From the obscure depths of Toronto’s unbroken experimental scene leaps Broken Social Scene into our hearts and into critics’ beds. While the first Broken Social Scene record, Feel Good Lost, was an ambient side project from two members of Toronto-based KC Accidental, You Forgot It In People is a rag-tag mix of pop songs written by a slew of collaborators who are more accustomed to space rock and arty freak-outs.
Still, when you get a group of excellent musicians together (there were 11 at last count, including Charles Spearin from Do Say May Think, Evan Cranley from Stars, Emily Haines from Metric, among others, and main members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew) to try a pop record, what comes out is indeed divine. Behind the drab packaging lies art in the form of pop music as you always hoped for – effortlessly catchy and hypnotizing but uncompromising.
I’m not sure when the rule for making pop music became just taking away all the layers and making them as simple as possible. But when you suck off that saccharine outer layer there’s nothing left but bland mushiness, dumb words from ninth grade and a melody repeated ad nauseum. You Forgot It In People doesn’t follow that formula, but instead builds layers part by beautiful part, like oil and water and molasses and that bittersweet Canadian maple syrup, so that each song is as complex as anything else that comes out of Toronto.
The band retains its instrumental roots — the record begins with an ethereal little synth piece and many of its tracks begin with ambient piano tinks, and there are a couple of instrumentals buried in there — but its pop chops are well honed. “KC Accidental” serves as a testament. Incredible swells of drums and guitars erupt from the ether, culminating in a stunning rush reminiscent of Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s frantic guitar buildups, and break off into an airy tune punctuated by violins before exploding again. “Stars and Sons” sounds like whispering in your ear with gossamer feedback and some of the best clapping used in a non-ironic situation, with a coda reminiscent of New Order’s “Temptation.”
The downside is that the album is rather top heavy and the second half doesn’t achieve the heights of originality heard in the first. It seems Broken Social Scene just decided to end the album with a series of tributes to other bands. “Cause = Time” is catchy and cathartic, but reeks of Dinosaur Jr. If “KC Accidental” had that little nod to GYBE!, then “Shampoo Suicide” sounds almost exactly like something from Lift Yr Skinny Fists. “Lover’s Spit” summons Jeff Buckley.
You Forgot It In People was released in October 2002, but was impossible to find until recently, now that Broken Social Scene has won a Juno award, signed a distribution deal with Mercury records, premiered its video for “Stars and Sons” on MTV, had two of their songs played on Queer as Folk, and has been written about in scores of publications. Be not bitter: Broken Social Scene is one of the elite few bands, or collectives, that fully deserves the critical fellatio they are getting. While You Forgot It In People is not a perfect record, the moments of pop exhilaration within make it one of the most listenable and endlessly re-playable records this year.