Broken Social Scene
Forgiveness Rock Record
(Arts & Crafts)
A few years ago at a CMJ panel discussion, Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber recalled his initial reaction to seeing an album called You Forgot It in People in the office slush pile: Fuck, another emo band. It was 2002 and their name, Broken Social Scene, certainly suggested the overwrought sentimentality that was taking over popular music, made worse by DIY-looking artwork and the words "break all codes" printed above the album's barcode. It turned out not to be a re-hash of Dashboard Confessional, of course, but the breakout record from what would become one of most critically respected indie-rock bands of the decade.
Needless to say, Schreiber, and just about everyone else who heard it, was caught off guard. Not only did it seem to come out of nowhere, from no-name musicians (in America anyway), but it covered such a vast variety of genres and moods, shifting so drastically from one to the next that it sounded like it couldn't all possibly be coming from the same band. With it, BSS achieved an element of surprise that their later work would have to match. It doesn't help that they spend the majority of their time devoted to ever-growing solo careers: Between the side-projects of main man Kevin Drew and singer/bassist Brendan Canning, the Emily Haines-fronted Metric, Amy Millan's Stars, and a certain "1234" song by the blue-sequined First Lady of Indie Rock, its members have done quite well for themselves. By the time the band's self-titled follow-up rolled around in 2005, the cat was out of the bag: these guys are good. Five years later, they're back together on Forgiveness Rock Record, and people are again ready and expecting.
Though that initial element of surprise may be missing, the record bursts with high points. The Kevin Drew-led opener "World Sick," a high drama anthem that inches skyward before floating to the ground on an instrumental outro, sets the tone. This sort of woozy, slow-release pop format has accounted for some of their best work over the years, and it's all over the place here—"All to All" teams it with shimmery electro beats and strings; "Highway Slipper Jam" channels it through an acoustic filter.
But more than ever, Forgiveness Rock Record focuses on rock: guitars are louder, melodies are easy to follow, and songs are eager to please. Try listening to "Water in Hell" without joining in when they shout, "It's the year 2010!" The hooks on "Texico Bitches" and "Ungrateful Little Father" could find their way onto a car commercial if it weren't for their stream of obscenities. And this time, Emily Haines' requisite standout isn't a twisted alto-voiced diary entry like "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," but the tragically beautiful "Sentimental X's." It figures that "Meet Me in the Basement," the only track without vocals, is one of the album's hardest hitting, matching the sweeping grandeur of Holy Fuck's "Lovely Allen" and eclipsing their tendency to let a record get bogged down with instrumental meanderings.
It says something about BSS' collective creativity that even on the most cohesive, straightforward output of their career, there's still a subversion of traditional rock and pop: songs run too long for commercial success, a one-off instrumental piece really turns up the heat, and everything's just a bit off-kilter. This time, no one's worried that BSS is going to turn out to be an emo band and no one should worry that they won't be able to live up to expectations, even with the bar as high as it is.