Free and legal MP3: Broken Social Scene (involving single from veteran Canadian collective)

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.

“World Sick” – Broken Social Scene

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.

Forgiveness Rock Record is due out next month on the Toronto-based Arts & Crafts label. MP3 via Magnet Magazine

Free and legal MP3: Annuals(exuberant, complex, compelling)

“Loxtep” – Annuals

Fingertips veterans from Raleigh, Annuals have been featured three previous times over the past four years and somehow are still only in their early 20s. I promise at some point to stop pointing out how young they are. But geez, just listen to the conviction with which they render their exuberant, unusually structured, complex yet relentlessly attractive 21st-century rock’n’roll. I need to keep noting their relative youth because otherwise you’d never know.

“Loxtep” is another shot of Annuals adrenaline, and if it again features a characteristic shift in dynamics, note how this pliable sextet continues to explore different ways to affect that shift. This time, it’s not a straightforward matter of going from soft to loud, or slow to fast; instead, when the band crosses the dynamic borderline, at 1:08 (and can’t you sense it coming, as it gets closer?), the tempo does not increase, and while the volume does to an extent, the song isn’t as much louder after the change as deeper, and more intense. Basically, the rhythm section has kicked in, both drum and bass adding bottom to the mix that wasn’t there before (the most significant percussion we heard in the first minute was, charmingly enough, castanets). But at the same time, strange stuff is happening, such as that funky-sounding synth joining in (1:21) apparently for the fun of it.

I won’t begin to try to untangle further “Loxtep”‘s structure–which features among other things a series of musical reconfigurations of previously heard motifs–except to point out how, at around 3:05, the song manages to turn something that wasn’t the chorus (namely, the lyrical phrase beginning with “lying around”) into a sort of second, de facto chorus. Here’s a band that is truly reimagining what a pop song can be even as you can still sing and dance along. “Loxtep” is from Sweet Sister, a five-song EP the band will release next month on Banter Records. MP3 via Banter.

Free and legal MP3: Los Campesinos! (large-scale, dynamic indie rock)

“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” – Los Campesinos!

Like the rare actor who can pull off comedy and drama with equal aplomb (I’m looking at you, Meryl Streep), the Cardiff septet Los Campesinos! herein announce that they are capable of steering their large-scale, unfettered, exclamation-pointed sound in the direction of serious fare just as knowingly as they have engaged in good-natured mayhem (see “You! Me! Dancing!,” This Week’s Finds, February 2007).

In both cases they utilize the full dynamic range of music–soft to loud, uncluttered to cluttered, solo vocals and gang singing–and an inventive sense of drama and production. This time around the band produces an almost industrial racket in service of the somber, subtly seafaring mood, and yet it’s also somewhere within that noisier-than-you-realize ambiance (check out that odd, squawking sound that punctuates the rhythm at the outset of the second verse, for instance) that something redemptive emerges. Sad, but redemptive. Maybe. The lyrics seem to have to do with the singer trying to make sense of a troubled woman he probably loves. The song isn’t fun but it’s powerful, and all but demands repeated listens for full effect.

“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” is a song from the band’s forthcoming CD, We Are Beautiful, We Are Damned, set for an October release on Witchita Recordings.