I confess to knowing not much about Broken Social Scene. A living, breathing, fluid line-up that can be anything from a 6 to a 19-piece would suggest that they’re more of a collective than a band, with members coming and going, dropping in/dropping out, releasing and touring their own solo material then rejoining again. You might know the quirky, always excellent Feist. Or Canadian crooners Stars and their brand of melodic crooning. Both acts have found themselves part of the ‘Scene at some point or other.
When they started, Broken Social Scene strived to make swirling, ambient, mainly instrumental indie rock; experimental, peerless and lo-fi in execution but high-fi in ambition. For reference, think of a slightly turned-down, slightly more polite Yo La Tengo. By their second album, You Forgot It In People, they’d started to employ vocals and a more straightforward approach to song-writing. The fuzzed-up ethereal electric guitars and close-mic’d acoustics are still there, but so too are brass sections, keys, banjos even, along with grand ambitions on a widescreen scale. A chance conversation with Nile Marr turned me on to the album – “I think you’d really like it,” he said presciently – and, in something of a recurring theme, I fell for a ‘new’ album that was a couple of months shy of turning twenty years old.
Like all the best albums, it’s an album that takes a handful of plays before it fully reveals itself. You’re never far from a slowly unravelling melody or a wonky Beatlish backwards bit or the sort of slow-burning, vapour-trailed outro that fellow Canadian Neil Young might accede to should he be forced to consider his other 15 band members. “You gotta turn the Les Paul down a notch, Neil. And make way for the strings ‘n trumpets now and again!” Slow burning, yes, but soft rocking too. Broken Social Scene don’t blow the doors in, they politely chap until they’re living in your head.
There are a few standouts, not least the hynotic, repetitive, melting earworm that is Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl
Broken Social Scene – Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl
Atop a slowly building backing of back porch banjo, random thumps and long-bowed violin, singer Emily Haines has been pitch-shifted up a notch, giving her vocal the effect of a sing-songy young girl, perfect for the song’s subject matter.
Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that…
Now you’re all gone, got your make up on and you’re not comin’ back.
It’s a scene that’s easy to picture. It’s teen angst and country girl heartbreak set to music. It would make for the perfect soundtrack to a suitable scene in a low-budget indie film, Scarlett Johansson or Charlize Theron or whoever the teenage equivalent is these days swinging on the porch, faded jeans and checked shirt covered in oil from helping her single father fix the pick-up truck, staring into a middle distance of dancing, swaying cornfields and puffy white clouded blue skies.
The contstant, never-ending repetition of the last line – Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me – combined with the swirling, sawing almost Venus In Furs drone and the steady plonkety-plonk of the banjo is, by the end of the track, totally headswimmingly hypnotic. Circular and head-spinning, you don’t want it to end, but when it does, on a dizzy refrain of the first line and an incredibly eked out violin note, you stop. Take a breath. And play it again. It’s a great wee song from a great wee album. I think you’d like it…