Much like Florence + the Machine in Britain, Broken Social Scene remain purveyors of bombastic maximalism in an era of popular music more often characterized by restraint. This is a big band with a correspondingly big sound, and on Hug of Thunder, the band wastes no time in roaring back from a six-year hiatus.
Some bands, like The National, use their albums to cast a sustained mood; others take a more scattershot approach because they’re able to do a number of things well without the album spinning apart.
Broken Social Scene’s music has always been the latter. There’s kitchen sink quality to it. Far from being a tight concept record, their albums are more like a party of friends.
As a “musical collective” rather than a band, it’s no surprise to see 18 names listed in the credits. A rotating cast of lead vocalists always makes listening to their albums in sequence an unpredictable and fun experience. Interestingly, this album formed part of a wave of 2017 releases by early-2000’s indie royalty (Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, etc).
This album didn’t have to be this good. A beloved touring act, the band could have put out something mediocre then hit the road for a triumphant string of live dates that leaned heavily on the gems of the past. But they’ve turned in a really strong effort, and deserve to be lauded for it.
After a brief intro, the album kicks off with “Halfway Home,” the album’s lead single and a sweeping, grand song that makes full use of gang vocals on the chorus. (There’s a certain catharsis that can only be achieved by joining many voices together.)
My favourite track might be what’s next: “Protest Song,” with lead vocals by Metric’s Emily Haines. It features the great alliterative kiss-off, “You’re just the latest in the long list of loves.”
Then we’re straight into “Skyline,” which I knew was a Kevin Drew song as soon as I heard it. His characteristic breeziness is front and centre. The title track is also fantastic, with lead vocals by Leslie Feist and bouncy, catchy, vaguely electronic drum machine beat. Then also the gorgeous horns on “Victim Lover.”
The final track, “Old Dead Young,” is a rousing farewell that, like Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go,” starts off at 11 and goes even higher. It’s pretty fun to hear this song take off.
One of my pet peeves is when summery or wintry albums are released at the wrong time of year. This album was also perfectly timed, coming out in mid-June, just as we’re in need of a good summer album. These are propulsive, happy songs in a year that was often depressing. As such, the band deserves applause for (at least temporarily) lifting us out of our misery. This album is a reminder that sometimes, it’s good to tune out the news and just go outside or go for a drive.
I should mention that if you get the chance, it’s really worth picking up this album on vinyl, as even the standard pressing comes with a lot of beautiful original artwork courtesy of the band’s talented and hyperactive drummer, Justin Peroff, who also painted the album’s cover.