If only we could all live in the edges of the watercolor world that Broken Social Scene has crafted over the past nine years. You Forgot It In People, the Toronto supergroup's genre-defining 2003 breakthrough, opens with hymnic horns and twinkling piano keys that fold themselves into an angular, knifing guitar attack, only to fall out again on the other side and give way to sighing violins and fluttering cymbals as singer Kevin Drew whispers, “All your kind are coming clean...” before the guitars and drums get back to the cutting. The two opening tracks, “Capture the Flag” and “KC Accidental” are a simultaneously wiry and comforting push of Big Time Emotion, a wistful and big-hearted version of love and rock 'n' roll that sounds just as fresh and teary today as it did five years ago.
Virtually every member of Broken Social Scene – which can be anywhere from six to twenty-one people, depending on who happens to be around at the moment – is a member of some other important Toronto band, from the sad popsters of Stars to the searing post-rockers of Do Make Say Think to a little unknown singer-songwriter named Feist. The kaleidoscopic taste of the group's members results in a sound that is somewhat without comparison in rock 'n' roll, something like all of your favorite records being played on top of one another and you with the ears to hear them. You could pull two or three individual pop songs – not to mention a few groundbreaking noise-rock records and even a classical piece or two – from nearly every BSS song, and the remaining skeleton would still be compelling.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Broken Social Scene – both live and on record – is how so many people making so much sound can do so with such intimacy. These are songs that are easy to wrap yourself in and embody, and the band knows it, too; their live shows are something of a thousand-person group hug, a sweaty celebration of the beating of our hearts, even when what beats out turns black and blue. You Forgot It In People's centerpiece, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” is a tear-draining portrayal of the emotional confusion and excitement that comes with growing out of adolescence, a song whose strings and banjos seem to be plucked directly from the sinews of teenaged hearts. This music is the unashamed sound of an overgushing heart, a snowy, smushy, lipstick-smeared and soft-sweatered reverie.
Since releasing 2005's self-titled record, the group has taken something of a hiatus, allowing the individual members to work with their original bands and releasing two “solo” records by BSS figureheads Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning; released under the name Broken Social Scene Presents and consisting entirely of material written by the two singers, both Drew and Canning's records are solid efforts that ultimately go a long way to prove that this wheel spins best when all of its spokes are connected at the hub; without the creative contributions of all of the players, the scene feels a little fractured. Since the release of Canning's Something for Everyone in July, though, Broken Social Scene has reconvened as a group, and subsequent tours have found them leaning heavily on You Forgot it in People and Broken Social Scene.
This is celebration, a fearless exhibition of honesty. And for that, maybe we should live in the broad brush strokes that Broken Social Scene so expertly paint. After all, this sense of being fully alive, of the celebration of what it means to be truly and wonderfully human, is nothing if not an image of what is to come.