Hug Of Thun­der

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Cana­dian col­lec­tive re­turn with en­gag­ing, com­fort­ing sixth. By Ja­son An­der­son

THE ini­tially strik­ing thing about Bro­ken So­cial Scene’s first re­lease in seven years is that its ti­tle might have suited any of the four al­bums that pre­ceded it, see­ing as the Cana­dian col­lec­tive may be one of the most warmly com­fort­ing bands of our time. Ini­tially formed as a duo by Kevin Drew and Brendan Can­ning in Toronto at the end of the 1990s, Bro­ken So­cial Scene soon grew into a un­wieldy gag­gle of pals, col­lab­o­ra­tors and ex- and cur­rent ro­man­tic part­ners, all of whom have come and gone de­pend­ing on the de­mands of their other mu­si­cal com­mit­ments – solo ones in the case of Les­lie Feist and Ja­son Col­lett, bands for the var­i­ous mem­bers of Met­ric, Stars, Do Make Say Think and many more. Live shows have rarely fea­tured less than 10 mem­bers, some­times more than 20, not in­clud­ing the guest stars. Play­ing Manch­ester’s Al­bert Hall the day af­ter the bomb­ing on May 22 this year, they were joined by Johnny Marr for a poignant per­for­mance of “An­thems For A 17-Year-Old Girl” from 2002’s You For­got It In Peo­ple.

As you’d ex­pect, there’s a lot of touchyfeely to­geth­er­ness among the many play­ers who some­how squeeze onto th­ese stages. But lis­ten­ers be­come part of it too, such that on a good night – when the per­for­mance cli­maxes with a joy­ful clam­our of group vo­cal har­monies and a wall of gui­tars – it can all feel like one long, un­fea­si­bly large group hug.

The spirit of warmth and in­clu­sive­ness the band ex­udes seems more valu­able as the years have passed, es­pe­cially as it be­comes clearer how the things meant to con­nect peo­ple may iso­late them in­stead. “All along we’re gonna feel some numb­ness,” sings Feist in Hug Of Thun­der’s ti­tle track, a mov­ing yet suitably thun­der­ous ef­fort to rec­on­cile the huge­ness of the world we per­ceive in child­hood with the nar­row­ness we may feel at later stages. “Cer­tain times in our lives come to take up more space than oth­ers,” she of­fers as con­so­la­tion. “And time’s gon’ take it’s time.” A sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment sur­faces in “Gonna Get Bet­ter”, which uses an epiphanic swirl of technopop tex­tures and smeary gui­tars and horns to sup­port the semi-hope­ful no­tion that “things’ll get bet­ter ’cos they can’t get worse”.

The so­lace we re­ceive from each other’s com­pany serves as both the cen­tral theme and modus operandi for Hug Of Thun­der, which fol­lows yet an­other lengthy hia­tus for the band. They only played four shows in six years, but some­how the gang re­con­vened last sum­mer at a stu­dio a few hours away from Toronto, with Drew and Can­ning ac­com­pa­nied by the Scene’s other three core mem­bers – Charles Spearin, Justin Peroff and An­drew White­man – and a dozen more friends, plus pro­duc­ers Joe Chic­carelli and Nyles Spencer.

The re­sult con­tains some of the most ex­u­ber­ant and im­me­di­ately en­gag­ing mu­sic they’ve ever recorded. Whereas its two pre­de­ces­sors – 2005’s Bro­ken So­cial Scene and 2010’s For­give­ness Rock Record – suf­fered from a sur­plus of ideas and some­times com­pet­ing im­per­a­tives, Hug Of Thun­der sees the band main­tain a stead­ier fo­cus and surer foot­ing across 12 songs that may be the prod­uct of many hands but seem born of a shared vi­sion. Ar­riv­ing af­ter the pre­lude of “Sol Luna” – a call­back to the serene synth sound­scapes of the project’s ear­li­est record­ings – “Half­way Home” is the first of the LP’s many in­stant an­thems. It’s also an­other strong re­asser­tion of Bro­ken So­cial Scene’s equally fer­vent en­thu­si­asms for in­die-rock fuzz and ma­jor-key melod­i­cism – “Protest Song” and “Stay Happy” are two more that fit neatly in the band’s sweet spot be­tween Abbey Road and Di­nosaur Jr’s Bug.

Other songs are fu­elled by a greater sense of ur­gency, of mak­ing the most of a mo­ment that al­ways passes too swiftly. A cryptic but still pointed cri­tique of the false selves and empty de­sires fos­tered by so­cial-me­dia ad­dic­tion, “Van­ity Pail Kids” is driven by its pound­ing rhythm and men­ac­ing blasts of brass. There are shades here of Ar­cade Fire, peers from Mon­treal who cer­tainly ben­e­fited from the ter­rain that Bro­ken So­cial Scene helped fer­tilise for Cana­dian in­die hope­fuls at the start of the cen­tury.

It cul­mi­nates – as it so often does for Bro­ken So­cial Scene – with a crescendo of al­most over­whelm­ing in­ten­sity and then a gen­tler dé­noue­ment. Hug Of Thun­der’s closer “Mouth Guards Of The Apoc­a­lypse” swells and surges with its ex­pres­sions of rage and dis­con­tent (“Our heroes are dicks, we don’t pay to pro­tect them”). But be­neath the squall and ran­cour lies the sim­pler, pos­si­bly naïve hope that we might treat each other a lit­tle bet­ter. As Drew sings through a haze of dis­tor­tion, “If you can’t help me, then help some­one like me.” If a hug would make a dif­fer­ence, he’d be quick to pro­vide one. In any case, he and his friends have re­turned with mu­sic that feels just as com­fort­ing and nec­es­sary.

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