Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Old Dead Young: B-Sides & Rarities

[Arts & Crafts; 2022]

And so I think about it: Broken Social Scene are kind of an ageless band. Okay, maybe not ageless like a band strung on unsentimentally reinventing themselves with each record. Maybe it’s more the inverse of that: a bunch of gifted goofballs making inventiveness seem almost complacent. Two decades after the stratospheric You Forgot It In People, it’s as if founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning can’t help but create towering indie rock anthems rife with graceful left turns and zealous, sound barrier-shattering takeoffs

A typical Broken Social Scene track progresses much like their tried-and-true creative dynamic: a vast range of aural eurekas democratically coalescing, shapeshifting, and exploding/imploding. This communal-driven hierarchy felt a bit like a novelty back in the 00s when the garage rock revival recalled more traditional notions of ‘the rock lifestyle’, for lack of a better word. But today, a band operating as a proxy-family feels more fashionable than ever with outfits such as Crack Cloud or Black Country, New Road prowling the stages. Even if you’re riding pine one night, you could score 40 the next. A Broken Social Scene record is always a curious paradox: a tour de force of sprawling, ambitious art-rock that somehow feels conceived by winging the fuck out of it.

Perhaps unintentionally, Broken Social Scene’s new compilation Old Dead Young: B-Sides & Rarities strikes as more than just a random assembly of curiosities. The meteoric noise crunch of “Do The 95” is every bit as infectious as its A-side companion “Stars And Sons”, breaking apart prematurely into a bog of jazzy inflections and spiraling dub ripples. This track evokes that feeling of getting a little too far ahead of yourself on a dash, getting winded, and taking a deep breath to gather yourself anew. “Curse Your Fail” – featuring Death From Above’s Sebastien Grainger – sounds like it came from the same jam as Forgiveness Rock Record’s “Ungrateful Little Father”. The opening notes really tick off an essential Broken Social Scene box: how ad hoc they can elevate from ‘improvisational dicking around’ to fully-formed pop sublimity before your brain can even catch up.

Other highlights on Old Dead Young include a woozy, hot-blooded rendition of Apostle Of Hustle’s “National Anthem Of Nowhere”, whereas “Stars And Spit” entails exactly what it sounds like: a drunken fornication between “Stars And Sons” and “Lover’s Spit”. These silly odd cuts give us a nice little glimpse into the Broken Social Scene workshop: how certain tracks could have easily been morphed into a wacky new direction if the circumstances had dictated it.

“Golden Facelift” is guided by the giddy, impulsive energy of a dog chasing a frisbee down the ravine, accelerating and simmering down with volatile tension. Alternately, the luminous “This House Is On Fire” paints a scene of fiery skies over a seaside view, the kind of song that could have been transformed into one of those early My Morning Jacket alt-country gems. Broken Social Scene, though, have this impeccable knack for blending genres within their own offbeat sensibility, obscuring influences that may otherwise seem too on-the-nose.

In light of the Canadians’ slightly disappointing ‘comeback album’ Hug Of Thunder, it’s nice to once again hear the production values that make their music so immediately satisfying to listen to. The noisy hiss of the drums on “Canada Vs. America” juxtaposes with the widescreen arrangements to create a sense of space; as if the music is perpetually on the verge of collapse while recklessly reaching for new pinnacles. Live favorite “Death Cock”, the very first recording Broken Social Scene did with in-house studio wizard Dave Newfeld, ambles between post-rock, ambient jazz, noise, and soft pop with an obtuse frenzy.

I reckon rummaging through recordings spanning over two decades can trigger mixed feelings. There are those righteous jolts of ‘why you do this’ vs. ‘aw-shucks’ recollections of boyish irreverence. It suits Broken Social Scene – in their glorious amorphousness and blithe insistence to let things unfold organically – to settle for a certain ambiguity within those sparks of joy. On the spry, supercharged “Old Dead Young”, Kevin Drew simply cuts to the chase: “This is what I know.” Indeed, Broken Social Scene may have grown old, but they’re still out there doing some shit. And we like it all that way.