Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Album Review: Broken Social Scene’s “Forgiveness Rock Record”

forgiveness-rock-record Call it zeitgeist rock.

Broken Social Scene has always been in touch with popular sentiment, channeling a mood without ham-fisted political reference. Co-founder Brendan Canning once said You Forgot In People, 2002’s breakthrough, came from a place of hope. Broken Social Scene, the unsettled, unsettling follow up released at the nadir of the Bush administration, came from a place of anger. Forgiveness Rock Record, released last Tuesday, requires less deciphering. You might also call it Obama-rock.

The Canadian indie-rock collective – with a revolving stable of talent like Stars’ Amy Millan, Metric’s Emily Haines and Leslie Fiest, they’re less a band than a drop-in jam session – has always been known for songs of towering romanticism, tiny stars with unstable cores. With a tighter sound and a clearer head, Forgiveness is easily the group’s most balanced album yet. Is that a good thing?

Anyone who knows me has heard me say “This is seriously the [best/smartest/most brilliant/most beautiful] album, ever, period” about 50 times. So perhaps it’s asking a bit much to believe me when I say You Forgot It In People is one of the best things indie rock has ever produced. Forgot It strikes that rare balance between ambition and restraint; eight years later, the quiet, loping gait of “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl,” interrupted by thermal swells of strings, still gives me chills.

It is, in so many ways, perfect; I remember fellow Charge Shooter!!! Gene talking about how every song on Forgot It belongs there, and nowhere else.

Forgiveness Rock Record skips the dark crannies of Broken Social Scene and revisits the nimble grace of You Forgot It. Opener “World Sick,” a song I lauded earlier and elsewhere, balances the humors by cascading shimmering guitars over a galloping drumbeat, and allowing the whole thing to blow up in the chorus. For the first time, a song struck me as uniquely Broken Social Scene.

I favor Forgiveness in its quieter moments, with a few exceptions: “Forced To Love,” a shameless rock stomp driven by an urgent guitar and accented by a flute, of all things (this is Broken Social Scene, after all. Somebody needs to be playing that fifteenth instrument, be it the flute or the triangle). Penultimate track “Water in Hell” harkens back to 2005’s oversized sound but manages to color within the lines, proving BSS can be messy without being sloppy.

But it’s slim, gorgeous tracks like “All to All” that bring me back to Forgiveness. Lisa Lobsinger lays her sings breezily against a blissed-out wash of synthesizers while a pulsing base slips the song into a swift but easy current. The hook in “Romance to the Grave” is more urgent, but the track doesn’t lose cool. Instead, as Drew sings, it’s “rolling through the waves…coming through the haze.”

Balance is a strange word to attribute to Broken Social Scene. But Forgiveness Rock Record is an album that feels fussed-over; it finds its fulcrum and works beautifully within its boundaries. It didn’t floor me like You Forgot It In People, but that may be too much to ask. 2002 may have been a hundred years ago. For 2010, there’s something about an enlightened Broken Social Scene that seems just right.