Broken Social Scene Broken Social SceneForgiveness Rock Record
It’s been almost a decade since “You Forgot It In People” (2002), and we’re still trying to untangle what happened to rock after post-rock. The second, unforgettable album from Broken Social Scene, great among the greats of underground music in recent years, was a real conquering of the shifting sands of indie—setting aside envy, jealousy, and bad vibes, they made a sick music that they knew how to give a breath of life into like nobody else. All of the poetry that you can think of imposes in the face of that work, which still sounds today as slippery as solid, and as desolate as uplifting. Even suspecting that they would never surpass that album, the truth is that, plenty of time after their last Broken Social Scene offering, the band have truly been missed. Perhaps we hadn’t realised it because its different members are still around, in the form of a bunch of different projects. What used to be only an exciting, excited group, is today a sort of super-group turned upside-down, successful prior to the work of its members separately. BSS is the mother band of names like Leslie Feist, Andrew Whiteman ( Apostle Of Hustle), Kevin Drew, Jason Collet, Amy Millan and Evan Cranley (of Stars) or ( Emily Haines Metric), all of them with their own solo albums in recent years, but none of them able to equal the value of their masterpiece, or even the great “Broken Social Scene” (2005).
In 2010, new musicians come in (Sam Goldberg stands out in the hard nucleus), and others leave (David Newfeld), and new members like Lisa Lobsinger ( Reverie Sound Revue), Sam Prekop ( The Sea and Cake), Jason Tait ( The Weakerthans) or Spiral Stairs ( Pavement) are welcomed. After a break that was about to kill them from the inside out, the prodigal sons return to the fold, and although we understand that it’s terribly hard for them to bring an album out, it is undeniable that their talents continue to multiply in the best possible way when they are together and feel like working. Anything can still happen in BSS and, at least for our pleasure, we hope that they always stay as tortured as they are. Hard to think up and delicate to write, “Forgiveness” sounds like a testimonial, dramatic and exorcising, beginning with the title itself, but it shows the group is alive and looking for a fight. It is hot-blooded, sturdy, muscular, and full of good songs, but we can also find several symptoms of that strange air that seems to be eating away from the inside at the unhappiest group on the rock scene. That delicate internal dynamic that has marked the band from the beginning seems more important than ever when it comes to evaluating a title arising from the ashes of “ This Book is Broken”, a parallel, multidisciplinary project extended into a film ( “ This Movie is Broken”) which shows what has happened in recent years in the heart of the group. But all told, it would be cruel to say that it wasn’t worth waiting for.
What continues to be remarkable about BSS is the admirable cohesion and joint force of a group made up of such different pieces, with so much friction between them. “Forgiveness” sounds on-edge and dangerous, but less so. Over the course of the hour that it lasts, it’s hard for it to keep a stiff upper lip, perhaps weighed down too much by the perfectionism of its new producer, John McEntire. Recording at his orders, the added rock processing provided by the leader of Tortoise has a definitive effect on a finish that, where Newfeld used to prioritise the wild, visceral side of the group, now is showing signs of exhaustion for the first time ever. It is a bit alarming, because now is when BSS’s expressivity needs to raise its voice to the sky more than ever, and this only occurs in isolated moments like the splendid political lament of “World Sick,” the aerial “All To All,” or the delicious “Sentimental X’s” that the current Lali Puna have been unable to write. So “Forgiveness” may be judged as the most sophisticated cornerstone of its career, but also the most complacent. There are booming fireworks ( “Texico Bitches”) and coals that keep alive the ashes of such parental figures as Sonic Youth ( “Forced To Love”) or Pavement ( “Water In Hell”), but in general, the group is noticeably excessively alienated by commander McEntire ( “Chase Scene”). The restlessness shown in things like “Art House Director” can’t hide the pseudo-exotic mediocrity represented by “Highsleeper Jam” and “Ungrateful Little Father,” and the most demanding of us will say that even in “Meet Me In The Basement” its strength is undermined by its mouth. But among so many excuses and so much conceptual redemption, if there is something to be sorry about, it’s the songs. You can’t help thinking that in a year with so much creative competition some sharp scissors would have helped here.