition excellently to the warm, sugary-sweet vibe of Emily Haines, BSS’s other chanteuse, in “Swimmers.”
“Hotel,” with its electronic sensibility and muted vocals, successfully explores new, sexier territory. Instead of conforming to the played-out trip-hop genre, BSS surprises again with a jazzy, cheerful horn section that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a Perry Como song. Ending with a guitar riff taken from one of Feist’s own solo tracks, “One Evening,” the song cleverly acknowledges their family aesthetic.
With a constantly evolving lineup and multiple contributors, it can be hard to pinpoint BBS’s defining core. But this appreciation for freewheeling exploration is precisely what is essential about BSS. Perhaps their affinity for meandering improvisation explains their resistance to a conventional definition of pop music, but this shape-shifting quality and sheer playfulness keeps us coming back for more. BBS is a collective in its purest form: no one seems too eager to stay in the spotlight for too long and the bands even take turns playing various instruments. This sense of camaraderie can make you giddy, but more importantly, it makes you realize the potential for catharsis within pop music.
Archived article by Natasha Pickowicz
Sun Staff Writer