Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

Rating: ★★½☆☆

It’s been a good five years since we’ve heard from Canadians Broken Social Scene, and with their return, news comes that the large entourage has dwindled to a merry band of six (now with even more guests!).  How would the departure, or lack of involvement of key members, play out on the band’s new album, Forgiveness Rock Record?  Honestly, this album will be a divisive one, at least it looks that way now.  Some will find they love it from the start, while others (like myself) will be reluctant to completely disregard it due entirely to the band’s back catalogue and the ridiculous talent pool still intact.

By now you’ve all heard “World Sick,” but in contrast to the rest of the album, it feels really as if the song was sort of phoned in, for lack of better wording.  It appears as if the band, unsure of their identity as a six piece, fell upon common ground from days of old, in hopes of establishing their footing.  You’ll find the crashing percussion, though it seems a little bit cleaner, and the swelling vocals during the chorus.  Sorry, but you’ve done it better.  Similarly, the following song, “Chase Scene” has this driving electronic feel, but for some reason, it lacks that emotional release that made the band so enchanting.

Opening moments of “Texico Bitches” build great possibilities, relying upon the great guitar hook and Drew’s vocals to draw you in, and while that hook remains, it gets buried in the rest of the textural elements, such as string instruments, that are piled onto everything here. Still, this is the first song I think I really enjoyed, which is more than can be said for the following tune “Forced to Love.”   The vocal delivery is enough to turn you off every time, and all the guitar chords cutting through the song just get on my nerves.  Throw that in with the chorus, that once again seems like re-using something from the closet, and this is one of the more disappointing moments on Forgiveness Rock Record.

When I came across “Art House Director,” I wasn’t really sure where to find this song.  It’s full of horns, and it sounds a lot more like they’re channeling a bit of Guided by Voices, but as you listen to this song more, this is precisely what you wanted the group to do.  They’re throwing something entirely new into the mixture; it feels fresh immediately, yet still remains a since of smooth pop that the band tends to evoke.  Throw this in with “Ungrateful Little Father” and you have the band going places where they haven’t gone before, so you get excited.  The latter song uses Drew’s vocal as the focus, then throws in the pop instrument collage, crafting careful cacophony.

Those looking for old friends will find their joy in “Sentimental Xs” as Emily Haines of Metric makes her appearance.  Her coy little voice seems to float atop the song, as layer upon layer continues to build.  There’s electronic blips, percussion, feuding guitar lines. and despite being a good song, it doesn’t explode where you want it to, instead it remains sort of reined in to the album.  You’ll echo these exact sentiments the more you listen, waiting for the classic sound of Broken Social Scene to pop its head out.

Here’s the thing with this album: it doesn’t ever quite deliver.  I will admittedly agree that there are moments of brilliance, creativity and such all over this record, but they don’t ever seem to come together.  In the past, you always felt like no one in the band was in control, that they could release furious pop on you at any moment.  Here, Broken Social Scene seem to have gotten a bit more cohesion with the group, but in doing so, they’ve made their sound less dangerous and a little watered down.  Perhaps I’m just jaded by personal relationship with past records, but isn’t that the case with this band?  Don’t you just love that one record, that one perfect song?  You do; you know it, and I’m positive that in my world, Forgiveness Rock Record just doesn’t hold water to those moments.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/06-Art-House-Director.mp3]

Download: Broken Social Scene – Art House Director [MP3]

4 comments

  • My opinion won’t mean much, because I wasn’t a fan of the self titled album, (but liked the ep that came with it…)

    But is “Forced to Love” really that off-putting? I liked it, seeing it as more of a traditional song than the dense, bury the vocal way down in the track approach they used to make.

    I really enjoyed the version they played on Letterman last week.

  • Brett

    Have you listened to his half-scat, half-rap vocal approach. I can’t even make it to the chorus of this song, which isn’t half as bad as the rest of the song. I realize today though that I’m supposed to like this album; I mean it’s “Best New Music” type stuff. I guess it all just boils down to taste and opinion, and of course yours matters, but for my tastes, it all just feels bland and less exploratory than previous efforts.

  • “if you think about it!”

    I’m just less adventurous/exploratory, though i hear you on the different vocal take. Didn’t even think to compare it to rap/scat though, but probably because they are canadian and that would just be silly.

    I liket.

  • Interesting review Nathan. I have been listening to the album and have nearly forced myself to find a song that I can’t help but place in repeat…but haven’t gotten that far. Agree with “Texaco Bitches” because it’s catchy in a way, slightly reminiscent of Tweedy or something I can’t put my finger on. Love the horns they always incorporate, and “Art House Director” surely brings that kitschy sound all together.

    “Sentimental X’s” never really climaxed either. I was super stoked about Haines and after the song I found myself replaying it to see where it went. Overall still like it.

    “Sweetest Kill” is cool but nearly too Radiohead-esque chill, along with a few of the others that were kind of background music.

    I enjoy it, still working on it. Is it selfish of us to want so much from them?

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