#6. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
If you ever have a chance to see Broken Social Scene live, you should. And I don’t mean the whole “Yeah, maybe if I randomly had a chance to catch them at a small club, but I’m not really into the festival scene” mentality. I did catch them in a small club (the Gargoyle at Wash U), back in ‘03, and it was pretty cool, but that’s not what I’m talking about. To really experience the band at its full potential, you need to see them move hundreds of people.
Because, you see, they were a different band back in 2003, with the excellent You Forgot It In People in their rearview and their featured female vocalists (Leslie Feist, Amy Millan, Emily Haines) all burgeoning stars in their own right. They were hypnotically cool, radiating with effortlessness and genuine style. But the group evolved in the three years between that record and when they released their self-titled album in 2005. Careers took off, the malleable lineup continued to shift, and the band’s next musical statement became increasingly anticipated. When I saw them play the Lollapalooza stage on the heels of the eponymous release, it was probably one of the last shows with their entire extended lineup together, and it was brilliant.
It was everything I could want in a live performance. The setting was picturesque – Chicago’s Grant Park with a gorgeous sunset as a backdrop, and most of the crowd poised for their second wind of the day. The old songs satisfied on every possible level, and the new material revealed itself in new ways. But more than just the musical performance, and their inherent cool, the band brought a new dimension into the fold. Kevin Drew, whenever the spirit moved him, broadcast hope, inspiration, and love to the throngs before him. It wasn’t forced, or contrived. It was sincere, and it resonated. For that 30 minutes, everyone felt, in the least cheesy way possible, “Superconnected”. And then, when they cut the band short to allow for Red Hot Chili Peppers set to begin, we felt unified in our objection, chanting “LET! THEM! PLAY!” for minutes on end, until Drew was forced to come back out and thank us sincerely. It was absolutely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
And sure, it sounds like neo-hippie BS. I know, I get it. But the thing is, BSS has managed to embrace unifying idealism within a humanist scope while still maintaining that effortless cool that made them so captivating in the first place. “World Sick”, the leadoff single and opening track from Forgiveness Rock Record, illustrates the success of this duality perfectly. The tribal tom groove and spacey guitar-delay intro hint at jam band territory until a worming guitar line bridges the opening to the verse, where Drew lays his sing-song rasp into the cut before launching the band into a splashy, cascading chorus with full-on bombast, proclaiming, “I get world sick everytime I take a stand \ I get world sick \ my love is for my man”. Extroverted and unconditional affection in the face of disenchantment. Its not an easy task, to be sure, but Broken Social Scene make it sound so very easy.
The shimmy-skip-shuffle of “Texico Bitches” sounds downright giddy and hopeful under the weight of the oil industry’s crushing grip. But hope is the sentiment: “texaco bitches the light is coming in \ texaco bitches i think we’re bound to win \ texaco bitches my weapon is my truce \ texaco bitches i do not like to lose”. The relentless drive of “Forced To Love” gives way to the tumbling chorus, wryly lamenting the burden of the human capacity for empathy. Album highlight ”All To All” breaks open into a wide, pulsing vista as Lisa Lobsinger lends her enchantingly weightless vocals to the panorama. When she doubles up the vocal rhythm at the 3:00 mark, it’s enough to make my heart swell up and bust. It may be the most transcendent musical moment of 2010: “It’s like the common law \ Was wall to wall \ And almost faded \ I’ve seen the gone to small \ The lost of law \ The almost made it \ It seems like mine to shine \ You’ll always find the lonely ray \ It’s like the wall to fall \ The fall of all \ The laws are graded \ I’ve seen the lies that call \ The pictures tall \ The lines are made in \ It’s like the fight to crawl \ My darling all you’ve lived your age \ I know it’s all to all \ all to all \ ultimatum…”
The album continues its warm glow throughout, settling to an especially warm simmer on “Ungrateful Little Father”, recalling some of the cooled-out and tape-frying grooves of You Forgot It In People: “Oh I feel like you an evil win \ Sucker twin \ Dying for the never of start \ Whatcha gonna say to this \ With all that’s missed \ Oh I think you’re pulling the heart”. The next five songs continue the consistent quality of the album, with the Aaron Copeland-esque stampede of “Meet Me In The Basement”, Emily Haines’ bewitching vocal contributions on “Sentimental X’s”, the sultry quarter-note bounce of “Sweetest Kill”, the slow-burn build of “Romance To The Grave”, and the roots-rock sing-along of “Water In Hell”.
Forgiveness Rock Record may not have the same number of instant classics that their previous full-lengths have, but this one at least seems cohesive and confident in its identity. If You Forgot It In People was relaxed and Broken Social Scene was restless, then Forgiveness Rock Record is hopeful. And as cheesy as it sounds, I think we could all use a hopeful record nowadays. Its easy to be jaded to the point of apathy, but Drew, Brendan Canning, and their large cast of musical gunslingers succeed in getting their cryptic barbs in at the self-preserving corporate establishment while offering an attitude of empowerment and self-confidence – all the while managing to make some of the best indie rock being put out there right now. Its a tough balance to accomplish, and I love this band for doing it and doing it well.