Beer and Pavement

Forgiveness Record Review

Posted in Records by SM on May 11, 2010

There’s this guy I know who has a pretty realistic perspective on movies. If he reads on various film review sites that it’s a C movie, he looks for it to be the best C movie it can be. No one went to Gigli expecting Citizen Kane. If someone actually pays money to see a Gigli, they hold it up to I Know Who Killed Me, Glitter, or Showgirls. My friend lowers or raises his expectations based on reviews before entering the theater, allowing for the most enjoyment possible for lesser cinematic fair1.

Music sort of works that way for me as well. If I read some lukewarm-to-bad reviews of albums, my expectations are automatically lower. The same goes for bad performances or a string of less-than-stellar releases. I only expect the album to be so good. If it meets that low expectation, the album has done the best it can do in my eyes. Sometimes, that’s OK.

Enter Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record.

Every person or outlet I trust thought this was a lame duck at best and a crap sandwich at worst. I was beginning to regret pre-ordering the thing as visions of the last two Broken Social Scene Presents… inhabited my nightmares2. There was virtually no reason for me to like this record.

Then I listened to the record.

Forgiveness Rock Record is as varied and textured as any other Broken Social Scene record. It may not be the best effort from the Canadian super-group, but it has to be better than 90% of the crap that passes for music these days. It has highs and lows, but it was fine. The record wasn’t anywhere near as bad as folks wanted me to believe. It met and exceeded my expectations.

But what if I don’t take those reviews into account? What if I judge the album on its own merits? What’s wrong with this record?

The LP opens with “World Sick”, as big a BSS rave as any song in their catalog, starting easy and breazy only to blow up into a chorus that’s all “hey, everybody on stage NOW” kind of a moment for which BSS is known. “Chase Scene” is just what the title suggests. Imagine every chase scene in the history of action movies and then imagine a mashup of all the accompanying songs played during those scenes. There’s urgency, horns, and some cheesy-ass keyboards3.

“Texico Bitches” is a moving, danceable ditty with odd word-play found all over BSS records. In “Forced to Love”, the band picks up the pace and devolves4 into something electronic with the entrance to “All to All” which reminds me of a Stars song through and through. The movie meme returns with the bombastic and Motown/Stax horn-driven “Art House Director” calling into memory the band’s cinematic collaborations5.

The sleepy “Highway Slipper Jam” breaks the momentum with hushed vocals, looped acoustic guitar, and whistling. The poetic profanity that makes me smile whenever I listen to a BSS record kicks in with “Ungrateful Little Father”6, bouncing over a blip-heavy percussive love-fest. “Meet Me in the Basement” is proof that no one does an instrumental like BSS by including prog rock, pop flourishes, and that ever-present urgency. This leads into the quiet opening to “Sentimental X’s” which continues the Stars love as it speeds into some blips, bleeps, and more prog.

A cool, white-boy R&B track known as “Sweetest Kill” comes in to kill the mood in a good way. The song cheeses its way to the following track, “Romance to the Grave”. I don’t know whether it’s supposed to be Northeast country-western, Canadian surf, or just another indie movie soundtrack, but this instrumental leads into basically a Sea and Cake song, complete with Sam Prekop vocals7.

After such a strong start and middle, the album fades a little. “Water in Hell” is the all-American rocker BSS rarely plays. The album continues to jump genres, eras, and made-up clichés as they play a song comfortable on any grassroots rock record from 1974. It might be the low-point of the record, but it’s inoffensive enough to simply ignore. “Me and My Hand” opens like a Wayne Coyne ballad complete with off-kilter guitar strums and off-key vocals. It doesn’t close any better.

Despite the two final tracks, I find very little wrong with Forgiveness. It’s a crisper sound than previous work, more hi-fi than lo-fi. There are an annoying amount of blips, bleeps, and blops, but they’re harmless enough. The prog touches are a bit off-putting, but they generally work with the material. I see where a BSS fan would be disappointed, but this is a seriously good record.

I place a lot of the blame/credit for all the new sounds on producer John McEntire8. This record just sounds like a Tortoise/Sea & Cake record. That’s all and I’m fine with that. Sure, BSS broke down a lot of limitations put on (indie) rock in the mid-nineties, particularly by bands from Chicago. However, their willingness to embrace these origins and influences is a great strength of the Toronto collective. To prove this point further, BSS enlisted the help of such folks as the aforementioned Sam Prekop, Spiral Stairs, Doug McCombs, and Sebastian Grainger9.

Broken Social Scene’s ability to create new music that also nods to its forefathers is something I admire in the group. It sets them apart from so many hipster acts who merely rip-off their predecessors. There’s a collaborative aura around BSS already, but when they include indie rock luminaries the result becomes rich with substance and context10.

Forgiveness Rock Record has nothing for which it needs to apologize. I get why folks might not like it, but it speaks to me loud and clear. Broken Social Scene is still the most engaging, exciting band in the scene at this very moment. Sure, one can argue that other acts are more esoteric, post-ironic, or punk, but those bands are not as consistently good as BSS.

So, were my expectations lowered? Sure, but that only allowed me to be open to what this record had in store for the listener. I can hear Broken Social Scene at its best as well as all their influences in Forgiveness. I can appreciate the Chicago post-everything scene from which McEntire developed. It’s all there and that makes for a complex, thrilling, and emotive record I will put on repeat throughout the summer11.

1Except that this means most movies with great reviews will likely not meet expectations. So, my friend sees a lot of crappy movies in the process. Of course, he can always be counted on to see a summer blockbuster at a minute’s notice.
2This explains why I have yet to purchase the massive 10-song EP they released of outtakes. Who does that? Even a band like Pavement waits for the re-issue to tack on the outtakes. No one releases 10-song outtakes. Hell, Caribou’s last record only had ten tracks and it’s an LP!
3Actually, the lyrics are a bit silly. They remind me of something straight out of Team America: World Police with its rather literal lyrics about the scene of his life. A little silly, but an interesting track nonetheless.
4Actually, the only thing that’s “electronic” is in “All to All”. It’s sort of hard to tell when one track ends and the next begins here.
5Well, there’s really only been that teacher/crack-addicted hipster movie a few years back, but there’s word that they are composing soundtracks for a couple projects as I write this.
6I guess “mother fucker” is a synonym for “father” in a way. Kind of makes me feel dirty.
7And is it just me or does Kevin Drew often call upon his inner-Prekop on such tracks? A little post-modern to actually include Prekop in the proceedings.
8I am not much of Tortoise fan and have learned to tolerate Sea & Cake’s development over the years into Tortoise-light.
9Which barely speaks to my point, but he’s another name to add to the list. Sadly, no J Mascis this time around.
10Who’s not hoping that they’ll join the stage with Pavement on any of the bands’ corresponding tour stops. My bet is on the Toronto show where my sister will surely give me a full report.
11I realize that records cannot generally be put on “repeat”. The iPod will play this album a lot this summer and I will drop the needle as often as I find time at home. I hope this clarifies everything.

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  1. […] labels, but I will still proclaim his beers to be among the best in all of craft beer. An album may have a terrible closing track, but the rest of it could still be stellar. Our town has this great documentary film festival, but […]

  2. […] Social Scene disappointed some with Forgiveness Rock Record. For me, the band has taken on a new persona after seeing them a couple of times in the past couple […]

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