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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

'Scene' beats critics: 17-member collective lives up to hype

By April Wright
Staff Writer

Friday, November 11, 2005

“Hyped” and “heavily-produced” are not catchphrases normally associated with good records. But the heavily hyped 17-piece collective Broken Social Scene has delivered a strong, ambitious and innovative fourth album.

The Canadian band’s eponymous fourth album, Broken Social Scene, has been one of the most anticipated albums of the year for indie rockers. In the weeks and months before its official release, fans clambered for leaked versions of the record and pushed the band onto Amazon’s Top 50 CD List. Some critics were even declaring it “album of the year” based on the leaks.

And does it live up to the hype? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” The album starts out with “Our Faces Split the Coast,” which sets up the mellow, but danceable, sound for which Broken Social Scene is notorious. The band incorporates brass instruments tastefully into the song.

While other groups have fallen flat using brass, Broken Social Scene integrates them seamlessly; the additional instrumentation genuinely feels like it belongs there. Coupled with energetic drum beats of Broken Social Scene’s rhythm section, the effect is a lush, robust and exciting track.

The second song, “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” has a more traditional rock vibe. The opening phrases recall the band that is named in the title. But Pavement never wrote a song this skillfully crafted. Much of the song’s beauty exists in its simplicity. While there are many instrumental parts, they are simple and they work together; none seem to compete for attention.

The lyrics are also strong and basic – the words “You were there” are repeated after every verse line, more than a dozen times. However, the phrase never sounds old; on the contrary, the words sound even more poignant with each reiteration.

“7/4 Shoreline” is the quintessential Broken Social Scene song on the album. The initial mellow arrangement grows more chaotic during the song, then returns to its previous baseline state. Vocals wisp in and are then chased out by stronger vocals, making a parallel to the music. All of this is on top of an up-tempo beat with an excitable rhythm made for the dance floor.

“Finish Your Collapse and Start Breakfast” and “Major Label Debut” serve as buffers between two more fast-paced tracks. The two songs are over before you realize they have started, and after the first part of the album, these tracks are necessary: Not only do you need your breath back, but they help keep the album from feeling rushed.

The tracks “Fire Eye’d Boy,” “Windsurfing Nation” and “Swimmers” sound almost manic next to each other. The former varies between being mellow and ostentatious and eventually collapses into a gentle chaos.

“Windsurfing Nation,” on the other hand, is a joyful, hip-hop infused track, with a brisk beat, funky falsettos and hand claps. Rapper K-OS even makes an appearence. “Swimmers” has a melancholy electronic sound similar to Metric’s more mellow songs (the band shares members with Metric, whose lead singer, Emily Haines, does vocals on this song).

These three songs demonstrate one of the curiosities of Broken Social Scene. Because their members all have different projects, songs sometimes lean towards the sound of one of the side bands. Critics might say this is a weakness, but really, it adds flavor.

“Hotel” is a sexy four minutes of dizzy synth lines, punctuated by vocal whispers, falsettos and a horn break. “Handjobs for Holidays” is bolder, with a stronger beat, more guitar and more brass. It melts into the aptly-titled “Superconnected.” While a bit indulgent in its opening, “Superconnected” transforms into a fast-paced and glossy song with spacey, bubbling vocals and a chaotic end.

“Bandwitch” is the weakest track on the album. The beat is there and the sudden vocals keep some interest, but the song drags, and lacks a strong instrumental drive to keep it moving. “Tremolo Debut” is a cute little song, recalling R.E.M’s “Zither” in a slower, sadder way.

The album ends on a high note. “It’s All Gonna Break” has pretty much everything fans have come to expect from Broken Social Scene. There is a strong, danceable beat, soulful vocals and, of course, a healthy sense of perfect chaos in the denouement. It is a perfect fit.

Broken Social Scene is a heavily produced album. However, none of the songs feel false, formulaic or scripted. The chaotic parts of songs feel improvised every time. Similar to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the album incorporates weird noises and broken melodies without sounding pretentious, droning or too indulgent.

While Broken Social Scene was once a band that collapsed under the weight of its own ingenuity, the band has grown into its skin, striking more of a balance between songwriting and instrumentation.

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