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A band that’s anything but broken

An indie pop band that moves effortlessly from genre to genre. By Jim Ray
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When the self-titled third album from Broken Social Scene landed on my desk, I nearly didn’t even give it a listen — the name alone just felt too pretentious. On the first listen, I still didn’t quite know what to do with it, but I was convinced at that point that the Toronto indie pop rockers were on to something; after near endless repeats, though, I’m reminded why I love the serendipity of music I wouldn’t normally pick out of the bin myself.

The album starts quietly and builds quickly into a collage of whispy voice and clanging cymbals with “Our Faces Split the Coast in Half.” It’s certainly unexpected, a combination of strings and horns and electronic whiffs that border on cacophonic right before leading into the more brash, guitar driven “Ibi Drams of Pavement.” “Ibi” is more traditional indie rock with raw vocals that could be channeling Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah.

The juxtaposition of the first two songs is what I love the most about the whole album — the stark contrasts that, taken as a whole, work so much better as a sum-of-its-parts album. They list no fewer than 12 band members in “the entire BSS network,” which feels too huge to get your head around, but they’re surprisingly easy to manage.

By the third track, “7/4 (Shoreline),” the album really finds its rhythm, pulling together the seemingly disparate pieces into the first track on the album that really highlights all the band’s strengths. The track floats along, flotsam on a sea of backing vocals before crashing with hard guitar, endless percussion and finally horns.

After an instrumental comes “Major Label Debut,” which slows down a bit and feels a tad overproduced but is sweetly melodic all the same. It’s here you realize just how wide a breadth the band has musically, effortlessly switching sounds in a way that doesn't feel contrived.

“Fire Eye’d Boy” returns to the fold of guitars and percussions, as if to remind you that they know exactly what they’re doing. On top of the track are the softer, raspy, almost whispered vocals that have been highlighted seen on slower tracks, once again showing off the band’s range.

With all of this talent packed into what must feel like a cramped studio, there are a few almost inevitable stumbles. “Windsurfing Nation” is probably the most fun track on the album, with its loopy instrumentals, handclaps, freestyle rap and what I think can best be described as background yips. But it does foreshadow a the sort of self indulgence that will show up more prominently later in the album, most notably the overly-long, meandering “Bandwitch.”

It’s almost unfair, though, that Broken Social Scene can make their big, unique sound feel so effortless. With so many seemingly different sounds working so well together, you expect more obvious squabbling to come out on the record but instead it just feels right.

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