Harboring as many as 19 people in its fold, the veteran Canadian ensemble Broken Social Scene is one of those loosely organized “collectives” that the indie rock scene has often favored. But on its first album in five years, Forgiveness Rock Record, set for release next month, the group was prepared to act more like a stripped-down (for them) six-man band, largely because of difficulties getting everyone together to record. And so the six prime movers–led by co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning–did the writing and arranging; but in the end, go figure, pretty much everyone showed up after all, including Amy Millan and Evan Cranley from Stars, Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw from Metric, Leslie Feist, and some 15 others. It just can’t be a BSS record without a crowd.
“World Sick” is the album’s lengthy opening track, an almost seven-minute composition with the big bashy sound of an anthem, the unhurried development of a prog-rock opus, and an itchy-echoey ambiance that stitches its ambitions together. The band is guitar-heavy (four of the core six are guitarists) but uses its instrument of choice judiciously. What we get is nothing like the muddy, canceling-out effect of those silly rock-celebrity gatherings when they bring nine guitarists on stage to celebrate someone’s birthday and you can’t hear any of them. Here, it’s all about dynamics, about presenting an effective spectrum of sounds from soft to loud, from individual notes to chords, from melodic lines to crashing walls of noise. And while I’m normally not too keen on long instrumental outros, I don’t mind this one, both for its subtle interplay of guitar and rhythm and nature sounds and for the thematic statement it makes in the context of its somewhat inscrutable but obviously world-weary lyrics.