Seven years since their last record together, Canadian collective Broken Social Scene, return with an all-embracing and engaging sixth album.
Bearing a title described by founding member Kevin Drew as “that embrace amongst the chaos”, Hug of Thunder contains some of the most exuberant and immediately appealing music BSS have ever recorded. A dozen songs that stem from an extensive but brilliant collective; one it would seem with a shared vision.
There is something cosy and comfy about Broken Social Scene, the now expansive outfit initially formed as a duo in late ’90s Toronto by Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew.
Since then, it has grown exponentially into a ‘raggle-taggle’ gaggle of friends, neighbours, countrymen, and even exes, some of whom have dipped in and out depending on the demands of their non-BSS commitments. In the case of vocalist Leslie Feist and guitarist Jason Collett it was to pursue their own successful solo careers, while for others it was the call of bands like Do Make Say Think and Stars.
With its current official count at 17 members, this is a band that has seen more migrancy than most. Existing in a constant state of flux has seen them thrive rather than strive, as their ‘friends forever’ attitude forged a unified friendship that is still much in evidence on their latest compendium of charming excesses.
Hug of Thunder is a benevolent embrace. An immersive record that tangles you up in a wild jungle of fanfares, unfettered vocals, ambient pauses, jangly guitars and euphoric anthems.
One in from the tantalising ‘instro’ Sol Luna, instant anthem Halfway Home, is a vivid explosion of major chords and frenzied guitar fuzz. A soaring sprawl with shades of Kings of Leon and fellow Canadians Arcade Fire. Skyline too is an equally gripping if foreboding masterpiece of propulsive, anthemic indie-rock with its lush layering of guitars, synths and multi-vox.
This latest exercise in camaraderie showcases this diverse but tightly knit cohort’s exceptional ability to produce warm, interactive musical dramas. Productions whose clamorous climaxes, uplifting chimes and blazes of guitar glory make for such an inclusive performance so as to make the listener feel they’re sitting smack bang in the middle of it all – the BSS definition of ‘surround sound’.
Stay Happy which features the cloud-caressing angelic vocals of Ariel Engle, is an infectious match made in Broen heaven. From a sparse, minimalist intro it ramps up into something of a brass-fuelled melodrama, all epic guitars and sweeping melodies. Likewise, there’s more potent brass to be found on Vanity Pall Kids which kicks off with an intro that sounds as if a plethora of guitars are being dragged kicking and screaming backwards through an indignant amp.
Crowd clangour, hyperactive sticks, sassy brass and heavenly harmonies – slaves to the pounding rhythm all.
Compelling Gonna Get Better is a colourful idiosyncrasy, while the somewhat languid title track which has Feist on lead vocal duties, is suggestive of the deeper, more reflective side to, and kaleidoscopic nature of Broken Social Scene. Shades of Fleetwood Mac glaze what is one of the dreamiest soundscapes of the album as it creates one of several ‘spine-tinglingly’ good moments throughout this ingenious Bohemian rhapsody.
Broken Social Scene is the perfect example of ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’. An harmonious, ad-hoc mehill* that comes together when there’s a job to be done, then dissipates as soon as it has been completed. The fact that they can create and re-create avant-garde rarities with such seemingly effortless ease is a testament to their unanimity and solidarity.
Broken Social Scene – ‘Hug of Thunder’ 8/10. Stand Out Track – ‘Halfway Home’
Hug of Thunder is on release now via City Slang. Broken Social Scene will be embarking on a North American tour commencing 23rd July – for details go to their website – http://brokensocialscene.ca/
*mehill – an Irish Gaelic term for ‘gathering’ or ‘group of helpers’