Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder


1. On the title of the record, here’s bandmember Charles Spearin: “It felt appropriate it’s kind of funny, I don’t know there’s a physical quality to it. I imagine being out in the country where the thunder kind of wraps around you as a storms coming in. There’s something visceral about it but at the same time it’s cute because we’re a loving bunch of friends who hug each other whenever we meet. You know, we’re lovely Canadians that way, haha.”

2. Three of my favorite indie bands from the 00s released albums after rather long hiatuses: Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear and LCD Soundsystem, and were I to wager which of their albums would be best without hearing any of them, I’d have sooner picked Grizzly Bear or LCD Soundsystem than Broken Social Scene. I’m curious to know what some of the people who wrote positively of Forgiveness Rock Record at the time think of it seven years later; it’s always struck me as the completion of the band’s transition towards a more hook- and song-based approach that started with Broken Social Scene. Nothing wrong with that, except we didn’t get that many hooks and only a handful of good songs (“World Sick”, “Chase Scene”, “All to All”).

3. After the first listen of the opening salvo, I was ready to think that this was more of the same as the last one (the same case as Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins); You Forgot It In People – specifically gorgeous songs like “Anthems for A Seventeen-Year Old Girl” and “I’m Still Your Fag” and instrumentals like “Pacific Themes” that rivalled the anthems – moving further and further away in the rear-view mirror. Another disappointment, etc; a 15-member supergroup sounding like any other 4-person band.

4. And then I realized I could fondly recall almost every hook here: “Halfway Home” not so much “shifting into focus” out of the instrumental “Sol Luna” as it was kicking down the gate packing more of an anthem than anything on Arcade Fire’s record (the string burst sections, ie. between 2:45 – 3:10, is especially Arcade Fire-like); the twee pop hook of “Protest Song” courtesy of Emily Haines; “You’re never gonna be / No you’re never gonna be that word…” (“Skyline”); “The hours the minutes the seconds” (“Stay Happy”); “You must make sure that you steal it” (“Vanity Pail Kids”).

5. And it’s not just the obvious hooks, they make better use of the full cast than the previous album did: how the reverb-drenched guitar on “Skyline” actually adds to it such that it’s like you’re looking at the Toronto skyline in the early summer evening, as what’s left of the sun makes it way around the various tetris blocks; the wordless vocal melody of the intro of “Stay Happy” (echoed later on “Towers and Masons”) or the squelchy figure during the “proper song”; the “Zoo Station”-like intro of “Vanity Pail Kids”; how the double-tracked (?) vocals on the Feist-led title track add to the gorgeousness (the prettiest song on the album), and the deep pulse of the bass throughout that song. Even the choruses of “Protest Song” are well thought out, the lines, “We’re just the latest in the longest rank and file list / Ever to exist in the history of the protestsong,” managing a build-up through the breathless alliteration; the backing vocal “love” earlier in that same chorus, lovingly filling up space.

6. It’s not perfect: the 15-minute, three-song stretch from “Towers and Masons” through “Please Take Me With You” ain’t bad, but it’s utterly unremarkable. The most memorable part of “Towers and Masons” is the bit I’ve already spoken to; “Victim Lover”‘s bass-line and melody are there, yes, but nothing hummable after the fact; “Please Take Me With You” sounds like merely decent deep Yo La Tengo cut (off Fade, I believe). And it’s always bothered me when an artist backloads their albums with the longest songs; it’s a sequencing issue.

7. Smaller problems: the mini-bridge (“This is my horror time / This is my fallen fate”) of “Halfway Home” could’ve been cut to make the song tighter (they always had this problem); there’s the Very Serious delivery of the otherwise innocent line, “Do you remember your house / Like a super high five” that opens “Vanity Pail Kids” (and the meaningless lyric about mouths and mythical lies right after); how the climax of the title track would’ve been better served by real drums instead of the wet and plodding drum machine (apparently the song’s creation was mostly improvised, and Andrew Whiteman just hoped on by adding a beat, but not sure why no one in the band saw fit to change that detail after fleshing the song out).

8. Kevin Drew has always been a shitty lyricist (Popmatters’ Tanner Smith describes “Lover’s Spit” and “It’s All Gonna Break” with the oxymoronic “meaningfully meaningless” and I guess that’s the best summation of “They listen to teeth to learn how to quit” and “When I was a kid, you fucked me in the ass”). Much of the album is very politically informed (ie. the invocation of a military base during “Hug of Thunder”‘s outro; the choruses of “Halfway Home”), which means Drew had to mature a bit on that front, but he still does things like “I’m done, I’m done / I wanna kill all my friends / I wanna grab them from the dark / And show them their end” on “Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse” (whose title, bass-heavy intro and “Gonna Break”-like outro are the best parts about it) which is apparently about how “I don’t want to see these people I love go down because they’re staring at their phones every second, constantly looking at things about how we’re going to get nuked.” Compare this lost-in-translation bit to the choruses of the preceding song.

9. I basically permanently switched to short reviews in January of this year because it was easier to cover more ground that way and also because I could immortalize my thoughts instead of formulating them and forgetting them; because life got in the way. It helped (or didn’t help, depending on where you stand) that there haven’t been a lot of records – especially indie-wise – that I felt compelled to write about. Certainly not the Grizzly Bear one, or the LCD Soundsystem one (though the one that references John Lennon is great if my mood allows for it). This one and the new Brand New (what a grotesque looking mini-palindrome) and the Mountain Goats and Amber Coffman and …? It crossed my mind that maybe I’m overrating this one; overrating it because of a few hooks and not being critical enough about the reverb; overrating it because I care more about earnestness than I do irony. But it also crossed my mind that I also care more about that than I do cynicism so—


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