Thursday, April 2, 2009

Album of the Week: Broken Social Scene- Broken Social Scene

I've never been an audiophile. I can detect when something has too little or too much bass, things like that, but I've never gotten into spending the money on expensive headphones or stereo equipment. In fact, the majority of the time I'm either listening to music on my sub-$100 Crosley all-in-one record player/CD player/radio or on my laptop's built-in speakers. Not exactly ideal audio quality but I don't feel like I'm missing much. Still, I've gotten really into beer over the last year or so and can see the appeal of extra cost and care. I much prefer splurging on imports and micro/specialty brews to mainstream stuff, taking the time to savor them out of beer glasses and specially designed mugs/goblets/whatever. So I understand the desire to take the time and money to enjoy something more than most do or can; it's just that I don't think having thousand dollar speakers/headphones is going to make good music any better. It may make it clearer or sound richer, but not better.

I do, however, agree with the notion that some music is best appreciated with headphones on. I'll grant that a lot of music seems better when it's pumped directly into your ears instead of cutting a path through the air and acoustics of wherever you are, but I think we all know what I'm talking about: the sort of densely produced, layered studio masterpieces that only reveal their true character when listened to with headphones. Just as beers and wines only open up their full aromas and flavors when poured into the proper receptacles, headphone albums only bloom when you can patiently separate the sounds out and consciously enjoy the various things at work. For a good example think of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew. It is an incredible album no matter how you listen to it, but I only am able to grasp all of its density and layered chaos when I take a seat, recline, close my eyes, perhaps enjoy a good beer, and concentrate.

Broken Social Scene's third, self titled album received mixed reviews upon its release, but I have to wonder how many of those were because the critics didn't give it a chance with headphones. Broken Social Scene is a dense, swampy, borderline psychedelic miasma of sounds. Listening to it now on my laptop, everything seems to smash together into a pile. I still love it this way. It's a fine mess, but it's not the same as the headphone experience.

As You Forgot It In People was one of those huge indie rock milestones of this decade, anything Broken Social Scene released afterward would probably be a let down. That the follow up ended up being a more experimental release, concerned as much with a totality of sound and production as it was songs and hooks, this meant that most listeners would give it a few spins, decide it wasn't as good as the last one, and move on. I always go for the 'weirder, less immediate follow-ups to a highly successful albums' kind of thing, so I love this album. It feels even more wild eyed, collaborative, joyous, and wide-reaching than their breakthrough. Assuming you get the version that comes with the EP, To Be You And Me, you can see what might have been if they had hued closer to the more immediate sound of You Forgot It In People: compare that 'Major Label Debut' (subtitled 'Fast Version') to the album version. The latter is a patient sidewinder of a song, undulating around in an expanse of sound. The 'Fast Version' is all energy and vivacity, a propellant drum beat keeping things going. I like the album version better, true, but I do have the 'Fast Version' on an exercise mixtape. Anyway, I'm glad they both exist.

Actually, I think everyone is simply mixed up about Broken Social Scene. I've yet to get to their post-rock/ambient debut or dig too deeply into the two 'solo' albums from this camp, but I think if you listened to their main two albums back to back you'll see that they're more alike than different. You Forgot It In People has just as many instrumentals and experimental bits as Broken Social Scene has interesting, intelligent indie rock/pop. The latter may be more densely produced and have less traditional song structures, may not be as perfectly paced and compact, but it's still just as good and worth a purchase. Just remember the headphones. And beer.

No comments: