Originally published: Clash Magazine
Back on the scene with yet another bewitching new record, the Broken Socialites offer ‘Forgiveness’ in the wake of their five-year departure from the recording studio
The lysergic lilt of Brendan Canning’s voice details it all: “It was pretty trippy, man.” While Vancouver was gripped in a state of sobriety and sportsmanship as it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canning and the rest of the Broken Social Scene collective had slipped into a very surreal realm of their own national pride.
The Hal Willner Neil Young Project had rolled into town to celebrate and soundtrack one of Canada’s national treasures amidst Olympic glory, with Broken Social Scene orchestrating the night’s acts (including Lou Reed and Elvis Costello) in an ode to one of its country’s great performers. “It’s a pretty weird experience to have Lou Reed looking over at me mouthing the chords to ‘Dead Man’ so he can play along,” he explains of the evening’s events; “G! It’s a G, Lou!” he utters with humorous hindsight. “I’ve even had the post-Costello dream where we are playing one of the new Broken Social tracks, and he’s at the side of the stage giving us the thumbs up.”
Apart from individual solo albums under the ‘Broken Social Scene Presents’ banner from the band’s co-founders Canning and Kevin Drew, it’s been five years since anyone has been able to give the troupe an appendage-orientated seal of approval to new material. Their third studio album, 2005’s ‘Broken Social Scene’, saw critics tilt their thumbs sideways, deriding it for being self-indulgent and sloppy in comparison to its predecessor, 2002’s ‘You Forgot It In People’.
However, a recent return to SXSW – a festival that had launched their career on a world scale with critically praised performances in 2003 and 2004 – was treated as a homecoming and celebration of intent and everything new: “Tell everyone we’re back – and we’re ready to fight this time,” spat Drew at the end of their two-hour set at Stubb’s, where the 16-strong collective previewed many new tracks from their forthcoming album ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’.
Despite the initial Internet excitement and praise that it generated, Canning still remains atypically humble about their “dress rehearsal” performance for the year to come. “That was the first time we were playing the new material,” he explains with an air of apprehension, “so I don’t really think about gauging audience reactions to a bunch of new songs that they have never heard before at one o’clock in the morning.”
Sensible thinking, really, especially when he describes the event as “business as usual: beers, barbeques, and bats flying under bridges.” But unlike most festivals, SXSW sets the pace for the year to come as a showcase for new acts, new material and new endeavours, all under the watchful eye of fans, forums and industry fat cats.
‘Forgiveness Rock Record’ (released May 3rd) sees the band part company from long time producer David Newfeld, a man who had played a pivotal role in orchestrating and refining their sound to tape on their previous releases. Recording the new album with John McEntire (who has previously taken up desk duties with Bell Orchestre, Stereolab, Bright Eyes, and Teenage Fanclub) in Chicago, ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’ takes on a very different tone to its predecessors.
“We just wanted to give everyone a little taste of something different,” Canning explains. “Working with a new producer that the band really admired and living in a different city gave us a breath of fresh air, if not a different one, to the way we approached the record.”
The difference is palpable from its first listen. The omnipresent elements of randomness and chaos are still present, but bolder in detail and arrangements to make for a more defined, cleaner, and melodic listen. “I think people need to be shocked,” explains Canning about their refined and rejuvenated sound. “We pretty much focused on what is new for this record, and not what ground we have already cover. Like any album we have made together you kind of go in with the hope that we can do something fresh and invigorating for ourselves – and ultimately, you hope that people will stand alongside with you,” he continues.
“There is no script or mantra in the way we approach making a record, it’s all about the start, the middle, the close to finish, the almost finish, the…err…finish, and then the…err…finish…again,” he trails off whilst sipping at a glass of water in order to take vitamins.
Despite the revolving door policy that Broken Social Scene have had in the past with regards to band members, ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’ was written with a solid six members – Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Justin Peroff, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin, and relatively new to the roster, Sam Goldberg. “Sam was maybe the missing link,” Brendan begins to explain behind the more unified sound that they have stumbled upon: “The sixth member that would push the band forward from being a collection of peripheral members that would often make it hard for us as a band to write and move forward.”
Often as not, it’s the peripheral members that have bolstered their name, depth of sound, and communal live shows, with the likes of Emily Haines (of Metric), Lisa Lobsinger (Reverie Sound Revue), Leslie Feist (Feist), and Amy Millan and Evan Cranley (Stars), among others, often appearing on tour or on record. Getting them involved on their latest release, however, was a surprisingly easy task: “Everyone has their days when they are available, and everyone showed up and represented like they did on any other Broken Social record.
“We always maintain that it’s the friendship in the band that keeps us together, not who turns up to rehearsal. We are very much a band that likes to celebrate the music and the people within it.”
So why, in the face of celebration, are Broken Social Scene seeking ‘Forgiveness’ with their new record?
“We’ve always prescribed ourselves as ‘Self Help Rock and Roll’, especially with Kevin getting everyone to scream at live shows and generally making the performance a communal event,” he explains. “We’re not that much of a serious band if you have seen us play live, so there is supposed to be some light heartedness to the title. But, you know, everyone has something to be sorry for, and everyone wants to be forgiven for something they have done. Anyone with a good sense of humour and overall view of life can get something from the title – get something out of forgiveness.”
And do you have anything you’d like to be forgiven for, Brendan?
“Oh, you know, I’m sure there are a few things. I can’t imagine anyone going through life without fucking up a few times.”
Between all the celebrations and social pardons, Canning and the rest of the troupe have very little need to be forgiven. ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’ sees the collective march forth on their experimental journey of structuring sound in all its resplendent glory; and despite its differences, it’s still resolutely a Broken Social Scene album: anthemic, resonating, and rapturous in its delicately flamboyant structuring. Every fresh listen delves deeper with a kaleidoscopic approach to pop that takes the listener on a joyful trip of their own in turn.
Where: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
What: Baroque pop
Unique fact: Despite the band having six key members, BSS are better known in their collective form of up to 16 performing members.
Get 3 songs: ‘World Sick’, ‘Art House Director’, ‘Meet Me In The Basement’.