Thunder Buddies (Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder review)

Every once and a while, we all need a hug. Especially when it gets weird and dark.

 

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

released July 7, 2017
********* 9/10

Broken Social Scene are a Canadian indie rock band (yay for Canadian content!) formed by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. Sometimes they have six members, and sometimes they have nineteen band members, because above all, Broken Social Scene are a musical super group of popular Canadian indie rock acts and solo artists…

Metric (Emily Haines, James Shaw), Feist (Leslie Feist), Stars (Amy Millan, Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley), Apostle of Hustle (Andrew Whiteman), Do Make Say Think (Ohad Benchetrit, Julie Penner, Charles Spearin), KC Accidental (Kevin Drew), Valley of the Giants (Brendan Canning), Land of Talk (Elizabeth Powell), Raising the Fawn (John Crossingham), Reverie Sound Revue (Lisa Lobsinger), Treble Charger (Bill Priddle), Jason Tait, Justin Peroff, Jason Collett, Ariel Engle and a few other people have all featured at one time or another.

Altogether, they have released a whopping five studio length albums since their inception in 2001, which I think is pretty admirable given that all of these artists are in at least one other full-time band.

Despite misgivings that no band can be this big and still sound like the individual artists within, BSS manages to do just that. Sometimes they are chaotic and experimental, other times they are orchestral, sometimes they are sad and introspective, and still other times they are celebratory, but they are never timid in their presentation. Hug of Thunder is no weak sauce either.

This isn’t your Spider-Man album, no pulled punches people, please.

BSS spend most of the album letting us know that they are counter-culture, and by that, I mean that they refuse to share dream pop tracks and emotionally abuse people on the internet. This is a community of people shouting the importance of community, when most of us are screaming about politics into our phones. It resonates with the hipster nihilism we started to experience in the early 2000s, the stuff that took root in popular culture and grew into a field of bullshit weeds.

Ideas of love, community, sexuality, and honest to goodness rock and roll seem to have been completely forgotten about in recent years, but BSS refuse to give up on us ingrates. They’ll elevate us up, despite the incredible effort it takes to produce tracks like Gonna Get Better, tittle track Hug of Thunder, and Vanity Pail Kids.

I’m not gonna lie, this album deserved better than the world it’s been brought up in. Our celebrations of libertarianism are so common now that it’s tough to stomach the idea of pulling together and getting along, but Please Take Me With You and Skyline insist, almost plainly that we do. Though never quietly.

But here’s the catch, while you can consume this album in parts and pieces, it’s actually best viewed as a whole. Recognizing that a stable of musicians reunited after a seven year hiatus in order to combat against global indifference is a far stronger statement than Protest Song can deliver all on it’s own. Broken Social Scene have come together to release a pragmatic optimism, and that is probably the best antidote we could receive. Unabashed positivity isn’t realistic in 2017, but stating that the world is ending is foolish too.

We need to keep up the fight and keep working, vigilant without naivety. A challenge to be sure, but I wouldn’t have the message delivered any other way.

Pros: Halfway Home, Gonna Get Better and Protest Song are all excellent demonstrations of the gentle-hearted politics of this album, Hug of Thunder being a personal favourite.

Cons: At certain intersections the lack of a frontwoman or frontman is difficult to digest, and leaves the album feeling disjointed, like a compilation or a soundtrack, rather than an album. But this rare.

Runtime: 52 minutes

Points of Interest: In March of 2017, Broken Social Scene made an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, featuring past members Emily Haines, James Shaw, Amy Millan, and Evan Cranley, indicating we would see the a return to form. Ariel Engle is a new member of the band, and she has worked with Andrew Whiteman on AroarA previously, which is how she was introduced to the rest of the troupe.

The best and worst parts of Broken Social Scene come from their ability to work together as a group, and in taking it a bit safer with this record, those aspects become more apparent. This is still an excellent record, but not perfect because the exploration isn’t quite where it has been previously. Their message is amazing though, which makes up for a lot of that safety net.

theories Summarized

To put it in brief, this is an anthem for a new generation of apathy. The WIIFM (what’s in it for me) drone need not apply themselves in this case, because Broken Social Scene are all about that open concept of love, empathy and pulling together as a greater community. I’ve not much else to say, except that you really should listen to this album. And those are all of my theories on the matter.

Tim!

The Final Deviation (The Tragically Hip, Man Machine Poem review)

I remember when I first really heard about The Tragically Hip. I was in my first year of high school (2003), sitting in Social Studies 10 reading about the Canadian government, it’s culture, and the landscape of the country. There was a section dedicated to famous Canadian culturemakers and The Tragically Hip were cited as one of the most famous rock bands out of the Great White North.

Sure I had heard songs of theirs before, but I didn’t really know their music. I probably should have though. With my love of different musical formats, and enjoying musicians which evolved over time, The Tragically Hip were accomplished trend setters.

The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
released June 17, 2016
******** 8/10

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The Tragically Hip, sometimes simply known as The Hip, are a Canadian rock band, consisting of lead singer Gord Downie, guitarist Paul Langlois, guitarist Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, and drummer Johnny Fay. They have released thirteen studio albums and two live albums. Nine of their albums have reached No. 1 in Canada, they have fourteen Juno Awards, and they have also received an assortment of Canadian Music awards over the years.

I wrote about this detail once already, last week during my review of Gord Downie’s newest solo album, Secret Path, but this is likely the last studio album that The Tragically Hip will ever release. Following Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer last year, the band toured heavily across Canada to promote Man Machine Poem, with their final stop taking place in Kingston, the band’s hometown. The event was broadcast globally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on TV, internet, and radio as a media special, for approximately eleven million people.

Though it has been confirmed a few times and in a few ways, just as other reviewers have mentioned previously, this album was recorded BEFORE Gord Downie received his terminal diagnosis. So we shouldn’t try to read anything into it’s content, and instead take it at face value.

This is a solid record.

It isn’t perfect though. It’s not the best The Tragically Hip album I’ve ever heard, nor is it in the upper echelon of rock records. But it IS really entertaining, inventive, and full of a darkness which kind of permeates throughout the album. And as much as I hate to say it, sometimes they sound like Radiohead, especially on opener Man and closer Machine, and well, also on Ocean Next. It was co-produced by Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) and Dave Hamelin (The Stills), and this is an experimental album that makes simultaneously draws you in and forces you to sit on the sidelines. So much of what we hear is straight up exploration from a band that has been playing together for over thirty years.

Tired as Fuck reminds me of classic Hip, but also definitely has a Broken Social Scene taste on its lips – Here in the Dark and Hot Mic are arena rock with no aftertaste. To top it off, In Sarnia and What Blue definitely have that pop and blues aesthetic which have given Gord Downie his pensive and romantic credibility for the past few decades.

It’s interesting, because it’s not fully experimental, nor is it completely a middle-of-the-road Tragically Hip rock and roll experience. And I think that’s a good thing. If we got a completely inventive album, many fans would struggle to connect with it, but if it was solely rock then it would feel stale. Instead, this album is fully, completely it’s own hybrid.

This album, like the entire back catalogue of The Tragically Hip, is not a send off of the band as they are, but a snapshot of a moment.

 

 

 

It was over fifteen years ago that I first heard about The Tragically Hip. They were already almost twenty years a band at that point. But they weren’t popular music like the indie and hip hop I was absorbing at the time, and so I wrote them off.

I shouldn’t have done this to myself, and now I have to live with the knowledge that I could’ve been enjoying The Hip for years. Do yourself a favour, listen to this record, and then start backtracking through their discography. It’ll be worth it. Yes, it could be a just a theory, but 30 million Canadian can’t be wrong, right?

Tim!

Flower Powers (Brendan Canning, Home Wrecking Years review)

Have you ever jumped into a pile of leaves dear readers? Fallen into a snow drift? Tumbled into a pool? Slipped in the mud?

Yeah I have too. Nature has a surprising amount of built in padding for both kids and adults alike. And yet we never seem to take advantage of it – Especially in summer. Consider this idea for a second… What if you were to dive into a bed of flowers?

I bet it would feel a lot like this album.

 

 

 

Brendan Canning – Home Wrecking Years
released August 12, 2016
******** 8/10

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Brendan Canning has been making indie music for a long time – 24 years to be exact. I know this because the year that he became active is the same year that my baby brother was born. Which in music years, means he is old as fuck. Just kidding Brendan! Anyway, Canning is a co-founder of Arts & Crafts sweeties Broken Social Scene, yay for Canadian content! Canning has also been a part of such acts as Blurtonia, By Divine Right, hHead, Len, and Vally of the Giants.

Yeah that Len, the Len that performed Steal My Sunshine.

But this isn’t a group record, it’s a one man show. Speaking of which, Canning has now made three solo albums, the most recent being Home Wrecking Years.

It is immediately accessible and feels like an album you should listen to on vinyl with some incense, hummus, and your most breezy shirt. You shouldn’t expect anything less than a comfortable and heartwarming experience with this record. That is, if you’re familiar with Broken Social Scene’s experimental, shoegazing, and noise infused sounds. Because most of the guest spots feature regular BSS members Sam Goldberg and Justin Peroff

It’s not quite as epic in scale of course; But that combination of guitars, horns, woodwinds, and string instruments is definitely there for you get a good feeling about.

Now, I could spend time picking apart each individual track and tell you the strengths and weaknesses found on the songs contained within this album, but to be perfectly honest, that’s not the way that I ultimately took this album in. I listened to it in my car throughout the week, on the way to work, on the way home, going to see friends, onto a date, taking my brother to the medi-centre, basically just out living life. I tried to set it down and pay really close attention to it, I swear, but it never felt right to do so.

As I mentioned already, this is music you put on to feel good about yourself and your unfolding story.

It’s a weird thing, as much experimentation as Canning puts us through in his shoegazing efforts, that’s okay. It’s allowed. We have music so many kinds of music out there on the market, it’s nice when an artist pulls back some of his cords and unplugs. And that’s what Home Wrecking Years is a raw and simple record, which is experimental for this artist. Ever heard the expression, hiding in plain sight? Yeah, pretty much that’s what this is. A great album, hiding in plain sight.

 

 

 

People get so concerned about stopping to smell the flowers, that they never think to dive right in. But I bet you that if you did take that chance, you’d find Brendan Canning just hanging out in your neighbours flowerbed, hiding in plain sight. A notion of summer well remembered.

I’m out of musical theories for now my friends, but you should check back tomorrow, when I share a movie review about another natural occurrence.

Tim!