Music

Album Review

Rumbles of anxiety in Broken Social Scene’s ‘Thunder’

Broken Social Scene shown performing in Pasadena, Calif., in June.

Rich Fury/Getty Images

Broken Social Scene shown performing in Pasadena, Calif., in June.

Somewhere between a band and a concept, the Canadian group Broken Social Scene has persisted both grandly and modestly since 1999. It’s grand in sound and personnel, with 15 participants on its new album, “Hug of Thunder”; it’s modest in constructing its music collectively, even though it’s packed with individualistic songwriters.

Something particularly Canadian — hearty, thoughtful, knotty, communal — unites bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, and the New Pornographers. On the surface, in these bands, the music’s crescendos usually signal euphoria. But “Hug of Thunder,” the band’s first album since 2010, holds a growing disquiet.

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“Halfway Home,” a salvo of hyperactive guitar strumming and celebratory major chords, turns out not to be a happy homecoming but the thoughts of a fugitive, who’s telling himself, “If you never run, never run/How they going to catch you alive?” Sumptuous layers of guitars, synthesizers and voices carry “Skyline,” but it, too, ends in foreboding: “Skyline waits for the fall.”

Most of the songs on “Hug of Thunder” feature Kevin Drew, who started Broken Social Scene with Brendan Canning. But there are also lyrics (and lead vocals) from Canning, from Feist, from Emily Haines of Metric, and from the group’s latest recruit, Ariel Engle.

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“Hug of Thunder,” the album’s title song and one of its standouts, features lyrics and lead vocals by Feist, ruminating on memory and mortality. The verses mostly cling to one note over a nervous drum-machine pulse, but eventually a pealing chorus arrives, though it’s still more ambivalent than its melody suggests: “All along we’re gonna feel some numbness/Oxymoron of our lives,” a multiplied Feist sings in harmony.

Broken Social Scene’s music rejoices in what clever teamwork can construct. “Stay Happy,” with lyrics and lead vocals by Engle, evolves all the way through, from a wordless, airy, seemingly tentative introduction into bustling orchestral pop. “Protest Song,” with Haines upfront, braids together an elaborate stereo counterpoint of guitars, voices, and syncopated beats, then gallops into a big shared chorus.

But that chorus notes, “You’re just the latest in a long list of lost loves.” As the album unfolds, the thrills of creativity collide with a recognition of destruction and collapse; tempos slow, and the mood darkens. Drew sings “Please Take Me With You” almost furtively, as if he were looking over his shoulder, desperate to escape some crackdown: “Nobody’s speaking/
Everyone’s getting caught.”

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