Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Review: Broken Social Scene - S/T

When a friend asks for your opinion on something they've done, it's always difficult. When it's art, it can be a real bitch. What if it sucks? What if it not only sucks, but you think they display no obvious talent for what they're doing? It's tough to be pragmatic, but over the years I've come to a conclusion: Lying to my friends about my impression of their artistic work only leads to a feeling of hollow guilt. I'd rather be honest.

Last week, the Broken Social Scene album was leaked (unintentionally, and apologetically) to a ravenous audience of indie rock fanatics. Message boards were rife with Torrent requests and Slsk usernames, and the requisite, but pointless, "you assholes stop stealing their music" responses. A couple guys from the band and their label, Arts & Crafts, spoke out, but in the end, everyone resigned themselves to the conclusion that you can't stop the interweb steamroller once you've started it.

My friend Justin Peroff, drummer for BSS, asked me if I'd heard the album. "No," was my answer. "Well go download it and tell me what you think," he replied. So here it is, after having listened to this thing on a daily basis for a week straight, I have my answer, and fortunately I can say - ostensibly without bias - that it's really good.

This is not You Forgot It In People. I mean, there are strong echoes of their previous work and a similar structure, and there is the same texture, but the tone is different; it's bigger, and far more ambitious. Maybe some will argue that the production is overblown -- indeed, it is dense, and this is obviously a studio album, but it manages to succeed by way of honest intentions and Dave Newfeld's deftness behind the board.

"Major Label Debut" is perhaps the track which draws the closest parallels to what we heard on You Forgot It In People, with it's distinct vocal harmonies and laid back guitar work. It's the kind of song you want to lose yourself in through it's glistening crescendo and subtle string treatments. Haha, glistening crescendos. What bullshit! Anyway, it's very good, no matter what spin you put on it.

The rest of the album is a producer's wet dream. The swirling mix that surrounds Kevin Drew's voice on "Fire Eye'd Boy," sitting distincly above a driving drum track, sounds like it was a hell of a lot of fun to build up and break down. There is so much going on here; a few notes of a piano hidden in the far recesses of the backing track surprised me one day, and opened up an entirely new facet to the song -- a very good sign.

"Windsurfing Nation" and "7/4 (Shoreline)" have already received an almost universal positive reponse from both the critics and the casual listeners. The only aspect of these songs I can take issue with is k-os. He is a wholly unnecessary gimmick laid into "Windsurfing... ," and almost breaks the song for me. Almost. He only has a few seconds of face time, so I can forgive this descent into mid '90s cliche.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I kept thinking: this record is walking a razor's edge between timlessness and timeliness. With all of the sugary production loaded into it, it teeters dangerously close to being one of those releases that dates itself very quickly. You know, like Jesus Jones' Liquidizer, to use an extreme example. What keeps things together are the excellent hooks and harmonies which move through every track. So when you hear a hushed "check it," prior to the beginning of Hotel, and the drums kick in with the shuffle and fervor of an Andy Votel remix, and just when you're ready to say, "oh shit, this is so..." the ethereal melodies start to creep together, and the horns come in - in a good way - and you shut up and listen.

I can't say everyone is going to appreciate the new Broken Social Scene record, but I can urge you to give it more than one listen. One drunken evening, around the time of the leak, someone said to me, "but it has no singles on it," which concerned me and spurred a brief and embarrassing indie-rock debate. Now, after repeated listens, I think part of the reason for this impression is the album's strength as a whole.

So there you go Justin. I will offer you up a Pitchfork-esque 8.5 and congratulate you on sticking it out; not succumbing to the pressure. I know this one was punishing to put together, and you guys did a great job.


Weeks back, I promised I'd put up some MP3s from Austin's lost, Beatles-loving indie rockers, Cotton Mather. I finally tracked down their only consistently good CD - Kontiki - amidst the pile of music taking over a good portion of my living room, and I am happy to report that a few of these songs still have the same impact they did five and a half years back. Big thanks to my friend Marc who I was working with at Nintendo in Seattle for introducing me to these guys.

The band has long since dissolved, but have left behind an almost Spoon-like offering in Kontiki -- at least, when it isn't spiraling into over-wrought Lonely Hearts Club devotion (sorry Marc, I don't share the love in quite the same way).

If I mentioned that the Gallagher brothers thought these guys were the second coming, and championed them until the end, it'd probably be to their detriment, wouldn't it? Oh well, I tried to ignore that fact, and so can you:

Cotton Mather - Homefront Cameo
Cotton Mather - Private Ruth
Cotton Mather - Vegetable Row
Cotton Mather - She's Only Cool


I'm off to The Beaconsfield for some slow jams. The remainder of this promised update will come tomorrow.