[2 October 2007]
It’s an interesting trend, this whole brand-building thing in music these days. Here, the indie world takes a stab at the moves so far typically reserved for the likes of the 50 Cent’s and Jay-Z’s of world as the Canadian rock community known as Broken Social Scene offers up the first in a series of solo records from some of the group’s team of artists. While we’ve seen many of the collective’s members produce separate, successful projects (Feist, Metric, Stars), there’s a clear push here on specifically extending the boundaries of BSS even further. And, actually, it’s a brilliant idea: there’s certainly a lot of talent to showcase within the realm of this band. The Broken gang participates in pieces on this album, backing up Drew in various ways, so the album doesn’t so much feel like a separate production the way that Feist’s albums or Emily Haines’ work with Metric does, but more like a moment where Drew steps out of line from his bandmates for his own extended solo time on stage.
If you’re at all familiar with the previous work of Broken Social Scene, then nothing on this album will sound new or particularly fresh. As a co-founding member of the group, Drew has always been at the helm of the group’s sound and that sort of BSS signature sound is certainly heard here. Recordings were done between 2005-2007, right in the midst of Drew’s other work with the band and the temptation would be to assume that this album is really a collection of Broken Social Scene B-sides. It could certainly fit right in on any BSS album: the songs feel whimsical and atmospheric, multi-layered arrangements abound, and it’s about as melodic as you can get. It’s all stuff that we’re familiar with and would expect from Drew, but I actually did find myself eagerly waiting for the next “guest” appearance on the songs. And there are many: 23 guest artists contributed to the project, which is a good thing. As much as Drew may be responsible for the BSS “sound”, it’s a lot less interesting without the rest of the collective on hand to contribute. Frankly, with almost half of the album’s 14 tracks coming in at over five minutes, the whole thing teeters dangerously on the line of an overextended solo far too often.
The BSS co-founder knows what he’s good at, and we get a whole lot of it here. Most of the time, it’s a treat to be immersed in Drew’s world where we get noisemakers like the album’s opener “Farewell to the Pressure Kids” alongside great pared-down numbers like “F—ked Up Kid” and “Broke Me Up”. Even further glimpses into Drew’s specific musical interests and influences come in some interesting forms, like the Dinosaur Jr-esque track “Backed Out on The…” that J. Mascis actually appears on. It’s when the reins get a little too slack that we find Drew running amok with his ideas: “Gang Bang Suicide” is an unfortunate, seemingly neverending, example of someone who likes the sound of his own voice too much. Apart from this obvious tendency throughout the album, there is a lot to listen to here and I suspect it may be the sort of record that needs to be explored repeatedly in small doses.
It’s unlikely that these Broken Social Scene Presents: projects will grab the ears of any substantial new audiences but, if Drew’s album is any indication, they will provide a more in-depth exploration of the pieces that make up this band, and fans of BSS will absolutely get behind these records. Which is the point behind this series, isn’t it? This new experiment of indie rockers realizing the, gasp, marketing potential behind what they do and exploring this new twist on branding will likely be the most interesting legacy that this album leaves behind.