Broken Social Scene builds steadily on ‘Let’s Try the After (Vol. 1)’
Matthew Kellenberg | Thursday, February 28, 2019
“The Pitchfork Effect”: When a Pitchfork review, typically given on a debut or early album, appreciably alters the trajectory of a given artist. Examples include Arcade Fire (“Funeral”: 9.7/10), Bon Iver (“For Emma, Forever Ago”: 8.1/10), Travis Morrison (“Travistan”: 0.0/10). The same can be said for the indie-pop/rock project Broken Social Scene. Its 2003 debut, “You Forgot It In People,” received a 9.2/10 from Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber. (“‘You Forgot It In People,’” Schreiber raved, “explodes with song after song of endlessly replayable, perfect pop.”) In the 15 years since that review, Broken Social Scene has capitalized on its early acclaim with a string of quintessential indie records. Now, on its new “Let’s Try the After (Vol. 1),” the band embraces its successes while continuing to advance its legacy.
Broken Social Scene manifests its artistic confidence from the start of the record with back-to-back instrument tracks. On the album opener, “The Sweet Sea,” the band blends synths, horns and seaside field recordings into a brief yet immersive soundscape. Subsequently, on “Remember Me Young,” the band takes the listener on an endless climb of synths and background vocals. The song’s tension-building progressions evoke “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” off Broken Social Scene’s debut album. Yet, “Remember Me Young” feels more magnificent and less twee than that early hit — what 15 years tend to do to an indie band.
“Boyfriends,” the first track on the record with lyrics, jumps straight into an unforgiving survey of the modern man. “They say they’re gonna love you to the end of time,” frontman Kevin Drew begins the song. “But they’re not; no they’re not.” The song tackles such issues as mansplaining, emotional manipulation and commitment anxiety. And present too is the ambiguity of Drew’s (or the narrator’s) sexuality, something the singer-songwriter has not publicly discussed. Yet, for this dense content matter, the song ably preserves Broken Social Scene’s typical minimalism.
On the fourth track, “1972,” the band revisits the placid soundscape of “The Sweet Sea.” Its mood is beachy and nostalgic, yet sweepingly morose. And singer Emily Haines’ poignant vocals have a singular presence on “1972.” The song’s content matter, however, feels rather derivative. How could lines such as “blinking in the bright light with you” and “It’s OK, got the cemetery gold” not be torn straight from a Smiths songbook? Nevertheless, “1972” is catchy, if uninventive.
Finally, “All I Want Is You” closes out the record with another tension-building progression. The song’s instrumentation is less engaging than that on “Remember Me Young,” and its lyrics are less clever than those on “Boyfriends.” However, given its place on the record, “All I Want” feels exceedingly purposeful. “Let’s Try the After (Vol. 1)” is but the first record in a forthcoming volume, and “All I Want Is You” beckons toward that undecided future. Its thematic focus on longing complements listeners’ own desires for closure on this project. This makes for the song’s perfectly dissatisfactory ending: “All I / All I / All I want / All I want is you.”
Artist: Broken Social Scene
Album: “Let’s Try the After (Vol. 1)”
Label: Arts & Crafts
Favorite Tracks: “Boyfriends,” “Remember Me Young”
If you like: Wolf Parade, Grizzly Bear, Feist
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5