In the study of Cool Canadian Bands, Broken Social Scene are the unequivocal entry point. With their 2002 breakout record You Forgot It In People, the Toronto-based indie rock collective gave the world a new narrative about Canuck music. No longer would we be ashamed to hail from the country that unleashed Shania, Celine, and Bryan into the zeitgeist. In the new century, sprawling, rapturous, artistic co-operatives (see also: Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers) would define the Canadian sound, and indie rock in general.
Well, that’s how it was a decade ago, anyway. Since their last album, 2009’s Forgiveness Rock Record, Broken Social Scene have mostly been, well, broken. In their absence, indie’s lost its rock, and Canadian music’s been marching to the beat of “One Dance.” “When we came up, there was no Drake or OVO,” says Brendan Canning, BSS’ co-leader. “We really set the stage for them; they can thank us later. But music’s changed. Indie music is clean, synth-y pop now. Hopefully we can still get a good font size on the festival posters.”
And so, the Scene are back with their heat check: Hug of Thunder, a warm, densely-layered embrace of celebratory, cacophonous, sublime anti-pop. Recorded at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio (listen closely for a Gord Downie cameo), it’s the type of album that could place them atop the Coachella poster pecking order — especially if this were eight years ago. So what’s been the holdup?
Consider the anatomy of a Broken Social Scene. A revolving door of 20-plus castaways from the ’90s Toronto music scene, they’ve defied a major-label-dominated industry by amalgamating their resources, Voltron style. Arts & Crafts, the indie label co-owned by BSS’ Kevin Drew, bolsters not only the band, but its members’ satellite acts — many of which (Feist, Metric, Stars) are now global draws in their own right. As individual stars rise, there’s less time to tend to the mothership. “You can only be Kramer on Seinfeld for so long before wanting to see where you stand out in the real world,” says Canning. “Hopefully, you don’t fuck it up like he did.”
But as any college graduate — or disgraced sitcom star — can attest, the real world’s a scary place. Especially today’s. After 2015’s terrorist attack at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris, the Broken crew felt an urge to reassemble. “We know [Eagles], so it was upsetting — you’re one step removed from it happening to you,” says Canning. “When anything hits that close to your community, you just want to breathe some positivity.”
And positive Hug of Thunder is; featuring the full cast — including Emily Haines, Leslie Feist, and Jason Collett — it’s teeming with euphoric crescendoes and soaring choruses about finding light amid darkness. It’s a call for community in harrowing times, and frankly, an affirmation that this fractured mob is much greater than the sum of its parts. For maximum festival typeface potential, these Scenesters are best off staying intact.
“We want to prove ourselves as a legendary band,” says Canning. “Hey man, if Drake is legendary, surely we can be legendary.”
Pop Culture Summer School: Further Listening
Assigned by Professor Kevin Drew, Department of Broken Sociology
Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions
This BSS off-shoot still makes visceral post-rock without a hint of beard-stroking pretension.
Slowdive – Slowdive
The shoegaze OGs return with all the dreamy guitars and eerie electronica we could’ve asked for.
Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
The Pink Floyd icon bridges the divide between Us and Them with this trippy carpet ride.
Perfume Genius – No Shape
Mike Hadreas boldly goes where no goth-glammer’s gone before: a happy place.