[5 June 2003]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When Toronto indie rock collective Broken Social Scene released their second album, called You Forgot It in People, in October of 2002, the music press in that city went insane over the record, shoveling heaps of hyperbolic praise, creating such a groundswell of hype that the first pressing quickly sold out, leaving many curious listeners across Canada wondering what the heck the big deal was. The album became easier for Canadians to find early this year (thanks to a March re-release), and following a cross-country tour, where their Canadian following grew even bigger, Broken Social Scene’s music started to spread like wildfire among file-swappers on the Net, the band played a showcase set at the South by Southwest Conference, and ultimately scored a US distribution deal with Caroline Records. Now, with You Forgot It in People finally available domestically in the States, that hype will only continue to grow. But is it an album worthy of all the praise?
Fronted by the duo of Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning (from local bands K.C. Accidental and By Divine Right, respectively), Broken Social Scene has had so many members (moonlighting from their own bands) come and go over the past three years, that their most recent album boasts a total of 15 musical contributors. Huge collaborations like this usually make for a big mess of an album, but, although You Forgot It in People has its share of musical variety, it’s a remarkably focused, yet highly ambitious rock album (expertly produced by David Newfeld) that blends bubblegum pop, shoegazer, electronic, and orchestral rock into a surprisingly accessible piece of work.
It gets off to a mellow, innocuous start, as the instrumental “Capture the Flag” fades in with its ambient layers of synth and horns, but right after that, you’re knocked off your seat by the frantic drums and waves of My Bloody Valentine-style guitars of “K.C. Accidental”, a sunny tune that explodes like a roman candle. The fun’s only just started, though, as the insanely catchy “Stars and Sons” bursts in with its warm tones, a mellifluous, New Order bass line, mumbled lyrics, and some terrific, insistent handclaps, a completely irresistible song that you quickly can’t get enough of. “Almost Crimes (Radio Kills Remix)” is a more straightforward garage rock tune with roaring guitars, some free-form jazz saxophone, and electronic bleeps, sounding as if The Strokes decided to get artier and more improvisational. Meanwhile, “Looks Just Like the Sun” has a blatant Wilco vibe going on, with its acoustic guitars, a sense of experimentation similar to that of Jim O’Rourke’s, some utterly beguiling drumming, and surreal lyrics. Following a musical prelude that sounds like the band tuning up, the mellow tones of the instrumental “Pacific Theme” begin, as Broken Social Scene kicks into one of the most likable melodies you’ll hear, a blend of West Coast soft rock, surf guitar, more of those unmistakable New Order tones, and for good measure, some swingin’ horns that sound arranged by Burt Bacharach himself, the last minute of the song crescendoing to a glorious, jangly, climax.
“Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” has a much simpler arrangement than all the other songs, with banjo, strings, an understated synth drone, and a thrumming bass line, but it’s also one of the most poignant songs on the record. Guest vocalist Emily Haines (from Toronto band Metric), masked slightly by vocal effects, sings the mantralike lines, ““Used to be one of the rotten ones/And I liked you for that/Now you’re all gone got your makeup on/And you’re not coming back,” perfectly encapsulating the heart-wrenching misery of adolescence, the song ending on the wistful lines, “Park that car/Drop that phone/Sleep on the floor/Dream about me.” Equally stellar is the track that begins the album’s second half, “Cause=Time”. The song starts simply enough, with a snappy drum beat with bass and some light guitar chords, and the first verse kicks in, with some of the most enigmatic lines this side of The New Pornographers (“You come in/Check my time/You’ve got fornication crimes/I’ve seen the hope on television” . . . at least, I think that’s what they’re singing). Over the next few minutes, the song gradually builds up to a blast of Dinosaur Jr.-inspired riffs and solo licks, with those oh-so-J. Mascis-like vocals singing, “They all want to love the cause/Because they all need to be the cause/They all want to fuck the cause.”
What keeps You Forgot It in People from being the all-out classic album that some folks will lead you to believe is the last third of the album, which doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliant first eight tracks. It’s not that the songs are bad; they’re just fine, but the pace slows to more of a crawl, as songs like the Yo La Tengo-goes-techno instrumental “Late Nineties Bedroom Rock For the Missionaries” and the dreamy “Shampoo Suicide” bring things down to a more mellow, far less euphoric level. “I’m Still Your Fag” is the album’s weakest song, a straightforward, folky tune with some uncomfortably graphic lyrics that distract from the other, more likeable aspects of the song (“I swore I drank your piss that night to see if I could live”). “Lover’s Spit”, though, is a wonderful ballad that brings to mind fellow Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith, a simple song about watching “all those people drinking lover’s spit,” and the realization that “it’s time that we grow old and do some shit.”
Even though it starts to coast a bit near the end, You Forgot It in People is still a highly enjoyable, effervescent, endlessly inventive album that crosses genres with astonishing ease. As the beautiful strains of violin and viola on the aptly titled “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart” end, you can’t help but feel a little palpitation yourself. This is exhilarating stuff. Most of us might have missed out on this album in 2002, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some room on our 2003 year-end lists come December.