Broken Social Scene
t’s not easy to be a young indie rock fan in 2004. Last year was odd for me, musically—a year where all my naïve presuppositions about pop music were questioned by a new wave of rock criticism encouraging an open-minded view of pop music and a perspective that suggested that indie rock was not the be-all end-all of great music. Naturally, they were right—and by the end of the year I found myself putting Jay-Z and T.A.T.U. on my year-end mixes instead of Stephen Malkmus and Yo La Tengo, and instead of checking out the indie station on internet radio, turning on the TV to see what was on MTV these days. Even the underground music I listened to started feeling the influence of these new perceptions, and artists like The Rapture and Dizzee Rascal topped my year-end album lists instead of Radiohead and The White Stripes.
In fact, the one band keeping me in check with my indie rock roots was Broken Social Scene. These were the guys and girls who made me believe: whose live show got me believing in the possibilities of live music, whose unearthing got me believing in the discovery of music and whose album got me believing in the greatness of indie rock once again. Was it so different from the rest of the pack in 2003? Strictly speaking, no—although the album was diverse enough to cover almost the whole year of music, there wasn’t much they hadn’t done that someone else wasn’t doing. But no one made indie music sparkle, shimmer and shine so brightly—something else no one seemed to be too concerned with last year.
And so while I tear my hair out waiting for the follow-up, we have Beehives—a collection of b-sides and loose ends recorded around the era of You Forgot it in People. You don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t one of the five or so albums of its kind in history to actually be as great as its companion album—five being a generous number. What you might want me to tell you, however, is whether or not it’s enough to tide such a fan over until that next one drops. And truth be told, I think it is.
Those looking for the instant gratification of the first side of YFIIP—the “Almost Crimes”s, the “KC Accidental”s, the “Anthem”s—will be grossly disappointed. This is a collection for those of us who dug the album’s second side—meandering, experimental, but ultimately just as urgent and just as rewarding. In fact, two of the highlights of the second side, “Cause=Time” and “Lovers’ Spit”, get reworkings here, although the latter far more explicitly than the former. So while, like the second side of YFIIP, the album is not flawless, it does have its own loose charm to it.
Beehives is only nine tracks long—eight really, discounting the half-minute intro—and of those, only three songs are vocal-oriented. So, for the rest, here’s hoping that you liked tracks like “Shampoo Suicide” and “Late 90s Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries”, because Beehievs is mostly instrumental, near ambient fare. Sometimes that turns out badly—the bland near-muzak of “Weddings” and the more interesting but still unmemorable (and appropriately titled) “Ambulance for the Ambiance.” However, it’s not all so dire—“Hallmarks” has some genuine hooks to it, and with some more involved drum work from brilliant BSS drummer Kevin Drew, it could’ve been a successor to “Pacific Theme.” And even better is “Da Da Dada”—a truly gorgeous three-part near- symphony that builds on the instrumental breakdown in YFIIP’s “Almost Crimes” and ends up sounding like something that could be on the next Dntel album.
But what about the three vocal tracks? Well, the re-working of “Lovers’ Spit” starts off promisingly with just a piano and vocalist Leslie Fiest, a haunting removal of the outer layers of one of YFIIP’s best songs, leaving only the grand theatrics at the song’s center. But as the song kicks in, with guitar, bass and drum, you kind of wonder what the point was and wish they had left it as it began. But the other two tracks—totally independent of People—are simply fabulous. “Market Fresh” is a breeze of fresh air, as hushed as Sufjan Stevens and crystallized with the final “I’m frozen” refrain. It’s beautiful, but the real stunner on Beehives is “Backyards”—another epic track featuring Emily Haines of “Anthems For a 17 Year-Old Girl” fame. The song is a jaw-dropping fusion of folk, 60s pop, and neo-shoegaze, all tied together with the sense of grandeur that blesses so much of Broken Social Scene’s best work. Ultimately, it’s a song that can stand up to just about anything on You Forgot it in People.
So far, it looks like 2004 isn’t going to be too much different from 2003—three months into the year, and my favorite singles are from Twista and Britney Spears, while albums from Modest Mouse and The Beta Band look to disappoint. But I thank the folk down at Arts & Crafts for sending me down this collection to restore my faith in indie rock, as once again, Broken Social Scene have me believing.