Review Summary: Whether or not it's as good as You Forgot it in People can be easily debated, but Broken Social Scene is simply a great, if a little disjointed, album on its own terms.
Canadian indie rock collective Broken Social Scene has always been a sort of "loose" project, whether it be the member list stretching into the double-digits, the fickle attitude projected toward genres, or the generally carefree attitude the production and lyrics display on the band's albums. Whatever it is that results in this perceived looseness, these elements are blown wide open and magnified on their self-titled third album, anticipated by most as the follow-up to the excellent You Forgot it In People
. Right off the bat, opener "Our Faces Split the Coast in Half" is a slick, relaxed jam, introducing the listener to the wide array of instruments the group is so well known for. The song seems almost overloaded with little melodies and sounds, but also clears its own fog in the process a few times.
Though "Faces" is a relaxing listen, the album's first real high point comes with "7/4 (Shoreline)", a relatively YFIIP
-esque rocker that seemingly hits climax after climax, boosted by the power of frequent member Leslie Feist's voice (just as the fantastic "Almost Crimes" was on their previous album). Feist and the rest of the band propel the song through an irregular structure and time signature, but they do it so well that all elements of the song seem completely natural. The problem is, this song makes the flaws of the rest of the album a little clearer: part of what makes the track so appealing is the immediate presence of Feist, while much of the album lacks this kind of presence. Many of the songs lack familiar faces to grasp onto, leading to a strange sort of identity crisis for the album.
Thankfully, the band mostly applies their laid-back style in a positive manner. "Windsurfing Nation" is an excellent example, hitting its stride about a minute-and-a-half in, with a rush of vocals proclaiming "all they want is a free ride!" As if the dynamic drumbeat and gliding vocals weren't enough, Canadian rapper k-os makes an awesomely smooth guest spot towards the end, pushing the entire track over the top (in a good way).
While "Windsurfing Nation" has a feel of controlled chaos, "Swimmers", the following song, is about as straightforward as the album gets. Featuring a longing vocal performance by Emily Haines (of Metric), the song still has a relatively large amount going on, but, at its core, it simply consists of the classic rock combo: guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Haines' presence also makes a hugely positive difference in the song's effect: you may not be sure what exactly it is she's saying, but damn if she doesn't sound good saying it. Haines puts a similar spin on the seven-minute "Bandwitch", switching the pleasant confessional lyrics of "Swimmers" for, well, pleasant yet formless "ooh"s and "ah"s. The overall effect, however, is similar to "Swimmers": the feeling of longing for something distant is tangible here, perhaps something where the yearning is more pleasant than what is being yearned for itself. The music certainly makes it sound this way.
However, in contrast to tracks like "Swimmers", we have a few tracks that simply pass through the listener without even having the courtesy to leave a little something behind. "Major Label Debut" is pretty enough but barely has a hook to attribute to itself, making it one of the unfortunate throwaways. As well, the strangely-titled "Handjobs for the Holidays" just seems like a less interesting version of, say, "Our Faces Split the Coast in Half" or "Superconnected", the track that follows it.
The album ends on an unfortunate note, too: after "Tremoloa Debut", which, sadly, can only be called filler, the ten-minute "It's All Gonna Break" enters. Sadly, the track doesn't quite justify its extreme length, consisting of some great sections, but also ones that fall short of the band's usual standards. Being an extremely talented and slyly prodigious group, they definitely have the potential to create a truly great track of monumental lengths. "It's All Gonna Break" simply isn't it.
However, Broken Social Scene
's low points are surely buried underneath heaps of great moments, and its general aesthetic, though seen as lazy to some, is pleasing, to say the least. The album as a whole may not be as consistently brilliant as You Forgot it in People
, it's still a very strong effort from a band that has the potential to change your life.