Published Jul 05, 2017Being in Broken Social Scene comes with a lot of baggage. For one thing, the Toronto collective have over a dozen members, meaning that any attempt to assemble the full group is a logistical nightmare — particularly when you consider that the lineup consists of in-demand stars like Feist and Metric's Emily Haines. And to make matters even more daunting, the band are responsible for one of the definitive indie rock records of the previous decade — 2002's You Forgot It in People — so any new material is going to be judged to an impossibly high standard.
These challenges are not lost on co-founder Brendan Canning. When he and his BSS bandmates set about making their first album in seven years, the brand new Hug of Thunder (out now on Arts & Crafts), Canning set his sights high.
"It would be great if, five years down the road or ten years down the road, people say, 'Oh man, I can remember where I was the first time I heard Hug of Thunder,'" he tells Exclaim! "You want to continue that kind of thing. The same way people come up and talk to you about your old tunes. You want to reach the youth."
Luckily, his collaborators were all on the same page: all of the key players turned out for Hug of Thunder, which features the same contributors as in the group's heyday (plus more recent additions like singers Ariel Engle and Lisa Lobsinger). "We came together stronger as a band than we did on [2010's] Forgiveness Rock Record," he reflects. "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 and have that energy from [before] the release of You Forgot It in People."
The results sound like classic Broken Social Scene, particularly on grandiose anthems like "Halfway Home" and "Protest Song," which highlight the band's propensity for group-hollered refrains and thundering rock crescendos. There are also some of their signature quiet moments, like the ambient intro "Sol Luna" and the jazzy slow-burner "Please Take Me with You." There's even a hint of a new direction on the Feist-sung title cut, the sighing harmonies of which venture into gorgeous dream pop territory.
"It's going to sound like Broken Social Scene, inevitably," Canning says of the sonic direction. "I was hoping for something that would excite people and excite ourselves. And I think we've travelled some ground we haven't travelled before. At the same time, it's honest to the Broken Social Scene sound, whatever that is. Dramatic, climatic music with big horn blasts and vibe-y tunes. Not necessarily a smash single, but hopefully some solid melodic pieces."
With the album out soon, the group is taking many of its members out on the road. The tour behind the album began in unsettling fashion: the inaugural gig was in Manchester, where they became the first band to play a show following the devastating terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert. "It started out on a strange note in Manchester," Canning reflects sombrely. "Life continues and the show must go on, but that's how we started things."
Despite the harrowing beginning to the tour, Canning remains positive about the future of Broken Social Scene. With any luck, their next album won't take nearly as long to arrive as the seven years that led up to Hug of Thunder.
"We're sitting on a bunch of tunes that didn't make this cut," Canning reflects, adding that these unused tracks will most likely be scrapped in favour of even newer material. "We're really hoping to release something in 2018, so if we're really diligent and somehow catch the right wave, we might be able to do it."
Pre-order Hug of Thunder on clear vinyl via Umusic. (Arts & Crafts)