Social Scene's New 'Spirit'; Brings Style of Pop Teeming with Quirks, Ornamental Flourishes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Social Scene's New 'Spirit'; Brings Style of Pop Teeming with Quirks, Ornamental Flourishes


Byline: Jenny Mayo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Toronto indie rock outfit Broken Social Scene is often referred to as a collective, a fine enough description for a group whose ranks have alternately swelled and contracted to include between five and 19 diverse musicians. However, three syllables alone can't sufficiently sum up this distinctive project; we'd need as many adjectives, analogies and metaphors as they have band members to do that job.

Here's some that come to mind: Broken Social Scene is a cool-kids club, a phenomenon, a shapeless amoeba, a breath of fresh musical air from the north, a platform to kick off music careers, and a group of trendsetting troubadours.

It all began when Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning joined forces in 1999. After doing so, they wove a web of Canadian musical talents with whom they could record and perform - a web that linked notable artists like Leslie Feist (who releases solo albums under her surname only), members of bands like Stars and Metric, and innovative emcee K-Os.

Over the years, this network of musical vagabonds has grown so vast and strong that the band is capable of regeneration - a modern-day Hydra. Last month, we saw evidence of this; that's when Mr. Drew and five other Social Sceners were on tour in Europe, and when guitarist Bill Priddle had an unfortunate accident that left him with a broken collarbone and the band with an unenviable hole.

Mr. Drew, who says he's "addicted to a lot of sound," found the gap "irking" - but only for one gig. By the next, Social Scene frequenter James Shaw of Metric had flown in to bolster the lineup for the remaining tour dates.

Though its boundaries are fluid and its faces often fresh from one show to the next, there is one constant. That, Mr. Drew says, is the music. The Social Scene's brand is an expansive, almost infinitely layered variety of pop that teems with quirks, ornamental flourishes and a bounty of vocal talent. This music comes upon listeners in dense waves that are driving or lulling.

So far, the band has released three raved-about studio albums (including 2002's "You Forgot It In People" and 2005's eponymous effort, both Juno Award winners) and a record of b-sides and rarities.

There's another album that came out this fall, but fans and critics aren't really sure whether to include it in the band's discography. It's called "Spirit If ... " and is billed as the work of "Broken Social Scene Presents:Kevin Drew."

Hmm. So what does that mean?

"People are definitely confused about it," Mr. Drew admits.

The record, he explains, is the first in a series of "Broken Social Scene Presents" albums (Mr. Canning's is due out next), and it represents a band at a crossroads. Listeners won't hear much evidence of that in the tracks themselves, but Mr. Drew drops plenty of hints into a one-on-one phone conversation.

Essentially, the problem is success. It's yanked the group in one direction (into the studio and out on the road), and its individual members in another (out on their own). …

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Social Scene's New 'Spirit'; Brings Style of Pop Teeming with Quirks, Ornamental Flourishes
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