Broken Social Scene: Hug of Thunder

Photo: Danielle St. Laurent via Arts & Crafts

Broken Social Scene return after a seven-year hiatus with their most vital release since their 2005 self-titled album.

Broken Social Scene

Hug of Thunder

Label: Arts & Crafts
Release date: 2017-07-07

Broken Social Scene is a canonical band whose canonical album, 2002's You Forgot It in People, is one of the shining examples of early 2000s indie. The sound Broken Social Scene conjured on that record, and their 2005 self-titled follow-up, was wholly distinct but elusive. Always beautiful, the band shifted modes and styles throughout the recordings with a freewheeling looseness that was guided by clear emotional precision. Paradoxically, this emotional precision makes it impossible to reduce their albums and songs to strict concepts like "happy" or "sad". By that same token, "nostalgic" doesn't quite feel right either. The paradoxical power of their music conjures the swollen heart intensity of youth. It’s fitting for Broken Social Scene, who was able to swing from singer-songwriter-ish ballads to post-rock influenced explosions, to not be defined by emotion, but, rather, an underlying spirit of an era in a person's life.

While there were other bands that also did the swooning-indie-pop-made-by-a-bunch-of-people thing, like Architecture in Helsinki or I'm From Barcelona, or others chased after memories of youth, like M83 on the aptly titled Saturdays + Youth, Broken Social Scene was able to make the experience real through expression. Rather than rely on cultural signifiers to evoke their teenage dreaming, songs like the Feist-led gems "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl" and "Swimmers" felt like the genuine article. These oblique, first-person narratives trimmed the distance between memory and emotion because they didn't aim for profundity. Instead, the lyrics are casually obsessive, just like a young person's mind when they start falling in love for the first time. This, coupled with the band's powerful dynamics, made them hit square in the pleasure centers for people finding music on their own for the first time. They even touched the more cynical listeners who weren't into the whole big-hearted emotion thing.

But the Broken Social Scene Hug of Thunder is very different from the Broken Social Scene on those first two records. Hug of Thunder goes a long way in erasing the looseness of previous efforts -- there is nothing on here remotely like the fourth-wall breaking spoken word direction that interrupts the singing on You Forgot's on "Looks Just Like the Sun". There's also nothing lyrically here that's as meaningfully meaningless as "Lover's Spit" or "It's All Gonna Break". Rather, Hug of Thunder is imbued with a sense of forthrightness and direction that other Broken Social Scene records lacked, but its message isn't weighed down by austerity. The band's last album, 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record, presented the group with an air professionalism that felt dispassionate. Here, on Hug of Thunder, they sound rejuvenated with their music taking on a more emotional significance than it has in over a decade.

Where Broken Social Scene once evoked the passionate unease of teenage years, they now capture the passionate unease of adulthood. Lead single "Halfway Home" touches on this sense adroitly with lyrics like "Dreams change and I know I'm gonna die / But I don't need what I know now." Even placed against existential acceptance within a climate of personal and political unease, the band can still point north to a place of learning and growth. "Protest Song" similarly points the way forward with its repeated line, "Days don't end for night's alone." This optimism is mirrored sonically by the record's first half, which is largely made up of the large-scale indie rock that Broken Social Scene made their name on. Like their fellow countrymen Arcade Fire, there's an implicit belief presented in the first half that passionate music can affect change. Songs like “Stay Happy” and “Vanity Pail Kids” imbue a sense of newness into the big-tent Broken Social Scene sound, with the former being driven by a fat bass line and supple drumming and the later coalescing in a horn-driven, fast talking explosion that’s both funky and heavy, besting Arcade Fire at the sound they’ve been mining on their two previous records.

But the band’s multifaceted approach is just as well-served for its most delicate songs, like “Skyline”, “Please Take Me With You”, and the title track. By turns plaintive and direct, these songs approach the unease evinced in other songs by way of surrender, which is a new wrinkle in the Broken Social Scene oeuvre -- not only within the context of Hug of Thunder but on all their records. To this point, the most representative ballad was the repetitive and hypnotic “Lover’s Spit” that lifted you off the ground with its melody and floated you out into the cosmos as it plodded along. It felt raw but was still hidden by slacker obfuscation evidenced in the lyrics, which played like a total after thought. Consequently, a song like “Please Take Me With You” feels like it’s the new standard for the band’s current operating mode as it simply yearns for connection in a world where “all the fools are winning".

By stripping away affectation and honing in on confession, Broken Social Scene made an album that’s unlike the work they’ve done previously. In fact, it’s as significant a work as you could hope to get from a band that formed nearly 20 years ago. Still, as good as these songs are, it won’t make you forget the scattered, accidental majesty of You Forgot It In People or Broken Social Scene. Where before Broken Social Scene seemed to capture lightning (as well as the whole thunderstorm) in a bottle, Hug of Thunder feels exquisitely human with all the requisite limitations that come with a more balanced worldview. Broken Social Scene used to feel like everything, now they just feel like a very good band.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.