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I’m From Barcelona

Forever Today

(Mute; US: 19 Apr 2011; UK: 19 Apr 2011)

The Real Forgiveness Rock Record

I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb for a moment here, and make a comparison between the new I’m From Barcelona album and Broken Social Scene’s 2010 Forgiveness Rock Record. That might seem like a stretch to those familiar with the twee sounds of I’m From Barcelona (and they’re not – they’re Swedish) and the more experimental starkness of BSS, but there are reference points between both bands that are, well, similar. I’m From Barcelona is a collective made up of, at maximum, 29 members, just like Canada’s Broken Social Scene boasts a huge rotating cast of characters. Both of the band’s most recent records begin with the letters “F”, “O” and “R”. More bluntly, after hearing I’m From Barcelona’s third proper album Forever Today numerous times, I’m convinced that this is the record that Broken Social Scene was trying to make with Forgiveness Rock Record but, in my humble opinion, failed at: a big, bright poppy collection of songs so cool you gotta wear shades topped with female vocals and expansive brass instrumentation.

Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed in Forgiveness Rock Record. I know some people, including a few here at PopMatters, really liked it, but, to me, it just sounded like a Kevin Drew solo record, with a few post rock touches via the presence of Tortoise mastermind John McEntire. And what can you say about an album that your heavy feminine artillery (in the form of Feist, Emily Haines and Amy Millan) barely appear on? Ultimately, my opinion of that disc can basically be summed up in one word: meh.

Forever Today, on the other hand, is an infectious, catchy-as-hell, big, breezy, summery statement that doesn’t boast a single bad apple across its expansive ten tracks. It’s a return to I’m From Barcelona’s notably twee sound, considering that their sophomore record, 2008’s Who Killed Harry Houdini?, was a remarkably darker and more melancholic affair. But, here, I’m From Barcelona mastermind Emanuel Lundgren has opened the blinds on his bedroom window, and just let the lazy sunshine come flooding right in.

This atmosphere is notable on opening song “Charlie Parker”, which is a tribute to the late jazz musician with lines like “C’mon sing to me now, Bird” (Parker’s nickname). The track boasts a bouncy bass, delectable keyboards and a soaring chorus, making it a kind of companion piece to Broken Social Scene’s “Texaco Bitches”, just more toe-tappingly infectious. It’s a piece of cotton candy for your ear, and it is guaranteed to get stuck in your head. It also kicks away the cobwebs of the previous record with its sentiment in its bridge lyric: “When the sky is a little too filled up with rain/You can get on your little wings and fly away”.

But the infectiousness doesn’t end there. The rest of the album more or less lives up to this opening shot, making Forever Today a kind of airborne virus of the happiness strain that you’ll want to catch. “Get in Line” is a suitably groovy tune, with a squiggly keyboard line and a pounding beat that you’ll want to clap your hands along with. “Battleships” offers a gigantic, cavernous drum sound augmented by boisterous “bah bah bah” backing voices. It’s also a very playful song, resembling a big carnival, backed by lyrics such as “we got shooting stars, fireworks and neon lights/we’ve got elephants and acrobats for you tonight”. There’s not much more you say without sounding utterly effusive. The song just swoons with caramel-dipped apple gooeyness. The one-two-three shot of Forever Today is simply amazing.

If that were all, however. “Always Spring” is another song that sounds remarkably close to a Broken Social Scene track, sharing the same propulsive nature as “Fire Eye’d Boy”. You’ll find yourself singing along to the chorus: “Somewhere it’s summer/somewhere it’s always spring”. Honestly, with songs like this, you want to bring the album into a mental hospital and play it for the chronically depressed patients, as it is just so uplifting it is practically the musical equivalent of Prozac. Next up, “Can See Miles” is a hand-clapping mid-tempo jam where Lundgren advises people to not let the petty characteristics of the pretty and smart people get to you. Again, I’m From Barcelona deliver another delightful track, and, if you’ve been keeping count, that would make up a full album side that is immaculate in its sunny disposition. Someone’s going to have to come up with another word for “catchy”, because that’s ultimately what you get here on the first half of Forever Today: songs that absolutely ascend, and make the monotony of everyday life become something a bit more transcendent.

“Skipping a Beat” conjures up a neon-lit backdrop with its fuzzy synthesizers and almost Tropicana feel. It also segues well (maybe too well) into the big brassy “Dr. Landy”, which name-drops the Beatles in one of the more memorable bits on the record that illustrates the transformation effect of ‘60s pop on the psyche (“I didn’t realize that Rubber Soul would turn my life around”). This might be a bit of a con, but “Dr. Landy”, from its positioning, sounds a little – just a little bit – like the track that preceded it. However, the song is just so upbeat – one of the backing female singers utters a breathless “whew!” at the very end of it – that you will probably just overlook this tiny blemish. “Game Is On”, on the other hand, is a relatively more restrained acoustic guitar ballad (with a rousing chorus) that is what you’d get if you crossed Broken Social Scene with Neil Young. And then the title track ends off the record, and it’s a horn-led ballad that simmers: the kind of thing that you’ll be pulling the Bic lighter out at during the band’s concerts. It’s a breathtaking song, but, by putting the album’s sole two ballads back-to-back, it works as a little bit of a momentum killer in what’s a gigantic pop statement. That, however, is another tiny flaw, giving Forever Today a bit of a diamond in the rough quality.

There’s not a whole lot of intellectual parsing of lyrics that can be done here: this is just simply a big, fat, fun album meant for the brightest and hottest of sunny days. You can even hear conversations happening in the background at key points, which suggests that making this record was one big party free-for-all, and the giddiness shows in the final product. Anyone who might have been put off by the relatively morbid Who Killed Harry Houdini? would be well advised to rejoin the fold, as this is a marked return to form, back to the sound that was unleashed on 2007’s Let Me Introduce My Friends. Forever Today is simply a pop album, and an incredible one at that. There’s not much more that can be said than that, other than this is an early candidate for the Best Albums of 2011 list at the end of the year. Forever Today succeeds in every way that Forgiveness Rock Record didn’t, and you can only hope that Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and company are taking notes from the scene-stealers based out of Sweden. This is sticky sweet stuff, and it’s a must listen.


Zachary Houle is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee for his short fiction, and the recipient of a writing arts grant from the City of Ottawa. He has had journalism published in SPIN magazine, The National Post (Canada), Canadian Business, and more.

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