Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record

RIYL: Arcade Fire, Secret Machines, and the 80 other bands that can be linked to Broken Social Scene

My promo copy of Forgiveness Rock Record doesn’t have linear notes, so I can’t list who is in this incarnation of Broken Social Scene. I read claims that over 30 musicians make appearance on the record, which sounds about right. What are they all doing? Heck if I know. There’s a horn section, a few different kinds of keyboards, a multitude of string instruments, and a ton of other stuff. If someone told me that Broken Social Scene had a dedicated triangle player at this point I would believe them. The don’t sound “big” per se; I would reserve that descriptor for prog rock or bombastic groups like Muse. They sound “large.” So much so that it might be time for a diet.

This is a very good record, but sometimes it feels like it’s good in spite of itself. It’s great that Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning were able to gather damn near everyone in the Toronto area to record a record, but after a while the songs almost get lost in all the chaos. “Chase Scene” starts off as a quirky upbeat number with a great retro synth sound, but by the time it’s over the multitude of strings, backing vocals and pounding drums that nearly all sense of melody is lost. I bet it sounds amazing live, but its a bit much within the confines of a CD.

Maybe it’s for the best though, because slower, quiet tracks like “Highway Slipper Jam” are dull and lifeless. Other songs are just too damn goofy, but it’s hard to hold that against a group who had a song called “Handjobs for the Holidays” on their previous album. Still, that number sounds downright serious next to “Me and My Hand,” a somber ballad that is seemingly a love song about self-love. It’s not as funny as you might think. And the lyrics to “Texico Bitches,” which repeat that horrible title ad nauseum, are so brain-damagingly stupid that they pretty much ruin the song. Inversely, the entirely instrumental “Meet Me in the Basement” is by far the best song on the album, and is one of the few cases where their glorious over-production works perfectly, peaking in a climax of horns, strings, drums most likely every other instrument the group was able to rent that afternoon

Despite the magnificent highs that the album occasionally reaches, this is Broken Social Scene’s most uneven collection to date. Maybe its time that Canning and Drew limit the number of their friends that they’ll allow in this collective and instead work on collecting some memorable melodies. (Arts & Crafts 2010)

Broken Social Scene MySpace Page


April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Songs for a Sinking Ship

RIYL: KT Tunstall, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Liza Minnelli

Sometimes great singers try a bit too hard to prove that they’re great. April Smith is not one of those singers. The arrangements on her latest and most impressive album Songs for a Sinking Ship fit her sultry voice like a glove and her songwriting is both playful and intellectual. April Smith is clearly capable of controlling the whole circus when it comes to vocal acrobatics but possesses the restraint to allow each song to shine as bright as her ability.

After numerous listens, I’ve yet to find a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. A standout track on Songs for a Sinking Ship is “Wow and Flutter” which combines semi-dark theatrics with a refrain that could have found a home on a Ratt record. Odd, I know, but it totally works. Additionally, the closer “Stop Wondering” is easily the most delightful “fuck you” to a former lover ever recorded.


Aside from her glowing talent behind the mic and the pen, she’s clearly figured out the business side of things as well. She used and her ever-growing fan base (acquired from near constant touring over the past few years) to fund this release. We always hear stories of bands collecting cash online to fund their latest projects but many of those bands were once privileged enough to receive that initial “major label” push. April did it her way from the start and we can only hope that in the years to come she will be recognized as the fearless trailblazer that she is.

There are no gimmicks on Songs for a Sinking Ship. Only great writing and performing which is a very welcome change of pace from your typical release. You’re going to want to sing along with April Smith but you had better stretch out before attempting it or you will most certainly hurt yourself. (Little Roscoe 2010)

April Smith and The Great Picture Show | Official Website
Click to buy Songs for a Sinking Ship from Amazon


Lyle Lovett: Natural Forces

RIYL: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen

In a world where multi-tasking has become the norm, credit Lyle Lovett with stirring up his musical mantra and effortlessly veering from genre to genre while avoiding the stigma of being typecast by any one style in particular. Once categorized solely as a country singer due to his heart-worn sensibilities, Lovett’s allowed big band, pop, gospel and blues to find equal fits in his repertoire, to the point where his current live shows and recent spate of LPs make equal allowance for all.


Natural Forces proves no exception, but while the big band and western swing elements secure their place in the mix (especially as illuminated by the two disparate versions of the saucy put-down titled “Pantry”), resilient ballads and aching laments dominate the proceedings with a focus on tender emotions. Opening the album with the rugged title track, Lovett conveys a weary cowboy narrative with a humbled but determined point of view. The traditional country hoedown “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel,” the rollickingly autobiographical “It’s Rock and Roll,” and a vampish “Bohemia” provide his customary levity, yet the clouds part only momentarily. “Bayou Song,” “Don’t You Feel It Too” and “Sun and Moon and Stars” find Lovett crooning from a wounded perspective, one that pleas for redemption and perseverance. “The blues just keep coming and drying out your eyes / And don’t you think I feel it too,” he moans, making the hurt seem almost palpable.

Ably assisted by his usual cast of veteran collaborators – drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Dean Parks, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, and pianist Matt Rollings, among them – Lovett offers up another example of why he remains among the most knowing contemporary crossover artists of our generation. Flawlessly instinctive, Lovett steers Natural Forces as effortlessly as the title implies. (Lost Highway 2009)

Lyle Lovett MySpace page


Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: How Big Can You Get? A Tribute to Cab Calloway

You’ve got to give Big Bad Voodoo Daddy credit for having enough chutzpah to dedicate an entire album to the repertoire of a legend like Cab Calloway – and for tracking the whole thing live on vintage gear – but it’s a well-known musical maxim that you needn’t bother cutting a cover unless you’ve got something new to add, and that goes double for someone whose songs have been bought, sold, covered, and compiled as often as Calloway’s. As a result, How Big Can You Get? is about as thoroughly inessential as you can get – it’s impeccably performed, and adds a dash of modern production sparkle to a stack of well-worn tunes that includes “Jumpin’ Jive” and “Minnie the Moocher,” but it lacks the heat and spice of the original recordings, and anyway, there’s no reason to spend money on relatively faithful interpretations of Calloway’s songs when plenty of compilations and reissues are available for a minimal investment. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy remains as likable as ever on these recordings, even if lead singer Scotty Morris doesn’t do himself any favors by encouraging comparisons to Calloway, and fans of the band should be consistently entertained. As a gateway to Calloway’s world, however, it’s not worth opening. (Vanguard 2009)

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy MySpace page