Amidst a flood of bands sporting a collective, all-for-one sound, Broken Social Scene has prevailed with its own definitive aesthetic, one that doesn’t shy away from the gaggle-effect but does its best to avoid superfluous binging. Though a little more fat-trimming and cohesive focus would have served this collection well, the group’s third full-length develops its sound while including every available neighbor who has a triangle or voice to lend to the music – and to the index-like album credits.
The set starts off with what sounds like a high school band during warm-ups, until it’s interrupted by a dizzied drum-and-bass beat, changing again into something better placed on a Japanese lounge-music compilation. “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” is really the album’s proper introduction, with some seriously bent notes reminiscent of Built to Spill’s bleeding guitar work. But instead of spacing out a la Doug Martsch, the song turns into an anthemic rocker replete with horns, drums and group singing galore.
By the time you get to “Windsurfing Nation” your attention span will be a bit drained from sorting through all of the layers of music, but listen up. The song does flounce about for a bit like a drunken coed with her collar upturned at an M.I.A. show, but unlike that coed, the song actually develops into something worthwhile, with Feist doing her best sexy Karen O shrill over an intensely danceable beat.
But the gem of the record is “Hotel.” Borrowing from Arts & Crafts labelmates American Analog Set, Broken Social Scene goes smooth, but cuts open the ambiance with panicked vocals and a jazzy tempo that can’t hide from another influence: Radiohead’s Kid A. Though the two tracks preceding the album’s finale almost spoil the momentum, “It’s All Gonna Break” turns out to be quite the grand finish, and even at nine-plus minutes it doesn’t feel long-winded. There are certain songs that define what a group does best, and this is one of them.
The record’s overwhelming scale cuts both ways. There are so many artists, voices and instruments begging to be heard that trimming is as much an injustice to the collective nature of the group as leaving in the excess is to the final product. There are three or four songs that could have easily been axed, but when being gratuitous is your greatest asset, it can be hard to tell the necessary from the overkill. Maybe that strange mood that permeates the album is the ominous feel of a swan song. Or maybe it’s simply another step in the ascent of a band with the potential to achieve something great.