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It’s come time for an explanation of why Broken Social Scene are/were one of the greatest acts of all time.

Because they inhabit an overtly romantic, expansive sound, so will this post come up necessarily short, id est, not nearly long enough to explain, in full, the true genius of Kevin Drew and his Toronto Scene.

I will say that I’ve written entire stories based on their songs, or rather, using their song as starter, like for sourdough.

[Guilty Cubicles]

The music, in part simply because there are so many people on stage, is swelling, washed, big. Except that it is not simple to have so much talent/so little stage. Coordination is perhaps the band’s greatest trait (and one at which they seem to have gotten a lot better as they went along). Why the name? The name is ridiculous. But that’s what it is, and better to bring people to their knees via heart-on-the-sleeve grand romantic gesture from the most awkward position possible. True men (and women) of Eros know that the best seduction is the one from the silliest initial start.

Over the years the gradual ceding of control of their biggest and brightest to solo or more-solo projects decimated the ranks, though the core set of guitar-orchestrating males held. True to form, most of the songs are driving rock songs, which they almost need to be with that many people—it’s like trying to get an entire room of friends to dance to the same song: needs to be pretty catchy. But then each puts his or her touch on it, they all touch it—there’s lots of touching in general in BSS—and it becomes warm and shapely with all the hands.

[Safety Bricks]

It’s also true that a fair share are not at all driving rock songs, but, though rooted firmly in blues, are dreamy or dance-y or bass-y experiments in melody and noise. Rock bands with strong instrumental powers are a step above the rest. An integration of composed music with standard blues/rock is what I consider the higher artform. Other bands that have this? The Walkmen, that northeast wedding band; Steve Reich-influenced Sufjan; Sigur Ros and the somber Icelandic aesthetic; Phoenix the flying Frenchmen; even Isaac Brock too (Cf. the beautiful vibrating electric guitar soundtrack to the film 180 South). And let’s say Pink Floyd, for the old-timers.

But these guys loved and embraced the instrumental more strongly than the rest. Their first album was all instrumental. Their second had a cohabitational mix of the two forms. Their third was an overlay of one on the other, a palimpsest of song up through depths of music, receding back under and swimming to the surface again, out of breath but still singing. Love your instrument, they are saying. Hold it and play it like you love it.

What does this translate to?

[Major Label Debut]

The men. Andrew Whiteman is an electric guitar beast, bluesman and rocker and virtuoso. Justin Peroff is a racehorse. Sam Goldberg, a surety. Charles Spearin can play every single instrument on stage, and usually throughout the course of a concert, does. Brendan Canning is a bassline connoisseur, responsible, rhythmic.

And Kevin Drew. Ringleader, beating heart, the kind of utterly unabashed John Lennon spirit of love, energy, forgiveness, optimism through art that is rare as emeralds nowadays. The man says on stage forgive your heart, scream for yourselves, it’s not your fault, enjoy your lives, don’t forget what you felt—it’s hard to get it more romantic.

It’s also hard to be unromantic in the company of

The women.

[Lover’s Spit]

The first time I saw BSS was in San Francisco at the Grand Ballroom, and the opening act was diminutive Leslie Feist. Barefoot in white pants and a huge red Guild. She and Kevin Drew sang ‘Lover’s Spit’ and they literally licked at each other’s faces, and danced across the stage like snakes. For a boy of twenty-one (I was), it was magical, in that sentimental young adult sense.

All these people drinking lover’s spit

Swallowing words while giving head

They listen to teeth to learn how to quit

Take some hands and get used to it

Emily Haines. Was my dream. Tall, blonde, skeletal-faced. A voice with a husk.  Irresistible. [see her and James Shaw do my favorite cover of ‘Between the Bars’]

Amy Milan. Belts and belts and is more friendly, less scary than the others.

And Lisa Lobsinger. A baby, a newbie, some wouldn’t even mention her. But when I saw BSS that first show Emily Haines was on tour with Metric, and Lobsinger took over her parts, including “Anthems…” She was, como se dice, incredible. You could watch her sinuous, sensuous neck muscles tauten themselves sideways with each beat. I watched this. What it looked like was she was trying to remember how many ‘park that car’s to say—which is perfect, for a seventeen year old girl, in all that nervous concentration, youthful obsessive determination. I was twenty-one, not seventeen, but from the middle-class suburbs, and so at least four years behind on these things on that account.

[Anthems… That bass line!]

Come more often. Kiss more often. Here’s to all the favors that were never mentioned. To all my friends (more than James Murphy even) in magazines. Feel Good Lost. I mean, “Pitter patter goes my heart”? You’ve got to be kidding me! How did I ever loose this? Did I like myself better then? Yes. Did I like you better then? Probably, yes. To say it’s endearing or compelling would be failing. It’s more than that. They are allowed to be honest. And walk the sentimental line. They are like Pavement if Pavement weren’t strangers in their own city. They were nurtured, yes, and there is something extremely nurtured about BSS in general. Like I said, all hands.

Bandwitch, live…


From → Listenings

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