Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record (Polaris Prize nominee)

September 16, 2010

Forgiveness Rock Record drawing by Natascha Malta, Music Vice

(Illustration by Natascha Malta)

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock RecordTitle: Forgiveness Rock Record
Artist: Broken Social Scene
Label: Arts & Crafts
Released: 4 May 2010
In one word: Expansive

It’s hard not to associate the success of indie rock over the past 10 years with Broken Social Scene. Since the band/music collective’s formation in 1999, many members have become indie stars in their own right, leaving a string of solo albums and side projects in their wake. Core member Brendan Canning was a part of By Divine Right in 1999, when BSS were just coming to being, while bandmate Charles Spearin would go on to form Do, Make, Say, Think shortly after. The rotating host of guest members has included Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric, Amy Millan of Stars, Jason Collett and Leslie Feist, and most recently John McEntire of Tortoise. The label built as the ark of Broken Social Scene has continued to produce and promote some of the most interesting independent releases from artists within the multi-membered music collective, as well as artists with no involvement in the band.

The newest release by the band Forgiveness Rock Record comes to us 5 years after their self-titled release in 2005. The album was recorded partly in the Toronto studio of artists James Shaw and Sebastien Grainger, and partly at Soma studios in Chicago under the direction of Tortoise musician John McEntire.

It’s interesting that to see John McEntire having such a large hand in the production of this latest album considering at that it was the music of his band Tortoise which first brought Charles Spearin and Kevin Drew together. Years after that fateful first meeting, Drew and Spearin would tell a Pitchfork interviewer that this record is about the the forgiveness we need for our selfishness that’s killing the world. In the same interview Drew tells Pitchfork that he sometimes thinks about “Texico Bitches” as being about the Gulf of Mexico oilspill, and “Forced to Love” as being about the Haiti earthquake earlier this year.

The new album is exactly 1 hour long, and contains 14 songs. In the liner notes the members are listed as Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff, Sam Goldberg, Lisa Lobsinger, John McEntire, and Martin Davis Kinack- although additional members and guests put the contributers at a cool 31.

In spite of all the the contributing members, Forgiveness Rock Record is amazingly cohesive. On Forgiveness, BSS come out of the bedroom and into the arena- especially with single “World Sick” as track 1. The sound on “World Sick” is large, as if the track is conscious that its many members have come back from their 5 year absence bigger and stronger from where we left them. The track is supposed to ease us into the album with a little comfort before the strange electronic drums and violin funky build of “Chase Scene”. Featuring vocals from two of everyone’s favourite Broken Social Scene guest members, Leslie Feist and Amy Millan– “Chase Scene” is one of the weirdest songs on the album (with the exception of the closing love song “Me & My Hand”)- but its also one of the songs I find myself listening to most often on the album.

Song 3, “Texico Bitches” is probably my favourite song on the album. It starts off with killer opening riff, and its very danceable groove would be perfect for a night at the Dance Cave. The space sounds and chorus of girls screaming “whoo!” provide a little bit of lightness before diving headfirst into double album singles “Forced To Love” and “All To All”. The 3 album singles are definitely strong enough to bring you into the album on a first listen through. However, although I often now skip through “World Sick” and “Forced To Love” when I listen to the now very familar album- I stop to linger at Lobsinger’s soft, reverberating vocals on “All To All”. “Art House Director” is a short and simple track, but the lyrics are kind of witty “The starlet is harlot, she never leaves her trailer”, and their delivery is punctuated by the pleasing staccato sound of horns. In comparison, “Highway Slipper Jam” is rather mellow- but many breathy whispers make for some sweet harmonies, and the relaxed instrumentals on this track are perfect.

There really aren’t any throwaway tracks on Forgiveness Rock Record, however, as we move into the second half of the album, there are 3 songs that to me, stick out more than the others. The album’s one instrumental track “Meet Me In The Basement” starts with the call of “here we go!” before plunging into the triumphant quadruple guitars of Goldman, Spearin, Whiteman, and Canning- which sound so rich on this track I would’ve sworn there was a violin tucked in the mix somewhere. There’s not though. Drums, bass, and trombone are the only accompaniment on this track (although I swear I can hear a chorus unnamed in the liner notes, singing along to the melody in the background of this track). “Romance To The Grave” has got a western feel to it, which contrasts rather nicely with synthesizers that come in during the second half of the tune. However, its the ghostly choir leading us into the tune that really seals the deal for me. The last real standout song on the album is also the last song, a song which is called “Me and My Hand”. Drew claims that the song is not just an ode to masturbation, but a love song to his hand for everything it does for him. Frankly, I’m inclined to believe him. The tiny two minute song has a beautiful ephemeralness  to it that seems to extend beyond being merely a joke.

Although I’m a really big fan, I tried really hard to find some faults with this album since it is up for the Polaris Prize, and because I’ve been super harsh with the other shortlist finalists that I’ve reviewed this year. The only flaw I can find is that it’s not as good as You Forgot It In People.

But that doesn’t mean that the prize is in the bag. There are some strong contenders and that aren’t going to make snagging that Polaris easy for the 31 piece musical lovefest. The prize tends to favour up and comers over media darlings, and the collective lost out to Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett in 2006- a contender who is also in the running again this year. So although Forgiveness Rock Record is no disappointment by any means, I wouldn’t put your money down just yet.

© Natascha Malta, Music Vice

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