The geographical energy-points of rock - the ley-lines of creativity, as it were - are slowly but decisively shifting. Instead of the old reliable locations like Manchester and New York - both recycling former glories with each successive "new" wave - the most interesting music is being made in places like Portland, Oregon, Sheffield and the Montreal/Toronto region that has so far brought us the likes of The Hidden Cameras, Arcade Fire and now Broken Social Scene. It's an inevitable process, really: while bands in the classic "rock towns" fall into step with historical forms, those in more out-of-the-way places have the time and the latitude to develop new sounds and styles.
They can also build on parochial scenes relatively untainted by mainstream pop fashions. Broken Social Scene, for instance, is a Toronto indie collective numbering some 17 musicians, most of whom also play in various other local bands such as Stars, Metric and Do Make Say Think. Working in shifting combinations of anything from five to 10 players here, they make a dense form of indie pop relying on heavily layered sheets of guitars habitually overwhelming the vocals, even when they too are thickly layered.
"I wanted songs that sound like we were drowning while making out," explains Kevin Drew who, with Brendan Canning, is the nucleus of the band. If that suggests a bubbling psychedelic cauldron of sound in the vein of The Flaming Lips or Olivia Tremor Control, so be it; certainly, the ebbs and swells of "Major Label Debut" and the frail vocal straining against the shrilly methodical guitar textures of "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)" recall both those bands, though there's no chance, with such a vast personnel, of the BSS settling into a generic sound or style.
At other points on the album, they can resemble The Shins jamming with New Order ("Fire Eye'd Boy"), My Bloody Valentine in full flow ("Superconnected"), or even, when the horns are blended into the coda of "Handjobs for the Holidays", Arthur Lee's Love at their peak of paranoid euphoria. Then there's the tumbling froth of drums, guitars and quiet horns that resolves into the opening track "Our Faces Split the Coast In Half", which recalls Chicago post-rockers Tortoise.
The unifying factor in all these comparisons, of course, is the emphasis they place on invention over popularity, and that same attitude bubbles unstoppably out of Broken Social Scene too. If it serves to restrict their success, well, they wouldn't be the first pop prophets to labour without honour. It wouldn't alter their achievement, either.
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