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"Forgiveness Rock Record"

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
07 May 2010, 10:02 Written by Matt Poacher
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There is something inherently absurd in the rhetoric around rock and indie music (like that needed saying) that there is even talk of an album being a ‘statement’ or a band being ‘important’; but there’s no denying that there seems to be a certain aura around Broken Social Scene, something that steps slightly outside of this usual flappy discourse. I think it’s partly borne out of them, at least historically, undercutting all that scene bollocks by messing with the iconography, by capturing themselves in process – using improv and jazz modes, including take fuck-ups, having a rolling membership, being lyrically obtuse. However deliberate and calculated all that may be, they do seem to have become something apart. And people, the scene, whatever, do seem to expect a certain amount. All of which, aside from internal strife, probably accounts for the 5-year hiatus, and the near-diabolical sense of anticipation around the release of Forgiveness Rock Record. No pressure then.

You can sense all that bubbling behind the album title: Forgiveness Rock Record. It’s both pompous and playfully self-referential – musing on all that daft overblown rock rhetoric whilst acknowledging that this has probably been as hard an album to convene and record as any in the band’s history. It’s also a pointer to the content of what’s inside, as the band have made their most straightforwardly obvious rock record to date – it’s big and earnest and structurally at least, generally pretty gleeful. Lyrically, aside from the titles it’s not imposed itself on me yet, but generally speaking, it’s stuffed, lyrically. For a band that are known for lyrical patterns that tended towards either the spartan or the repetitious, Forgiveness… is positively garrulous. The other big change for me is getting John McEntire – Tortoise wizard and general production Ubermensch – on board. He’s got them sounding sleek and clinical, quite a change from that trademark cavernous warmth that has characterized the band’s sound to date.

The McEntire influence is particularly evident early on. ‘Chase Scene’ is so John McEntire – remove the vocals and the track could have been on Tortoise’s last album Beacons of Ancestorship. ‘Texico Bitches’ has a similar sheen to it, sounding at times like it might have been produced by Trevor Horn – add in some Dan Deacon keyboard squalls and you’ve got an atypical BSS track that somehow still sounds completely natural. ‘Forced To Love’ takes this template and legs it adding more of that Horn influence. If it had some fairlight synths it could be Field Music or The Week That Was. So far, so full, then. But as the album progresses, those tell tale moments of light and air steal in, revealing that the band haven’t lost that ability to pace and to pacify. This is particularly evident on tracks like ‘All to All’ (the first track to feature new vocalist Lisa Lobsinger, who has to fill Leslie Feist’s sizeable shoes) and ‘Ungrateful Little Father’, which builds from a typical rhythm and synth pattern coupled with a bitter Drew invective (‘ungrateful little motherfuck, built you a breakthrough device’) to a gorgeous ceiling-scraping drone. That said, my reaction to the record after living with it for a few weeks now, is that there aren’t enough of these of areas of shade. It feels too on and as such, it feels like too much of the album zips away unnoticed. The shade may well reveal itself over time.

It’s in a trio of songs towards the end of the record though, that BSS seem to completely hit their stride, and it’s during these three songs – the broad clattering tumult of ‘Meet Me in the Basement’, the Emily Haines sung wooze of ‘Sentimental X’s’ and ‘Sweetest Kill’ – that the realization comes that Forgiveness Rock Record is actually something of a disappointment, and another triumphant Broken Social Scene mess. And I use the word mess in the most complimentary sense here: it’s what made You Forgot it in People so refreshing, and so other, and a record, to these ears anyway that is still revealing itself. Forgiveness Rock Record isn’t YFIIP – it’s too late in the day for that in many respects, too much has happened to the band, never mind the way we consume and listen, for an album like to arrive fully formed – but it is evidence that even with the framework of what is a fairly standard rock record, they’re still buzzing with enough ideas and enough zeal, and simple doing more than most to be worth sticking with.

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