When all the numbers add up

Canada's Broken Social Scene finds that when it comes to making their kind of experimental music, the more the merrier

November 02, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

On his one day off from his 20-date tour in the United States, Canadian indie rocker Brendan Canning chills in his hotel room in Pensacola, Fla., relishing TV shows he hadn't seen since childhood. Now, the Broken Social Scene co-founder is watching The Jeffersons on Nick at Night.

"I grew up with this," he says over the phone. "I don't get to see shows like this anymore."

These days, Canning doesn't get to do much outside of making music with his sprawling band, which includes 15 members plus two or three other musician friends, depending on availability. Broken Social Scene, which plays Sonar Lounge on Monday night, is one of the most acclaimed experimental rock bands in Canada. The collective's latest CD, an enthralling self-titled set and BSS' third album, garnered several critical kudos when it hit Stateside stores in October 2005.

"If there's an argument for the collective musical process, let it be Broken Social Scene's third full length," Spin magazine said.

"This self-titled affair delivers handsomely ... the only thing you can do is play the album again in hopes of discovering more of its rich subtleties," wrote Paste magazine.

Canning agrees that the latest album is the band's most accomplished work. "I think this is the exclamation point on what we've done up to this point," says the soft-spoken bassist-singer-songwriter, 37. "We took the innocent idea of musicians friends from Toronto and ran with it. The album was the best representation of the band."

It is surely an arduous task to make a cohesive album that represents the eclectic musical personalities of 15 or more band members. But Canning and his musical partner, BSS' other founder and lead singer Kevin Drew, have a streamlined process for creating songs.

"Not everyone is in on the songwriting process, as it were," Canning says. "It's a bit of a sculpture there before everybody gets involved. We just add what we need but still allow enough room for [the musicians] to have some freedom there."

And the result, as heard on Broken Social Scene, is grand but accessible. Complex musical ideas rush in and out. The individual sounds of some of the band members - the frosty-voiced singer-songwriter Feist, the chamber-pop group Stars, the arty rock group Metric - bubble through the sometimes-dense mix of distorted guitars and frenetic beats.

"We were on the road and making the record at the same time," Canning explains. "So it wasn't a constant band-in-the-studio thing. We have a deep pool of talent."

Though the musical direction is different, Broken Social Scene's loose collective process is reminiscent of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic and hip-hop's Wu Tang Clan.

"With P-Funk or the Wu Tang Clan, you get so many different records in one group," Canning says. "It's kind of the same concept with us. Because everybody else has their own thing going, they can bring something different and fresh to the band."

The looseness keeps things interesting and electric for the Toronto-based Broken Social Scene.

"We want to maintain as much freedom as you can have in the pop world," Canning says. "You don't want to have to squeeze your songs into a radio format. ... We want to keep some integrity in what we do. If we're not enjoying it, you know, what's the point?"

See Broken Social Scene at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St., at 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $25 and are available at Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or going to ticketmaster.com. The band also plays a sold-out show at Washington's 9:30 Club on Tuesday.


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