Monday, July 10, 2017

Broken Social Scene - Hug Of Thunder Review

In times of need, artists tend to become more vocal. Their torchbearers for those tormented, victimized, or just plain disappointed in the current social climate. Much like the intended goal of politicians representing citizens of their district, state, or country, the endgame of artists reflecting society's ill-will is to unite in acknowledgement of turmoil and unify with hope in mind. Broken Social Scene's Hug Of Thunder is a textbook example of this. Gone from the public eye on indefinite hiatus, the Canadian mega-band that upheld the traditions of mid-2000's Indie Rock returns for their first album in seven years. As declared by Kevin Drew, a prominent member of the group, Hug Of Thunder is a direct result of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, an event that left much of Broken Social Scene deflated, hopeless, and sequestered. There's something to be said of the cause and effect relationship of good and evil; one causes the other causes the other. Travesty inspires hope, happiness inspires cruelty. Yes, Hug Of Thunder gets caught in that natural formula, but it's tough to shake the impact of distant friends re-unifying for a common objective, one that's triumphant both musically and emotionally.

If modern day Indie musicians have taught us anything, it's that grasping for relevance with political statements in times of upheaval rarely results in first-rate work. Typically cheeky, devoid of musical expression, and clearly phoned-in, the attention grabs when tragedies engulf a population are, more often than not, in poor taste. With Hug Of Thunder, the state of being is no different. But rather than release one song for a cause before returning to isolation, Broken Social Scene gathered the scattered scraps in disarray following 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record and composed a fully-fleshed out return LP, one that's as loud, anthemic, and rowdy as any of their previous works. If anything, the lack of political centrism on earlier efforts like You Forgot It In People feels like missed opportunities for a production style that's greatest asset is climactic unity. Thankfully, the lyrical content never feels overwrought in the moment, choosing instead to dispense all-purveying notions of distress, hope, and transcendence. This'll help Hug Of Thunder longterm, as tragedy won't be stopping soon, and desperate cuts of overcoming the odds, like 'Protest Song' or 'Stay Happy,' can, will, and should be applied to future events as well as present ones.

Believe it or not, the most specific song here is likely the instrumental opener. 'Sol Luna' acts as a final eulogy for those lost, giving remembrance before the band braves the fight and unleashes the lead single 'Halfway Home' in a blistery fervor. Without a moment's notice, the dozen or so members clash in harmony, not unlike a Polyphonic Spree uplifter. There's periodic aggression found elsewhere on the record, doting the landscape whenever the weariness or sympathy grows too strong. 'Vanity Pail Kids' wastes no time with this, initializing with a swath of throbbing guitars, drums, and synths, somewhat reminiscent of Arcade Fire's Neon Bible era. Then there's the album's finale, 'Mouth Guards Of The Apocalypse,' a strangely arranged song that bids its time before discharging venomously strained vocals akin to an emotionally-venting Post-Rock track. These moments work as benchmarks for the more nestled, ambivalent cuts, allowing for a full range of emotion, from testosterone-fueled rage to timid affection, to gleam throughout the 53 minutes. Fortunately, the range not only pays off in regards to diversity, but overall quality as well. Only 'Skyline,' which finds an uncomfortable balance between Rock, Folk, and Country, and 'Victim Lover,' which is too tedious to warrant the five-minute duration, become forgettable.

Whether a coincidence or not, many of my favorite tracks on Hug Of Thunder feature lead female vocals. Maybe the vulnerability displayed through their weeps, something that comes through clearer for females than males, accents the towering melting pot that is the soundscapes better. 'Hug Of Thunder' is a wonderful example of this, with a magnificent performance by Feist that finds uneasiness in moments matched only by confidence in others. A rare case of the verses being just as catchy and memorable as the hook, something that excels in its own right. Then there's 'Protest Song,' which, apart from the language centered around revolution, feels plucked directly from Broken Social Scene's self-titled; namely '7/4 (Shoreline).' What may be the weakest of these tracks, 'Stay Happy,' still succeeds due to this forced smile the singer wears, causing quite the contradiction with the problems ensuing around the world. Interestingly enough, the production bears resemblance to Art Pop minimalist Son Lux, who also happens to craft over-arching cultural response tracks for a future generation. Hug Of Thunder's maximalism may counteract that comparison, but it makes the unification that much stronger, as the constant background vocals and instrumentation never weakens, stalls, or cowers.

There is one more female-led track though, and that's 'Gonna Get Better,' a Dream Pop affair that sifts through the air with a mystified aroma. What works musically doesn't lyrically, in what's easily the one weak spot on Hug Of Thunder. 'Gonna Get Better's' prominent theme is that of empty hope; "things are getting better, cause they can't get worse" the hook wearily cries out. Problem being, that's sheer delusion. Things can get worse, and the proper way to show growth as a race would be to acknowledge that and make attempts to better ourselves. Showing blind faith may boost the creditability of Broken Social Scene's fear, but that, in turn, counters much of what Hug Of Thunder stands for. That unity can only go so far when, deep down, you're subconsciously scared of the future because you don't have an answer today. But that's only one track out of 12; 'Gonna Get Better' can be forgiven. Plus, it's an irresistible cut musically. Along with the inspirational resurgence on 'Mouth Guards,' Hug Of Thunder ends on a strong lyrical note, and continues to parade its strong musical one as well. A definite improvement over Forgiveness Rock Record, Broken Social Scene's return proves that politics and music can be harmonious, as long as it's genuine from the start.

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