Review Summary: Controlled chaos
Staring into Jupiter's Red Spot (on the internet of course) can have a hypnotizing effect. The eye-shaped mass on the planet's surface can look like a peaceful swirl, just swimming along the gas giant. Its movement, a relaxing series of spirals. Before you do your research and realize it's a raging storm, the size of multiple Earths.
Broken Social Scene specializes in this type of contrast of the senses, loose song structures that threaten to (and sometimes do) transition into intimate, chaotic storms - a clashing and melding of musical personalities and styles that is transfixing. Although they started out as an ambient project between Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, the band was always connected to the larger Toronto music scene it would come to represent. With many of their band members going to the same arts high school or playing in other bands together, the expansive nature of their lineup feels inevitable. At its best, their work is an intensely personal collage, a patchwork of sounds that feel stranger and bigger when put together.
And on their self-titled, they are at their best. After the beautiful opener Our Faces Split The Coast in Half threatens to burst at the seams, Ibi Dreams of Pavement kicks in, and the band sounds like they can't wait to start the album. Each instrument tries to race ahead of the other, before settling into a groove for Kevin Drew to yell/sing/chant over. His words feels ritualistic, mantras repeated not because they are part of the chorus but because he really needs you to know them, to memorize and repeat them to yourself. Until his voice checks, to let Amy Milan's stunning vocals and the band's instrumental crescendo end the song.
Strapping you in after Ibi, the album wastes no time moving to 7/4 (Shoreline) - its slick drum line punctuating the beginning of the song. Feist's voice commands attention here, sharing space with the guitar chucking along at the titular time signature, before joining all the band's voices in a battle for sonic territory that you never want to end.
What is remarkable about the self-titled, and what makes the album friendly to repeated listens, is the band's understanding of space, the same understanding that (among other things) makes their previous album You Forgot It In People a classic. The whole album has a loose, naturalistic quality to it, and the band is intimately aware of when to give the listener room to breathe, with songs like Major Label Debut or Hotel. Rather than restrict themselves to a single theme or style, the group unleashes their collective creative force on the canvas of the album, allowing the songs to evoke a diverse set of moods, from quiet longing to triumphant self-awareness, an all encompassing fullness that reflects the richness of life experience each band member brings to the group.
Coming near the midpoint of the album, Swimmers is one of the standout songs of the band's discography. Combining Emily Haines's loose, intimate vocal delivery with a full ensemble backing, each section of the band plays along effortlessly, with every instrument taking a casual turn. The band accomplishes the magic trick of creating a hyper-specific connection with the listener, while maintaining a large, varied sound that all the combined effort of the band members could muster. It repeats that trick again on Superconnected, this time desperately and with no time to lose. The song churns with an indefatigable aura that captures all the contradictory aspects of Broken Social Scene. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, the piece shares the strange propulsive energy that can take over someone grieving. Here, the collective finally becomes one, and cries out to be understood and to be heard. For you to join them and unselfconsciously share in their feeling together.
A particular standout live, the closer Its All Gonna Break is a microcosm of the album. A behemoth of a song that refuses to end (in a good way), it always has one more thing to say, one more transition to make. You begin to live in the song, and by the time that it does end a part of you might have gone with it, waiting to return back on your next visit to the album.