Ha. Ok. Listening to Broken Social Scene should be old hat for me by this point. I feel like that grandma in that “How to Take a Nature Walk” New Yorker comic who like starts getting all nervous, thinking she has to become the next Henry David Thoreau.
Well, as it turns out, this happens to be a somewhat divisive band, the fact of their having a song called “I’m Still Your Fag” of arguable noteworthiness here. I’ve heard them ripped apart and torn to shreds, but then, I’ve heard Grizzly Bear given indolent reviews, so that should tell you something about humanity, now shouldn’t it.
And guess what: Broken Social Scene are angry. They are… “wide awake in America,” as a wiser man than myself once said. Listenable synth-heavy intro “Sol Luna” gives way to a caterwaul of piercing electric guitar — very layered, with some members close-picking on lead, others playing power chords, another booming out a “thunderous” bass which very much dominates the soundscape on “Halfway Home.” And here’s this “fag” still singin’. Fu** this dude, dude. Let’s go to the Moose Lodge.
Well, he happens to be pretty fu**in’ good at what he does: his name is Kevin Drew. He’s just like, singin’ and sh**, ‘cause he can’t do nothin’ for ‘im shelf. Except whoa, here’s Emily Haines taking the lead on “Protest Song,” power pop with that signature B.S.S. THICKNESS (I counted 12 members in this group, by their picture on iTunes). Solid song.
Actually it’s funny: when “Skyline” came in I thought it was a Spotify ad (oop, the truth comes out). The song has basically no intro, and as we know, this band produces some pretty bright, glossy stuff. I’ve heard them derisively compared to U2: I would personally say they’re no more polished than Spoon, and also way less mechanical. These songs are all just made to groove: “Skyline” gives way to a guitar solo calling to mind Dire Straits or late-era Pink Floyd (so perfect summer music, in other words), before resuming its choral sing-along.
Vocalist on “Stay Happy,” which calls to mind Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move” for reasons more than just the toggling singers, is Ariel Engle. Guitars chime in sounding like twisted, blasting trumpets, and the result is intoxicating — this band makes mixes, with its sheer volume, which are utterly unmatched, making keeping the song lengths down as they do a notable accomplishment. The best thing about “Stay Happy,” though, is it’s so DIFFERENT. It’s sort of a twisted amalgamation between dance/pop and seedy ‘70s funk: think the exact opposite of those nauseating Lumineers/Mumford missives of “optimism.” There’s nothing optimistic about “Stay Happy”: it’s pure coercion.
Like “Stay Happy,” “Vanity Pail Kids” opens with bizarre noises, this time approximating something like industrial and/or Battles on Atlas. I’m gonna say a nerdy music theorist thing here: we get percussive, boisterous guitar stabs, before a continuation of that industrial beat, on the TWO beat, which is a very unorthodox placement of these (Dismemberment Plan would do them on the “one,” reggae would do them on the “three,” if that helps to put things into perspective). Eventually it becomes a point in this music where there’s just so much going on that it’s almost impossible to even follow, or quantify: but then, quantifying music isn’t the point, it’s enjoying it. And I, for one, one lonely beggar, am enjoying Hug of Thunder. “Vanity Pail Kids” features an infectious, repeated chorus, wherein many of the band members are participating, and the result is something that fully ingratiates itself to the overall rock and roll canon as we know it.
Once the titled track comes in, you realize this is one female-vocal-heavy album. Actually, this saves it in some regard: otherwise “Hug of Thunder” veers dangerously close to retread territory, furnishing roughly the same rhythmic orthodoxy we got all over Forgiveness Rock Record. It’s funky, and eerie, and tiny little guitar plashes keep entering and exiting making for an even spookier mood: indeed, “Hug of Thunder,” for being a titled track, is ironically and refreshingly divorced from the rest of the mood. It’s undeniably darker, almost more reserved, as if it were an UNDERDOG track despite being centerpiece, per se, very far from being anthemic, though definitely successfully textural. Toward the end of the song, the vocals have this uncanny way of dissipating and becoming foggy, actually seemingly to actually bleed into this brief blip of high-pitched, frantic and maniacal close-picking, before the band’s taking it down a notch and uttering out the vocal “There’s a military base across the street / We watch them train while we lead”.
By “Towers and Mason,” we’re back to dream pop and surf rock, but LOUD dream pop and surf rock. You might not think it, but this is exactly what makes Hug of Thunder an even better album than You Forgot it in People: it’s a bona fide ROCKER, the band no longer content to be a timid novelty. Everything is so rhythmic with these guys: it’s an album for freakin’ Glenn Miller fans, for Christ’s sake.