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All together now!

Bibek Bhattacharya     March 16, 2008

What’s the future of rock’n’roll? That’s an old question, and it remains a vital one because there are no definite answers. In this issue, we put the spotlight on two Canadian bands (or collectives), which seem to provide an interesting answer: community.

Broken social scene

In the best traditions of American folk culture, with the Torontobased Broken Social Scene, it is often difficult to differentiate between the life of this band, and that of its music. At any given time since its inception in 2000, BSS has consisted of between 11 and 20 members in an ever-shifting musical entity. The band has its roots in the great alternative music boom of the ’90s, when little-known bands with uncompromising vision came out of various cities on the continent—from Seattle and Chicago to Toronto—and dominated the charts like no other time. Founder-members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning were veterans of the independent scene, and watching it crumble to commercial pressures, they formed this freeflowing indie-rock collective. Over the years, many notable musicians have passed through the line-up, adding their unique talents to the sounds of BSS—in both vocal duties and instrumental cameos. And there have been an even greater number of bands who’ve grown out of this band—such as Amy Millan and Evan Cranley of the retro-’80s pop band Stars or Emily Haines and James Shaw of the punky Metric. While a band like Stars formed in New York in 2001, the members soon moved to Montreal to be close to the burgeoning indie scene, spearheaded by BSS. Millan is perhaps best known for her vocals on Anthems for a Seventeen

Year Old Girl on BSS’s sophomore album You Forgot It in People. While Millan and other stars like Leslie Feist— singer of such stellar BSS tracks as Almost Crimes—are now best known for their own projects, at heart, they remain members of BSS. Feist, of course, is currently basking in the immense popularity of her third album The Reminder. Along with all the artistes making up BSS, the band itself has grown immeasurably through the years. The music changes with every new incarnation of the band. Thus, you have one version of the band, which put out its debut album Feel Good Lost, an assortment of instrumental tracks; and another, which produced the songwriting-driven You Forgot It in People, which also won the Juno award for best Alternative Music Album. And yet, as de facto leader Kevin Drew likes saying, it’s life. The present incarnation of the band includes some 20 members, many of whom are now stars in their own right. In the Canadian music scene today, most roads seem to lead to Broken Social Scene.

The Playlist
Broken Social Scene

You Forgot it In People (2002); Broken Social Scene (2005)
Stars: Set Yourself on Fire (2005)
Feist: The Reminder (2007)
Metric: Live It Out (2006)
Jason Collett: Idols of Exile (2006)

The new pornographers

If Broken Social Scene is the Grateful Dead of the Canadian scene, then The New Pornographers are its Led Zeppelin. These guys are a bona fide supergroup, though leader A.C. Newman is often at pains to deny that. His own band Zumpano was a popular pop/rock outfit in the ’90s, focussing on strong songwriting and production. After it folded in the late ’90s, Newman decided to form The New Pornographers with the help of such star musicians as Dan Bejar of the Destroyers (formed in 1996), vocalist Neko Case, filmmaker Blaine Thurier and other luminaries of the Canadian scene. Although not as much of a family project as Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers could lay claim to a body of stellar albums and singles, which are greater than the sum of their parts. Playing together whenever they’re not touring or recording with their own acts, the members of the Pornographers, especially songwriters-in-chief Newman and Bejar, astonish with the quality of materials they continue to put out. While their debut album Mass Romantic (2000) enjoyed immense critical acclaim and chart success, it was only with their third album Twin Cinema (2005) that the band really came into its own. What undoubtedly separates them from other bands is the quality of the songs—Newman’s hard rocking Twin Cinema and moody These Are the Fables or Bejar’s quirky, idiosyncratic (and hook-laden) songs like Broken Breads and Myriad Harbour. All the albums by the band are at par with the members’ side projects as well. While Destroyer’s Rubies are full of experiments with psychedelia and ‘70s-style glam rock, singer Neko Case draws on old American country traditions and follows the music of legendary fellow Canadians The Band in acclaimed albums like last year’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.

The Playlist
The New Pornographers
Mass Romantic (2000); Twin Cinema (2005); Challengers (2007)
Goin’ Through Changes (1996)
Destroyer: Streethawk: A Seduction (2001); This Night (2002); Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)
Neko case: The Virginian (1997); Blacklisted (2002); Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2007)

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