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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Broken Social Scene: Spirit If...


1) Farewell To The Pressure Kids; 2) TBTF; 3) F-ked Up Kid; 4) Safety Bricks; 5) Lucky Ones; 6) Broke Me Up; 7) Gang Bang Suicide; 8) Frightening Lives; 9) Underneath The Skin; 10) Big Love; 11) Backed Out On The...; 12) Aging Faces / Losing Places; 13) Bodhi Sappy Weekend; 14) When It Begins.

Apparently, the strange lull in activity for BSS in between 2005 and 2010 was only a formality. What really happened during that period is that the two figureheads, Kevin Drew and Brandon Canning, both released a «solo» album in the interim. However, in this particular case this does not even count as «taking some time off» — the only thing about these records that is really «solo», as far as I can tell, is that the songs on Kevin's album were mostly written by Kevin and the songs on Brendan's album were mostly written by Brendan. But considering that the two have more or less the same amount of songwriting talent; share more or less the same influences and conceptions; have similarly un-annoying, but un-engaging, vocal styles; and even sport compa­rable indie-size amounts of facial hair — all these things considered, should we even begin to care about who wrote what on which album?

Other than that, Brendan plays on Kevin's album, Kevin plays on Brendan's, and a solid chunk, or maybe even all of, Broken Social Scene's instrumental corps is engaged in both places, so do not be deceived by the «Broken Social Scene Presents...» moniker: both albums are simply two more Broken Social Scene albums for all grateful victims of the social scene breakup. As an arbitrary  compro­mise, they are placed here in the «addenda» section, but really, it's all quite legit.

Furthermore, it's not as if Kevin's Spirit If... is an «unusual» Broken Social Scene album. All the ingredients are present: folk-rock and pop-rock basics, wild love for wild overdubs, intellec­tua­li­zed attraction towards weird or provocative titles (I can assure you that if you came here because of the title ʽGang Bang Suicideʼ, you will be most disappointed upon hearing the actual song), and overtly tepid melodies that take such a long time to sink in, most people probably just don't have that kind of free time on their hands.

Let me be brief and just list a few moments that turned out to be likeable in the end. As far as I can tell by the end of the fourth (or was it fifth?) listen, the record does not really begin to hit the proper stride until ʽLucky Onesʼ — a bombastic anthem for which Drew actually found a «lucky» joy-riff; he was so proud of it that he decided not to put anything else of interest in the song, and just hammer it in, over and over, until the very last moment. As the music finally dies down and he uses the last bar to hit it out one last time on solo piano, you can almost feel the sweat of pride trickling down the keys. But it ain't that great a melodic phrase, mind you.

The best song, coming immediately afterwards, is probably the shuffling ballad ʽBroke Me Upʼ, and again, its only real claim to fame is the repetitive chorus — there is something surreptitiously sweet and touching about how the colorful slide guitar in the background echoes the chorus of "everybody broke me up", whatever that line should mean, if anything. The hazy, dissipated bits of piano pop chords in the background create a tasty ambience as well.

Of the harder rocking numbers, ʽBacked Out On The...ʼ is probably the best one, but again, through endless repetition of the modestly hooky chorus rather than any cunning combination of musical factors. ʽFrightening Livesʼ, combining electronically treated vocals, guitars, and drum machines, has more of a retro-New Wave feel, but, just as well, only thing stands out in the song — a deeply moody, gothic-style chiming guitar line counterbalancing the verse vocals, something that somebody in the BSS camp could have come across in his sleep after finishing the day off with a listen to Joy Division's Closer or something like that.

All in all, no big surprises: the album is a steady grower, with each listen bringing you a step closer to the idea that this is not, in fact, completely generic indie rock, but something beyond that. Except that I'm on my fourth (fifth?) listen, and I still can't quite latch on to that idea. Maybe I am asking too much, and one repetitive hook per song should keep me contented... but I'd rather just go back to, oh, I dunno, Blondie for instance — less overdubs, for sure, and a whole lot less pretense at mining something deeply meaningful, but so much more meat, if you get my meaning.

Check "Spirit If..." (CD) on Amazon
Check "Spirit If..." (MP3) on Amazon

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