Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
On their first record in five years, Broken Social Scene are repentant. But what sins could Toronto’s patron saints of cool possibly need to atone for? Are they apologetic to their die-hards for effectively catapulting the city’s underground into the above-ground with their international success? Are they sorry to each other for becoming the Wu-Tang Clan of indie-rock (ie. using the group to boost the profiles of their separate vanity projects and satellite bands while neglecting the mothership)? Perhaps they’re asking forgiveness of you, the listener, for releasing a disc that sounds worlds apart from ye olde BSS of yore.
Forgiveness Rock Record marks a new, whittled-down incarnation of the sprawling collective; the entire album was written and arranged by a core sextet (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Charles Spearin, Justin Peroff, Andrew Whitman and Sam Goldberg) as opposed to the usual massive, revolving-door cast. Despite featuring a plethora of guests and being helmed by Tortoise drummer/experimental rock mastermind John McEntire, this is BSS’ most concise, song-based effort to date, featuring breezy, upbeat pop numbers (“Texico Bitches,” “Forced To Love,” “World Sick,” etc.), brimming with sticky choruses, and (gasp!) discernible lyrics. We’re thrown a few curveballs on this outing, ranging from pleasantly surprising (as on the Pointer Sisters-meets-synth-punk banger “Chase Scene”) to embarrassingly kitschy (as on the hillbilly hoedown grafted into “Water in Hell”), but gone is the meandering grandiosity and lack of calculation that characterized previous albums.
That’s not to say Forgiveness is without its lush, layered instrumentals; “Ungrateful Little Father” begins as a sprightly, sitar-driven ballad before dissolving into a coruscating haze of twinkling keys, shivering strings, and quivering theremins, while the stomping-gospel of “Meet Me In The Basement” is all battling guitars and exuberant horns. But nothing here resembles the burst-into-tears romanticism of 2002’s You Forgot It In People or the all-about-to-break tension of 2005’s self-titled disc. This is a noticeably subdued effort, eschewing emotional intensity for understated, sun-flecked arrangements.
Yet what Forgiveness lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in nuance and focused songcraft. Take “Sentimental X’s,” its nimble keyboard, bass, and guitar licks cascading downward like DNA strands while part-timers Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Leslie Feist sing, tellingly, about off-again, on-again relationships. They bring the song to a harmony-laden, knee-quivering climax as horns and woodwinds swell nearly to the point of implosion. But then everything calmly dips out. Here’s a wistfully restrained band that’s finally made amends with itself. Rather than feeling good lost, it knows exactly where it’s going. Still, even when dialed-down, BSS ain’t nothing to fuck with.