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Broken Social Scene overreach

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
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The pressure on Broken Social Scene's numerous shoulders must have been phenomenal. Before arcades were on fire, BSS was proving there was strength in numbers in 2002 with its breakthrough album You Forgot it in People (their debut, Feel Good Lost, came out in 2001). BSS emerged as the premier orchestral collective - up to 15 members at times - by making music that was both beautiful and volatile.

After You Forgot it in People lifted them into the upper echelon of the indie music world, expectations for their third, self-titled release were high. In fact, bandleader Kevin Drew candidly stated that producer/collaborator Dave Newfeld "got addicted to the idea of trying to top YFIIP."

From the album's start, it shows. "Our Faces Split the Coast in Half" opens things with a mostly instrumental (a nod to YFIIP's instrumental opener "Capture the Flag") track. There are some vocals, but Newfeld intentionally buries them under horns, keyboards, and layers of guitars and drums. It's a nice teaser, but that's all it serves as.

Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene
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Fortunately, "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)" trumps YFIIP's "KC Accidental" as a follow-up track. Working its way through initial tunings and distortion waves, the track is BSS at its best. Buzzing and clean guitar lines weave in and out of each other over a wall of cacophonous noise as Drew shouts: "You weren't there/You weren't there/I said I was never coming back/You weren't there." Here we see Newfeld do what he does best - manage all the dissonance into something uplifting and melodic.

Newfeld usually keeps the album sounding inventive as he mixes the various sounds in his individual way. Take "7/4 (Shoreline)," a nice piece of catchy acoustic light-rock with male/female vocals that builds momentum as instruments and sounds accumulate. During one portion of the song, Newfeld condenses all the music into one speaker, lets it gather and then flushes it out in a bombastic eruption. Meanwhile, "Major Label Debut" shows his restraint when he allows the song to remain a soothing piece of post-rock and shimmering electronics, even when adding and removing instruments like violins and percussion.

"Superconnected" is the album's true rocker, calling to mind YFIIP's great "Cause=Time." The song kicks into full swing after a brief beeping, electronic introduction with snapping drums, churning electronics and an orgy of guitars. Drew's emotive vocals center the song as he barks: "I really don't want to think about those things anymore/No, I really don't want to think about those things." However, BSS saves its ace for the album closer, "It's All Gonna Break." The nearly 10-minute song manages to thrill, containing the listener's attention for its duration thanks to Drew's bipolar singing (alternating between shouting and moaning the song's title) and Newfeld's orchestral production. The final minute is an operatic marching rhythm played like garage rock; sloppy, excited and emotional.

Regrettably, all these good things do not add up to an album on par with YFIIP. At times it's close, sometimes even surpassing its predecessor, but it's never as consistently great. The often phenomenal female BSS contributions of Leslie Feist and Emily Haines - usually the hidden gems - are not as strong this time around. And, good as it often is, Newfeld's production is occasionally too much. Sure, this is a headphone album, and sure it gets better with repeat listens, but that is not always a good thing.

While Broken Social Scene would be an astounding accomplishment for most bands, it's a slight step backward for BSS. This album contains plenty of moments of stunning beauty, if you have the time to invest.

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