Admittedly, this newly released project from the popular indie rock/pop group Broken Social Scene, was one of the first times that I really took the time to listen to their material in-depth. That being said, after doing some prior research on the band and its members as well as listening to some of their past work, I started to realize how instrumentally dense and creative they really were. The fact that one of their lead vocalists, Leslie Feist, had a really well-executed solo album earlier this year, made me even more excited for the band’s new record, Hug of Thunder.
When Broken Social Scene makes music, it reminds me of a movie being made with multiple writers. It could turn out great, or the product can fall apart in epic fashion. That’s just how creators Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning operate. When you have so much talent in one place, sometimes a song can be overproduced and over thought. Luckily, that wasn’t the case here.
Hug of Thunder starts off like a cinematic experience with a beautiful build-up to the first official track, “Halfway Home.” With multiple background vocals mixed in with really heavy instrumentals including an acoustic guitar, a base, and an electric guitar, the single luckily never feels like too much. That’s really the case with most of these tunes. Each vocalist adds their own flavor and style in a really cohesive manner.
What I mostly enjoyed about this record was, how well Drew and company were able to tone it back when need be. That’s a daunting task considering all of the musicians they must fit onto just one project. Kudos to them for executing on all cylinders.
“Protest Song” was one of my highlights on this album just because of the outstanding performance from vocalist Emily Haines. There’s a great guitar riff within the track making for a catchy experience all together. The memorable chorus on here helps (“Days don’t end for nights alone”), as well as the harmonious background vocals from Canning himself. The background vocals in general were a nice added touch on each song, as they never felt overstuffed or forced within the record.
Subtly it key, and it seems like Broken Social Scene masters that concept throughout this experience. “Skyline” is a luxurious folk-inspired track riddled with emotion and heavily produced by Drew. Driven by another intoxicating hook, Drew takes his turn as the standout vocalist on here.
If I’m being completely honest though, as much as I enjoy Feist, I really thought that the weaker moments on this record (I’m being picky) was when she sang. The only reason why I would say that is because I felt like she didn’t fit within the overall sound and energy that the rest of the band was bringing to the table. On “Stay Happy” the exhilarating production sounded like it was a tiny bit too much for her. Nonetheless, she’s still a fantastic singer, and even those wobbly moments weren’t all that awful.
I would even say that the title track “Hug of Thunder” wasn’t even that terrible considering how Feist heavily influenced everything on that song including the instrumentation and vocal leads. It definitely sounded like something off of her “Pleasure” record from earlier in the year. The toned back and nocturnal production for sure fit her mold as a singer better here than on “Stay Happy.” It felt like too much of a break from the album’s overall approach though.
As the final half of this project progressed, I noticed how the band has a knack for putting together instruments that on paper may not sound great together, but actually end up meshing together nicely in a very melodic way.
For example, on “Towers and Masons” Drew and Canning incorporate a bass synthesizer and multiple guitar riffs on a song with little lyrics. It’s almost like they’re experimenting as they’re recording the track, and it works out cleanly.
Drew adds another highlight at the final third with “Please Take Me With You,” a beautiful love ballad that has this stunning organ solo in the middle which drives the emotion home. I kind of wish there was a grander ending to the track, but that’s just my creative preference taking over.
The finale to this album leaves an uplifting mark which gives me excitement for what they will do next. “Gonna Get Better” and “Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse” are probably their most socially conscious songs to date, and both tracks give you an interesting outlook on the world we live in today.
After listening to some of their past material, I thought that Broken Social Scene had a ton of potential, but they weren’t really putting the wheels in motion just yet. Finally, on Hug of Thunder, the indie band has refined its sound, and figured out the almost impossible task of linking each member together with dense instrumentation without miserably failing.