Now-defunct Toronto band Broken Social Scene’s self-titled album turns 10 this month. The album, their third release, came at a formative time in the lives of three Inverse scribes, so they decided to have a chat about what it all meant.
Sean Hutchinson: It kind of blows my mind that Broken Social Scene is 10 years old, not because thinking about it reminds me of the slow lurch of time marching me closer to my demise, but because it still seems fresh in my mind somehow. It’s a record I still listen to quite a bit. But weirdly enough it’s also a record that specifically defines a place and time for me.
Whenever I listen to particular tracks I can still picture shifting moments of first listening to it in college, but it never makes me become overly nostalgic. I’m never pining for the past when listening to this record. Instead I’m just constantly reminded about how good it still is.
This record formed the types of indie rock that I still listen to today — semi-grandiose yet scrappy rock with thoughtful, melodramatic lyrics. What about you guys, are we the only ones who still listen to this thing or what? When did you first come across this band and record?
Neel Patel: The eponymous record was my introduction to Broken Social Scene. I had never listened to their second album, You Forgot It In People, apart from a few tracks my older brother would blast on the living room stereo here and there, and none of them really stuck with me. “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” was catchy, but too poppy; “Almost Crimes” had moments, but wasn’t loud enough; “Cause = Time” should have cascaded into an overwhelming crash, but never did.
Then I heard “Fire Eye’d Boy” in 2005. I remember a rush coming on the first time I heard that track — the fast snare rolls, the fierce cymbal crashes, what sounded like eight jangly guitars layered over one another. It was nothing I had really heard before.
When I listened to rest of the album, I knew it was special. It felt more abstract than a lot of other indie rock coming out at the time. That album was maybe the closest to a jam rock record my 15-year-old ears had listened to and liked up till then. “It’s All Gonna Break” never seems to know what kind of song it wants to be, so it tries to be all of them, and I love listening to it for that reason.
Every time I play the record, I think about water. Not just because so many of the track titles reference water (“Our Faces Split The Coast In Half,” “Windsurfing Nation,” “7/4 Shoreline”), but because each track feels easy. These aren’t tight songs with a focused structure — they feel more like ideas about sounds and melodies and rhythms that come together, with an ebb and flow that rises and dissipates naturally.
It still sounds great today. Not necessarily fresh, but familiar — like the beach. It’s aged really fucking well.
Yasmin Tayag: I started college in Toronto in the mid-2000s, so it was inevitable that this record would soundtrack my coming of age. The individuals in the band had already made their mark on the city’s music scene: I’d first discovered Emily Haines’ purring in high school, when Metric was still opening for local punk bands. Feist’s ubiquitous Let It Die had already made the big leagues when it was featured on The O.C., and later, Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell of Stars played to a field of dreamy-eyed sophomores at the University of Toronto. I was one of them.
Like Sean, hearing all of those voices together changed the way I’d approach indie rock for the rest of my life. I’d liked You Forgot It In People, but when it was released in 2002, my tastes hadn’t developed enough to fully appreciate the band’s freewheeling, orchestral take on pop (though discovering “Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl” when I was 17 was, like, significant).
By the time the self-titled record was released, I was ready. It was everything I wanted my post-high school self to be — multilayered and riotous, but most of all, optimistic. I loved the record for being essentially an hour-long soundscape painted in major chords.
The cacophony of horns and unstoppable drumming on “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” propelled me through sluggish winter mornings. House parties weren’t parties unless they matched the raucous energy of “Fire-Eyed Boy.” Emily Haines commanding “Gimme more of that beat” on the outro to “Windsurfing Nation” as it transitions into the dreamy “Swimmers” is still ingrained in my mind as the sexiest two seconds in indie rock.
I still listen to this album often, but listening to it does feel like stepping back in time. Putting it on is now a ritual in reminding myself what optimism sounds like.
SH: Actually I would agree with you, Neel. Maybe I just didn’t put it as succinctly as you did. It is familiar, and yet the sound of the record is different from most of the bands coming out of the Canadian music scene at the time, which must have been nuts if you actually lived in Toronto. The big ones to me though are the Montreal contingent of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, who kind of created their own twists on anthemic indie rock. Broken Social Scene are anthemic, but their music is much more complex and malleable than either Arcade Fire or Wolf Parade even at their most spastic.
It’s part of what Yasmin was getting at. There were main people in the band, but primarily Broken Social Scene was this huge all-star team, a collective of contributors from all different bands from around Canada who managed to come together on their self-titled record. I still remember the excitement I had watching them play “7/4 Shoreline” on Conan in 2006. I’ll never forget thinking, “How are all those people crammed on that stage making this much noise but still sounding great?”
The list of “members” on the Wikipedia page is comically long, but each of them contributed small parts of the whole. You’ve obviously got the gorgeousness of Feist and Emily Haines’ vocals, Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew absolutely shredding on guitars, and even the smaller parts like rapper k-os’ verse on “Windsurfing Nation” seem crazy outside of the context. When they kind of pared that aesthetic down on their follow-up release (2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record) I think it didn’t quite have as much force and didn’t stick as much. The big wash of sound was gone and so was the reason to listen.
Broken Social Scene was the first time I had ever listened to the band, and only after devouring this one did I get to the nascent sonic punch that is You Forgot It In People. But I find myself coming back to the self-titled release more. Maybe it is to step back in time, but maybe it’s just because their follow-ups and solo stuff never reached that same bombastic genius. Would you guys agree that this is their best record?
NP: It’s funny that you mention Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade — I’m starting to realize just how much Canada’s music scene influenced my suburban American adolescence.
I definitely think the self-titled album was the band’s best work. And it’s because of what I said before — this album aged so well, better than any of their other albums. I think that’s because it’s harder to pin down. It’s stranger, murkier, and weaves through more kinds of sounds and noises than the other albums did. As I get older, the tracks seem to reflect more of the weird way the world transforms in front of me as I see and experience more of it.
You Forgot It In People could never do that — and sonically, that album lacked the punch of Broken Social Scene. Meanwhile, Forgiveness Rock Record might have been their tightest and most mature work, but it still feels too much like a product of its time. You can’t listen to it without thinking it was something that defined the end of indie rock’s heyday in the noughts.
This was the band at their most ethereal, and I think that quality alone makes it more worth revisiting than the other albums.
YT: The self-titled record is, hands down, the band’s best. Forgiveness Rock Record was a decent follow up, but I remember finding it too clean, too considered. The eponymous album had a rowdiness about it that the artists, individually or collectively, were never able to replicate.
Maybe that energy just dissipated with age. Or perhaps that unpolished sound no longer made sense as the individual artists found commercial success. Or maybe their tastes just changed: Feist somehow became even earthier with Metals, Jason Collett went country on Here’s to Being Here, and Metric just released an album seemingly inspired by CHVRCHES. Nothing was the same.
I wouldn’t say Broken Social Scene is timeless, simply because it was so firmly rooted in such a specific time and place. But it sure is nice to come back to.
SH: The album still resonates with me because it’s so disorderly. Some people would say sloppy, but I’d say it’s haphazard and mean it as a positive. Its randomness perhaps lets the swells and surprises of the tracks mean different things to me at different times, which gives it staying power.
I don’t know if it’s clever or maudlin to mention that the title of the last track, “It’s All Gonna Break,” is a perfect way to describe the record as a whole. It sounds like it’ll fall apart at anytime, and from a young kid discovering indie rock to a guy a decade later still caught up in the music it means a lot all at once. It’s good to know it means the same to other people too.