For as much shit as we give Canadians, they’ve proven time and time again that they can deliver. Apart from the metropolis of musical incest that Constellation Records supports, our neighbors to the north continue to produce a succession of hit records. The New Pornographers followed 2000’s Mass Romantic with the power-pop phenomenon The Electric Version and most recently, the effervescent Twin Cinema; The Constantines’ second release, Shine a Light, infused new life into the stagnant rock scene. Broken Social Scene look to uphold their nation’s proud tradition with a self-titled sophomore attempt, but they can only pull out so many tricks from the You Forgot It In People playbook.
In 2002, Broken Social Scene – a group of accomplished Canadian musicians – released one of the most expansive, esoteric pop albums of the last 20 years, You Forgot It In People. Layers of soaring guitars laid the groundwork for gorgeous melodies and explosive crescendos. The album looked to be the new face of indie-pop and the archetypal sound for subsequent groups – but then again, lightning never strikes the same place twice.
The opening three tracks of S/T perfectly mimic the start of You Forgot It In People. “Our Faces Split the Coast in Half” has the same pre-game, warm-up feel as their first album’s opener, “Capture the Flag.” “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” kicks the album into gear in “KC Accidental” fashion but is unable to recapture the hype and power of its predecessor. Soft, airy vocals and an unrelenting percussion section drive “7/4 (Shoreline)” exactly as they do “Stars and Sons.”
But with the exception of these three tracks, the album sounds like a collection of watered-down freestyles from their previous release. Many of the songs on S/T sound like improvised jams. “Bandwitch” carries on for an unnecessary six minutes, cymbals splashing through the track while indecipherable hums echo about the soundscape.
Similarly, album closer “It’s All Gonna Break” extends for a mind-boggling 10 minutes. The track wouldn’t be nearly as unbearable if it weren’t for lyrical disasters like, “When I was a kid / It fucked me in the ass.” The melodic nature and pop-construct of the song simply don’t allow for such insipid, tasteless lines.
Despite all this, Broken Social Scene do venture into some uncharted territory. “Windsurfing Nation” begins with staccato, upbeat drums and random guitars before launching into a bubbly pop track. Unfortunately, it makes an ill-fated turn when rapper K-Os spits 16 bars or so and disrupts the free-flowing spirit.
What’s truly amazing about S/T is how good it actually is – a testament to the excellence of You Forgot It In People. Even with blatant, dulled parroting of their previous work, Broken Social Scene still releases a pop gem. Never once does S/T feel bogged down or monotonous; the band keeps you guessing from track to track with different sounds and brief instrumental interludes. S/T is not the album everyone was hoping for, but in reality, that album was impossible. Judging from Bee Hives – a collection of You Forgot It In People B-sides – Broken Social Scene had many demons to exercise. S/T may be viewed as a well-done experiment when Broken Social Scene finally release their next masterful album.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 5