A crash course in Broken Social Scene

    Broken Social Scene play in England. Photo by richt/tlobf on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    Broken Social Scene is a big band. No, they’re not all that famous, even in their homeland of Canada. But they’re big: They’ve got 16 members and counting, and the volume of instruments, movements and melodies on each track threatens to blow out speakers while the sheer enormity of their ambition aspires to blow minds. The simplest thing you could say about them is that they’re a rock band, and the most commonly said things about them involve words like “orchestral” “epic” “shambling” and “awesome” (and, of course, “hipster,” “indie,” “Canadian” and “Pitchfork“).

    The thing, though, is that all those adjectives make them sound like your typical over-the-top emo-ish indie rock outfit, but Broken Social Scene definitely don’t sound like the Arcade Fire or Stars (though their roster includes members of Stars, as well as other household hipster names like Feist and Metric). The best Broken Social Scene tracks sound like rock n’ roll, folk, movie-score strings and beautiful but meaningless lyrics thrown into a blender set to “chop.”

    For a quick look at the band’s two main modes, listen to “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)“: The former shows the group’s capacity for slow-building tear-jerking grace, and the latter shows their capacity for ridiculously huge tear-jerking rock. To get better-acquainted before Dillo Day, check out these three albums…

    You Forgot It In People (2002)

    Their debut , Feel Good Lost, was a pleasing, if boring, collection of well-made ambient instrumentals. You Forgot It In People, though, stands as an almost-unbelievable leap forward into a world of glimmering, pummeling pop-rock. As if to diffuse criticism that all indie rock bands’ songs sound the same, each track on You Forgot It In People bears little resemblance to the last. In the span of three songs, the band swings from crashing post-rock bombast (“KC Accidental“) to hand-clappin’ psychedelic pop (“Stars and Sons“) to a punk track that has always reminded me of The Stooges in space (“Almost Crimes“). I’m hoping the band busts out the schmaltzy, strolling instrumental “Pacific Theme” on the Lakefill: There are few better songs that conjure the feel of a cool breeze on a sunny day by the water.

    Key tracks:Stars and Sons,” “Almost Crimes,” “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl,” “Cause=Time

    Broken Social Scene (2005)

    I suspect the band self-titled this album because it represents the purest distillation of Broken Social Scene’s spirit: It’s 14 tracks of raw, simmering sound, with the songs collapsing and whirling and thrumming with the energy of, well, an entire social scene. That’s not to say there aren’t real songs here (“7/4 Shoreline” is one of the catchiest things they’ve done), just that they’re often encrusted with ADD drumming, intertwining fuzzed-out guitar lines, strange filters and coats of noise from unidentifiable sources. If you ask me, it’s the band’s best album. From the gravity-free apocalypse of “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” to the schizophrenic twitch-rock of “Windsurfing Nation,” it’s the kind of record that inspires you to put it on in your room and spend the next hour kicking around your pillows and imagining you’re in a war movie.

    Key tracks:Swimmers,” “7/4 Shoreline,” “Fire Eye’d Boy,” “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day),” “Windsurfing Nation

    Spirit If… (2007)

    This technically isn’t an album by Broken Social Scene but rather by Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew. That’s what the band is doing nowadays: “presenting” albums by their own band members (Brendan Canning is up next with a release on July 22). The music on here sounds as you’d expect it to sound — like a slimmed-down Broken Social Scene. The songs are still overstuffed, but not quite as overstuffed as their other material, and Drew’s vocals aren’t as compelling as they are when supported by the band’s other singers (which often include Leslie Feist, Drew’s girlfriend). Still, Broken Social Scene will likely bust out a few of these tracks on Dillo Day. My money’s on “Tbtf,” a perky ballad featuring the best pickup line of the decade: “You’re too beautiful to fuck.”

    Key tracks:Lucky Ones,” “Gang Bang Suicide,” “Backed Out On The…,” “Tbtf

    Fun fact: StarsAmy Millan will play on the Lakefill for the second time this quarter when Broken Social Scene plays Dillo Day. The band’s MySpace lists her in their current touring lineup, along with six others. While the seven-person band might pale in comparison to Broken Social Scene’s former 21-person glory, have some faith: Whatever this band does, it’s gonna be big.


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