Published Jul 06, 2017Broken Social Scene were one of the definitive Canadian indie rock bands of the '00s, but following 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record, their activity slowed to a crawl. The many-membered Toronto ensemble took a two-year hiatus, played the odd festival date, and mostly focused on other projects.
"Everyone really needed to get away from each other for a while," co-founder Brendan Canning explains diplomatically. "It's just so easy to take a negative slant, because you're too in it. It just seems so tiresome and bothersome. Some of those early mornings at the airport or losing your passport — all those things kind of seep into you, and before you know it, you're this cynical fuck."
After a few years of low-key activity, Canning explains that the group had to ask themselves a question: "Do you want to become a legacy act where you're coming back and playing the old songs? Or do you want to be a band that's breaking new ground?"
They chose the latter. Canning and fellow founder Kevin Drew gathered the gang for a new album titled Hug of Thunder (out July 7), which features contributions from the full 15-member collective, including veterans Emily Haines and Leslie Feist, plus newer recruits Lisa Lobsinger and Ariel Engle. "It's all of the folks we've been making music with for the past 16, 17 years. No one didn't show up for this one," Canning remarks. "Everyone's back in it for the good times."
The years apart had the desired effect, as the collaborators entered the writing sessions with a renewed appreciation for the group and one another.
"We came together stronger as a band than we did on Forgiveness Rock Record," Canning says. "On a unity level. You hope to galvanize the troops as best you can. You've got all your old friends coming out, and you want them to come in and get excited."
Broken Social Scene sound like their old selves on Hug of Thunder. "Halfway Home" is a towering, climactic rock anthem that's full of group-hollered refrains, while "Stay Happy" blends slinky grooves with ominous blasts of dramatic horns. Feist takes the lead on the stunning title track, a piece of sweetly sighing pop bliss that's both lushly cinematic and tastefully restrained.
Touring for the record has already begun, although it remains difficult to assemble the members, many of whom are also working on their own projects: Feist recently released a solo album, Haines has one on the way, and affiliate bands like Do Make Say Think and Stars have new LPs. For Canning, it feels like the old scene is thriving just like it did 15 years ago.
"Whatever that thing was back in 2002, 2003 when lots of international publications were asking about the 'Canadian sound' — it's a good refresher time," he says. "Let's see how much more we can push this thing, or at least continue it. That's ultimately all you want to be doing."