Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

by Pete Sykes Rating:8.5 Release Date:2010-05-10

Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene - led by Junior Blue's Kevin Drew - have always seemed like a bit of an experiment. The band's constantly changing line up - which has taken in members of Stars, Do Make Say Think, Metric, as well as coffee-shop chanteuse Feist - has seemed to see the side-project as an opportunity to throw restraint and sometimes taste out of the window and make huge, epic, grandiose music. The last two Broken Social Scene albums, 2002's You Forgot it in People and 2005's self-titled effort, had some magnificent moments (listen to 'Stars and Sons' from the former and '7/4 Shoreline' from the latter) but often felt excessive, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown onto the record. With so many musicians (the number varies; at one point the band had nineteen members) it's perhaps not surprising that Broken Social Scene's music is overflowing with ideas, often to the point of excess; Forgiveness Rock Record, their fourth album, continues this tradition, but sees Drew at times reining the music in and therefore creating the band's most consistent set to date.

If that description makes Forgiveness Rock Record sound dull or restrained, fear not - there are some mighty tracks here. Opener and lead single 'World Sick' is an epic construction: from a lazy, sunny guitar lick it builds into an enormous chorus, before lulling and swelling again. The series of massive crescendos and releases, spread over seven minutes, feel thrillingly intense and almost operatic. It's followed by 'Chase Scene', which opens with an ominous synth figure and dramatic strings, before intensifying into something darker, as the strings become thrillingly dissonant and drums pound. The primal riff on 'Forced to Love' contrasts beautifully with the swell of organ and lush harmonies of the chorus. 'All to All', sung by Lisa Lobsinger, feels like the centrepiece of the album - underpinned by throbbing guitars and synths, decorated with viola and, again, intriguing, unusual harmonies, it's gorgeous. 'Highway Slipper Jam' is more restrained but just as pretty, a languid, sunny acoustic guitar meander.

I could go on. Almost every song has something to recommend it; there's a lot to enjoy here. Perhaps too much - at 14 tracks and 63 minutes, the record could have been a little more digestible. But the standard is high throughout and it's more accessible than most of the material on previous Broken Social Scene albums, while still retaining a sense of experimentation. John McEntire's production locates all the right textures while keeping the sound clear and crisp; there's not the fuzziness and lo-fi crackle that made You You Forgot it in People feel a little messy. McEntire and Drew seem to have found a way to focus the minds of their gaggle of creative talents onto a single goal: to make rich, powerful, complex and heartfelt pop music. On that score, Forgiveness Rock Record is a resounding success.

Pete Sykes

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