Music

Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene

Zeth Lundy

Highly anticipated follow-up to Canadian collective's breakthrough album is an overblown, underdeveloped mess in need of new ideas.


Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The appeal of Broken Social Scene's 2002 breakthrough album You Forgot It in People was largely contingent on its being blessed with a stinging sensation of spontaneity. The record seemed to creatively unfold as it played: taut grooves sprouted from preoccupied noodling, driving crescendos were harnessed and abused, studio chatter interfered at random moments. The Canadian indie collective stumbled upon a cohesive fluke of sorts, a record built by likeminded musicians mining for that elusive sound of something new. Who cared if the record didn't actually have any songs, in the formal sense -- it was inspired, and that infectiousness made the lack of real compositions irrelevant.

The band's third record, the titularly challenged Broken Social Scene, sounds like it's trying to recapture that spontaneity in swollen, epic gestures. But synchronicity and charm cannot be manufactured, and so the effort feels unnatural, as if the band is attempting to force an unpredictable good thing into a predictable pattern for success. Either that, or there's just too many cooks in Broken Social Scene's kitchen. (The group's double-digit roster, which includes members of Stars, Apostle of Hustle, and Metric, is appended this time by appearances from K-Os and the Dears' Murray Lightburn.) Broken Social Scene is a gratuitous collection of repetitive pocket-symphony anthems for the indie set and an unsuccessful regurgitation of You Forgot It in People's rareness.

In its ambitious reach, the collective's weaknesses shine through. The songs rarely make sense beyond their own circle-jerking, lacking any sense of definable structure or purpose except to reach a head-expanding plateau of catharsis and beat it into submission. When this long record (this very long, 60-plus-minute record) reaches its midpoint, déjà vu sets in, and for good reason: Broken Social Scene's songs are merely two- or four-chord vamps that, without choruses or verses or bridges, lack an identity outside of the big picture and can't help but incite comparisons with each other. If there are so many strong talents in the Broken Social Scene family, then why do they create nothing but a prosaic commotion as a creative unit? (Lyrics are an especially rocky area for the band; apparently 15 people couldn't come up with anything more profound than hooks like "If you always get up late / You're never gonna be on time / And that's a shame / 'Cause I like you.") Broken Social Scene may relish in the possibilities of its experimental pop, but the band's fixation on You Forgot It in People's blueprint mutates into nothing but single-riffed simulation. On the very basic level of a listening experience, "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)" is a more explosive version of "KC Accidental", "7/4 (Shoreline)" is a faster, groovier version of "Cause = Time" with a fiery vocal from Feist, and, despite its provocative title, "Handjobs for the Holidays" clicks along as a more densely multi-tracked version of "Stars and Sons".

In this respect, then, Broken Social Scene is a self-conscious encore to its predecessor. Only in retrospect, after fully digesting the new record, does it align itself in full context: studio encores that improve upon and master the style of a previous effort, like Interpol's Antics or the Strokes' Room on Fire, are worthwhile in that they present us with a refined representation of an original thought. But the reconstructed double-dip into a heralded watershed presented here just isn't as satisfying. Admittedly, Broken Social Scene is massively ambitious, but its ambitions lie in its bulk, not its construction. It's all layers of guitars and cymbal crashes, feasts of chipper horn sections, peppy drum tracks, mumbled vocals that beget tremendous instrumental climaxes -- all full of sounds and furies that do, in fact, signify nothing. Most infuriating is the lack of original ideas, as many of the previous record's incidentals have been falsified into insincere devices: at least three songs employ studio chatter in their mixes, which suspiciously seems like a blatant attempt to rework the behind-the-curtain allure of "Looks Just Like the Sun".

And still, despite the land of pretend that Broken Social Scene ultimately, and regrettably, conjures with its complicated game of smoke and mirrors, there are a number of terrific moments on the record. When taken individually, outside the context of the album's bloated sequencing (and, perhaps, at a safe distance from the context of You Forgot It in People), tracks like the kinetic "7/4 (Shoreline)", the handclap-saturated chant "Windsurfing Nation" (incidentally, the album's working title), and the dreamlike "Major Label Debut" all sparkle with fleeting glimpses of the group's greatness. But you wouldn't know that by listening to the 10-minute closing track, "It's All Gonna Break", essentially a one-song capsule of the record's sprawling indulgences with five endings tacked on to its last five minutes. The song, like the entire record, is the ultimate slab of fraudulent superfluity, covering up an absence of new ideas by recycling older ones. Overblown and underdeveloped, Broken Social Scene is a deliberate mess veiled as a spontaneous one.

5

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

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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