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Broken Social Scene: Toronto Communists

 

“Universal health care, women’s reproductive rights and higher corporate taxes …” jump from the long list of U.S. presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich’s political platform to the regurgitating lips of Kevin Drew. The thrift leather-jacketed spokesperson for Canada’s Broken Social Scene is not content with merely being part of his collective musical unit. Between songs at the recent Henry Fonda Theater show, he smilingly pauses to denounce the ills of warmongering in the White House via a parody of Billy Joel, mouthing, “We didn’t start the fire … oh wait, yeah we did!” This line of thinking, which unabashedly tramples over Right Wing values, is often met with Reagan-esque fierceness in upper middleclass America. But with a dash of ingenuity and an ad campaign composed of smiling hosiers that have abandoned hockey pucks for delay pedals, Broken Social Scene is seeking to shed a positive light into an ideal of socialism that is the Canadian indie rock scene.

Housing the eclectic Hillside Festival each year, where almost all performing bands share and rotate members like revolving doors, it is understandable why the horizontal nature of Toronto’s close-knit music district has been characterized as a modern commune. There are all the red marks of Marxism—equal distribution of wealth (or lack thereof) from ticket sales, no taking unannounced solos if it draws attention to the individual musician and sacrificing international fame for the well being of the community.

Far away from the croaking of Alanis Morisette, Canadian artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think and now Broken Social Scene have found success by creating endlessly ambient music, while opting to perform primarily at intimate venues. Woven together are fans and musicians alike, wrapped tightly to the stage to keep each other warm, a subtle means of paying homage to the ever-present class warfare struggle of the early 20
th

century.

No more frictional and hand warming are Broken Social Scene, who throb around the bend, swarmed by the media like fruit flies to multi-layered Jell-O. Big-time music magazines have rolled away stones to shed light and boldly characterize the up-and-comer’s sophomore release, You Forgot It In People, as flawless, earning the band a Juno Award for best alternative album this year.

People begins just as expected for any Pitchfork Media hyped piece, with a shoe-gazing instrumental that practically yawns without effort. But as the next track, “KC Accidental,” shifts into gear, listeners are introduced to the unendorsed number one car chase song of the year, followed by “Stars and Sons,” which fades in and out of Hum-influenced handclaps in the midst of a spacey guitar swell.

The songwriting becomes so expansive, in fact, that it conjures up two distinct images—one of a cramped studio filled to the brim with equipment, the other a vast field with polyphony scattered for miles. Live, it all translates to somewhat of a shell game, with musicians shuffling instruments between songs and making constant trips from the venue bar to the backstage area, where they await their turn to provide a few notes to frenzy. During some songs, stage membership rises to 15, making use of a full horn section and various tambourines. Guests drop by every so often, such as label mate Jason Collett, a folk singer/songwriter who looks like a stubbly hobo the first day on the job. Vocalist Emily Haines from Metric is showcased in “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” which finds its subject begging a young lover to Park that car/ Drop that phone/ Sleep on the floor/ Dream about me. It’s the album’s most accessible track, made so by a banjoing frill that responds to Feist’s repeated belting.

After a spell of Dinosaur Jr.-inspired pop in “Cause=Time,” “Lover’s Spit” reveals a heightened interest in saliva, which Drew claims is one of the few things all humans share in this crazy mixed world controlled by the dehydrated hearts of big business. It’s definitely not as direct as Christina’s Aguilera’s dabble in the “Dirty,” but still muddy enough for some listeners to drown it out with a cool sip of the airy piano.

During the days of minimalism, or the late-’90s as it is now known, Broken Social Scene began with Drew and longtime friend Brendan Canning, who cracked open their basement door to let friends putter around on trombones and keys. What amounted was a mostly instrumental release, which didn’t succeed in skipping across the Great Lakes to the United States. You Forgot It In People finds a more tactful band conveying idealism in prettier wrapping, albeit some messy imagery. In People, Broken Social Scene offers a shiny pop gem, both digestible and cerebral.

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