For the last few years, Broken Social Scene has been one of the most renowned alternative/indie bands in Canada. Most of this is due to the success of their second album, You Forgot It In People, released in 2003, which netted the band the 2003 Juno Award for Best Alternative Album.
Broken Social Scene was formed in 1999 by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, friends who had both been active separately in the Toronto indie scene. The duo produced their first album, Feel Good Lost, in 2001. Feel Good Lost was an ethereal, dreamy piece of instrumental post-rock, noticed but not promoted by many critics. After this, the band began to accrete members; a broad cross-section of the Toronto scene that encompassed members or future members of Stars, Metric, Feist, and Apostle of Hustle, among others. This anarchic collective was responsible for the recording of You Forgot It In People, resulting in a dramatically different album from Broken Social Scene's debut.
Listening to You Forgot It In People, it truly seems the work of a dozen people. The sound is anarchic and cluttered, numerous different voices are heard, and the mood varies wildly from track to track. In fact, the clutter is heavy enough that many songs have dense, impenetrable surfaces which only reveal detail after several listenings. For all of its pretensions, this is a subtle record; many songs that seem to have no progression are instead bubbling with seas of detail that may not be apparent on the first listen.
You Forgot It In People
by Broken Social Scene
October 15, 2002
Label: Arts & Crafts
01. Capture the Flag 2:08
02. KC Accidental 3:50
03. Stars and Sons 5:08
04. Almost Crimes 4:22
05. Looks Just Like the Sun 4:23
06. Pacific Theme 5:09
07. Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl 4:35
08. Cause = Time 5:30
09. Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries 3:46
10. Shampoo Suicide 4:05
11. Lover's Spit 6:22
12. I'm Still Your Fag 4:23
13. Pitter Patter Goes My Heart 2:26
Broken Social Scene begin the album with this dreamy electronic piece, reminscent of Feel Good Lost. The feel is similar to a mixture of Treefingers from Radiohead's Kid A, though with more instruments and motion, coloured with lazy strings and horns. It drifts casually along until a dissonant chord rises up and pinches the song off.
A clean guitar figure signals a new song, preparing the listener for another lazy tonal stroll. Then the roof blows off with fast drums and cymbals, and a full-on rock song emerges. The guitar plays the riff repeatedly as the music crashes out, plowing forward with the joy of a natural sprinter, pausing occasionally for bursts of instrumental squeals. The band takes a break for some lyrics, vague and incomprenhensible as with early R.E.M., and then the riff takes off again. Eventually they slow down as though resting at the end of a race, and smoothly hand off to the next song.
Stars and Sons begins with warm, midtempo guitars, and crisp, midtempo drumming. Other instruments weave in and out of the simple melody, passing in and out of focus, as a surprisingly suitable backdrop to the vague lyrics. The texture deepens satisfyingly as the song processes, with handclaps appearing in the foreground and then disappearing into the background without actually stopping. The clutter builds and then ends in applause.
The first proper 'song' on the album, Almost Crimes takes a moment to get in shape before the drums come in and propel the song into its first verse. The male singer of the previous two songs is here joined by the strong voice of Leslie Feist, who provides an excellent contrast. The two voices extend the instrumental clutter to also include vocal and verbal clutter, adding to the depth of the song. The net effect of all this clutter is not My Bloody Valentine-style sheets of noise but a generally consonant sound reminscent of the guitar textures on The Bends, amped all the way to 11.
This downtempo song is led by a suitably sunny acoustic guitar and a jazzy backbeat. A fairly ordinary song, it is made offbeat by the inclusion of spoken studio instructions, which are laced through the lyrics at odd times. "It's obvious to everyone..." The song eventually takes a cue from the Beatles' Hello Goodbye and comes back completely different after a complete stop and eventually blends into the next song
An instrumental of a somewhat less abstract character, Pacific Theme builds on a duet between a Rhodes piano and an electric guitar. These instruments drop out and others take their place, continuing the duet and occasionally extending it to a trio. The centrepiece of the album, it closes out the first half of the album and looks towards a clearer second half which is more organized in building texture.
Emily Haines of Metric takes the lead here with her distinctive soprano; the lyrics are some of the clearest yet while the vocals are distorted with heavy processing. Bright strings, as smooth and mellow as the fiddle on Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne, anchor the song for the first time on the album. Plucked banjo contines to add a country/bluegrass feel, but the distorted, electronic, and eventually self-harmonizing vocals drag it back to avant-rock territory.
A doubled bass/guitar riff backstops this song, with almost jangly guitars filling out the treble. The vocals are newly clean but placed in the mix behind the backbeat, obscuring their importance. As the album proceeds the usual song structure is followed more closely, with this track picking up a middle eight with a guitar solo. The lyrics, especially the chorus, use the multiple meanings of the word 'cause' for a surprisingly catchy hook. "They all wanna love the cause... they all need to be the cause... they all wanna dream a cause... they all need to fuck the cause..."
A noisy, peculiar song, built on wavering guitars and strange electronic buzzes. Resemblances to a stretched-out, denoised Nine Inch Nails and turn-of-the-century Radiohead B-sides show up, and the abrupt departure from the tone of the surrounding songs calls to mind some of Tool's interludes. The beat eventually breaks down in piles of clanging guitars before the next song casually picks up the reins.
Shampoo Suicide starts out at walking speed and strides along with a great drum/bass backbeat. It wouldn't be Broken Social Scene if there weren't several other instruments/voices to join the party, and they do not disappoint, coming up with piano, guitar, distorted female vocals, spoken words, and squealing synths. After their time in the sun, each joins the steady pulse, giving the song a driving crescendo that eventually must be curbed with a fade-out.
As we move into the endgame, this song finally brings out clear lyrics alongside a usual verse structure, set to a starry constellation of high strings and calm piano that recalls the arranged perfection of The Postal Service. It would almost be a love song, except for the sideways look at relationships expressed in its casual lyrics. The deliberate pace and thick instrumentation make the song feel weighty, but this is not a negative; the feel is a purposeful counterpoint to the casualness of the lyrics. The ending reaches a careful majesty that is one of Broken Social Scene's finest moments.
The band leaves the complex texture behind for this last vocal song, depending only on a relaxed backbeat and fingerpicked guitar to build the jazzy atmosphere. More of a lust song than a love song, it nevertheless retains a dispassionate air. The lyrics tell a story about a married man outed after an affair with another man, from the perspective of the lover, and are almost shockingly frank, proclaiming "I swear I drank your piss that night to see if I could live..." in what is perhaps its central line. In the slow fade-out we say leave behind the album's driving rock and return to the dreamy tone of the opener.
This hazy string piece closes off the album with a more melodic return to the mood of Capture the Flag. Even when drums enter they do not disturb the sleepy feel of this epilogue, which fades smoothly to black.
You Forgot It In People is the first epochal Canadian rock album of the 21st century; its deep connections to the rest of the vital Toronto scene raise it up, and have led to Broken Social Scene and its related bands dominating the Best Alternative Album category at the Juno Awards for the past three years. Its eclectic blending and deep texture should appeal to fans of Radiohead's post-millenial work and fellow Canadian indie sensations The Arcade Fire. Although the album may come off as bland at first, it is a true grower. Like their counterparts in the Vancouver scene, The New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene is a supergroup that manages to truly live up to the sum of its parts.
This writeup is copyright 2006 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .