Broken Social Scene make a triumphant return with Hug of Thunder

Broken Social Scene - Hug of ThunderBack in 2001, some Canadian band called Broken Social Scene put out a strange record called Feel Good Lost. A mostly instrumental affair that meanders through the sonic landscapes of post-rock and ambient Feel Good Lost isn’t great, though it shows promise. Their career would soon take a radical turn, mostly because 2002's breakthrough You Forgot It In People is a pop record. Weird, a bit schizophrenic and with an indie rock feel to it but, at its core, a pop album. From the twee, starry-eyed candour of “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” to the epic “Almost Crimes” and “KC Accidental”, their second LP soon became a cultural landmark. It’s possibly also one of the most influential albums of the century – remember a little record called Funeral? It turns out Arcade Fire took their cue from You Forgot It In People.

It also turns out that Broken Social Scene weren’t an actual band, but a sort of collective that has now brought more than 25 musicians together. As would be expected from such a large and varied group of artists, they’ve altered their sound from record to record, though it’s true that they’ve always been faithful to a series of aesthetic bases. Led by Kevin Drew, they put out three impressive albums in a row, ending with the massively underrated Forgiveness Rock Record from 2010. Some people felt the album was too overblown; others just became tired of their shtick. Maybe part of their audience wanted them to strip things down and go heartland rock, like Arcade Fire kind of did the same year with The Suburbs. For whatever reason, Forgiveness Rock Record didn’t make the same lasting impression as its two predecessors.  Soon after touring the album, Broken Social Scene went on hiatus and spent seven years without releasing any new music.

After reuniting for a couple of tours, Broken Social Scene is back with their fifth studio album Hug of Thunder. Their sound has mellowed out as they’ve got older, and perhaps it’s for the best. Not that their past albums didn’t have slow tunes in them (as a matter of fact, some of their best songs are quite downtempo), but they seem to have purposefully erased every trace of the band that wrote “Chase Scene” or “Meet Me in the Basement”. Those old habits sparingly come up to the surface here, but it doesn’t really work for them most of the time. The chorus of first single “Halfway Home” is lackluster and Coldplay-ish, while the forced flamboyance of “Vanity Pail Kids” gets boring after a couple of minutes - kudos to them for fusing post-punk rhythms with horn arrangements, though.



Other than that, Hug of Thunder is pretty much untouchable. The fighting guitar riffs in the verses of “Protest Song” are almost as perfect as its tongue-in-cheek hook: “We're just the latest in the longest rank and file list / Ever to exist in the history of the protest song” sings the fantastic Emily Haines in the chorus. Kevin Drew takes over the beautifully adorned “Skyline”, one of the few occasions when their investment in big-sounding arrangements does pay off. But the true highlight here is “Stay Happy”, which is basically an Amber Coffman-era Dirty Projectors song. New member Ariel Engle sings this one, delivering the album’s best performance - her voice and that off-kilter riff they throw in during the verses are completely killer. Engle also appears in “Gonna Get Better”, a five-minute jam that makes up for its lack of focus with an endearing vocal performance.

If you were thinking that there’s not enough Kevin Drew on this album, don’t worry - his presence is definitely felt in the latter half. The slow burner “Please Take Me With You” is as emotionally poignant as it gets, with Drew’s voice quietly lamenting his loneliness over a lovely bassline and surprisingly frenetic drum patterns (so pretty much like when Bloc Party were actually good). He also sings lead in album closer “Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse”, which successfully returns to the classic quiet-loud dynamics that they mastered in songs like “7/4 (Shoreline)”. Hug of Thunder is a triumphant return for a band that has been dearly missed, an album that bears comparison with their best work without having to pander to their old audience. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another seven years to hear from them.

Release: 7th July 2017, City Slang


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