At the turn of the 21st Century, few people predicted the overwhelming influence that Canadians would have on music in the coming years. With apologies to The Arcade Fire, indie-rock supergroup Broken Social Scene is the leader of that movement. Composed of a revolving cast of 19 or so members of Toronto's boundary-pushing music community, the collective combines the varied and distinct talents of its members to create epic, otherworldly sounds.
Formed in 1999 by Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, the band saw beginnings that were sparse in terms of personnel and sonics. To infuse the live show with more action and personality, they often invited other Toronto-area musicians and friends to contribute. This list now reads like a who's who of indie rockers: Metric's Emily Haines, Jason Collett, Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman, Leslie Feist, and Stars' Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, among others. These live collaborations eventually became more permanent and collaborative, defining the music that BSS would make over the course of its next two albums, 2003's You Forgot It in People and 2005's Broken Social Scene.
Broken Social Scene's music calls to mind a kind of idealized personal freedom — like the feeling of speeding down a deserted highway with the windows down — even as it harnesses the power of intense and focused collaboration. It's as though the collective nature of the band allows Drew and Canning to access another dimension of pop music that is still from this planet but exists on a plane hidden from view. Ultimately, Broken Social Scene's music amalgamates pop sensibilities with raw emotions and a collaborative spirit that feel honest and inviting.
This team spirit continues on the collective's latest endeavor, the Broken Social Scene Presents series, which so far includes Kevin Drew's first solo album, 2007's Spirit If ...; and Brendan Canning's effort, this year's Something for All of Us. Both albums feature contributions from BSS regulars such as Charles Spearin, Feist, and Millan.
Something also features a new voice, Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell. On the current BSS tour, she's doing double duty: Land of Talk opens and then Powell joins the band onstage, covering some of the vocal parts originated by Haines, Feist, and Millan.
And though fans might be eager for the next proper BSS record, it's clear the group doesn't want to overthink where it's going. "We've never been that calculated as far as what's coming next," Canning says. "It might improve the longevity of the band if we keep ourselves guessing a little bit."
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