Dear You: Listen to Purity Ring

If you are one of the lofty intellectual types who descended to comment on Justin’s completely serious, 100% objective analysis of Owl City’s All Things Bright and Beautiful, then I come bearing an exciting message from the future— Purity Ring is the music you will listen to when you are all grown up, in your work-a-day life as an astronaut princess (after you have discovered that The Postal Service Exists, for Fuck’s Sake, and possibly after coming off a marathon bender with The Knife).

For clarity’s sake, I mean to compliment Purity Ring. For further clarity’s sake, listening to Owl City makes me want to hunt and kill men for sport. Why continue to pick on poor Mr. Young? Because Owl City is, honest-to-dog, one of the first things I thought about when I listened to Shrines, the debut album from Montreal duo Purity Ring— In fact, every plucky youngster with a copy of GarageBand and Give Up on his MacBook should sit up and take some fucking notes, because Ladies and Gentlemen, this is how you do your uplifting synth-pop correctly.

Observe: Non-Spotify link here.

It’s like hearing the voice of a child ghost roll and stutter over a jumble of half-dreamed nursery rhymes, and for all of singer Megan James’ talk of split bodies and torn out hearts, it’s unexpectedly uplifting. The album’s lyrical focus is on the body— ripping open interiors, bearing hearts and other organs, flushing out the nooks and crannies. Without James’ nearly pre-adolescent voice, none of this would work half as well. In “Fineshrine,” James sings  “Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you.” It’s easy to imagine a line like that issuing from the mouth of say, Ben Gibbard or Karin Dreijer Andersson, but it would be somber and sad from the former, and downright creepy from the latter. Here, it comes off as a warm invitation. (Side note. There’s a two-word genre description floating around on certain websites that I promised myself I wouldn’t use when talking about Purity Ring— hint: it rhymes with “kitsch mouse“— but when you literally rhyme the word “boil” with “toil” in a song, it’s hard not to give a just a little credence to the meaningless-genre-mongers.)

With Corin Roddick’s instrumentals, you get all the electronic hand-claps and snaps of an Usher slow jam, but with the added bonuses of Knife-like vocal screwiness (making James’ voice alternate between little girl and GLaDOS) and red light / green light rap tempos. Some of this might be a bit repetitive if Shrines didn’t clock out after a just-right 38 minutes (though a few songs have me doing the same double-take I do whenever I hear Cake: “wait a minute, are there noisemakers, trumpet, and John McCrea saying ‘yeah’ in every song?“). In fact, “Lofticries” aside, the few weaker tracks (two, by my count) on this album are the ones that push past the 4-minute mark. Speaking of weaker tracks, whoever the hell the guy I’m not bothering to look up whose guest vocals show up on “Grandloves,” go the hell away and never come back please, you’re fucking up the magic.

If you are not convinced after this, perhaps Purity Ring is not for you. Non-murgle-blurgle here.

That’s fine. Imaginative, fantastic pop from the Astral Plane  isn’t for everyone. Just go listen to the new Future of the Left, it’s probably more your speed. What’s that, you don’t like Future of the Left?

I think it’s time for you to go.

-Zac

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The Future of the Left, Pitchfork, and Fair Fights

Well, first there was this, which I found a little disappointing and a lot unsurprising. But then there was this, which is everything Andy Falkous says it is in the pre-script (“lame, self-serving, and immature”) but is also spot-fucking-on and hilarious.

What we’re talking about today, if you have not been able to guess, is the best album of 2012 so far (and probably the whole year): The Plot Against Common Sense, by one of my favorite current bands, Future of the Left. There’s not much for me to say about the album itself; I was predisposed to love it and, true to form, I love it. I love it more every time I hear it. I love it on a level somewhat approaching my affection for London Calling and if you’ve read this blog at all over the last four years, you know I do not make that statement lightly (an odd aside: a classmate of mine at the School of Social Work once opined that it was “boring” to say that London Calling is your favorite album. At the time, I didn’t know what to say to that because London Calling is genuinely my favorite album. I kinda get where he was coming from – there are like five or six records that people always say are their favorite and that can get tedious. But if saying London Calling is my favorite album is boring, I’m boring. I never claimed to be otherwise).

So rather than repeating myself by counting the ways in which I love The Plot Against Common Sense or the Future of the Left in general, I thought I’d spend some time discussing Ian Cohen’s Pitchfork review, which I found kind of fascinating. I wholeheartedly disagree with Cohen about this album (and most albums) but, hard as this is to admit, I can muster a little empathy for the guy. Like Cohen, I vomit my opinion about music onto the internet, which can sometimes provoke a barrage of mean-spirited and often misspelled comments. It’s the price of doing business (a business for which Cohen is paid and I am not, a fact which somewhat mitigates my sympathy for that particular devil) and it’s fine, but it can get a little exhausting because it only rarely happens that several people provide you feedback because they also loved a record that you love. And by “only rarely,” I mean “never.”

But Cohen, apart from misunderstanding the meanings of several Future of the Left songs (point of needless pride: I had thought since first hearing it that “Polymers are Forever” was about oceanic pollution and, according to Mr. Falkous, I was generally correct in thinking so. Yay me), made a couple of statements in his review that I would have found funny if they weren’t so irritating. First, there is the assertion that Andy Falkous is engaging in “unfair fights” against various targets. Setting aside the fact that it is totally fair (and necessary) to take aim at Trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late for the Riots”), I’m curious as to why Ian Cohen thinks Falkous should pick fair fights.

There is a brilliant instructor at Portland State University who, leading a workshop on anti-oppressive practice (that’s “AOP” to those of us in the all-powerful social work/industrial complex), pointed out that many young students, when they start to learn about ways to combat oppression and injustice, approach these issues with a hammer when they should be using tweezers. I wrote this down at the time because I recognize my own tendency to use a hammer when I should be more subtle, but I took the note like so: “When doing AOP, don’t use a hammer when you should use tweezers. When writing punk songs, by all means, use the fucking hammer!” Now, I’m not entirely sure Andy Falkous and his bandmates view themselves as a punk band, but it is my humble opinion that they embody that spirit better than pretty much every other band going right now (if you suggest to me, dear readers, that Blink-182 is a punk band, I will find you. And I will hurt you).

The point here is that Andy Falkous has no business picking fair fights, much less a duty. Hell, “Common People” isn’t fair and it was, according to the corporate-slick writers at Pitchfork, the second-best song of the 1990s (they were wrong about that, by the way: “Common People,” for my money, is far and away the best song of the 1990s). And, just like Future of the Left, I don’t want Pulp to be “fair.” I want them to use a hammer while I’m out there doing my job with the fucking tweezers! Jarvis Cocker, dog bless him, is still being wonderfully unfair and if he ever stops, I’ll probably stop listening to him. But it’s not like Future of the Left was all that fair prior to The Plot Against Common Sense. How fair is the suggestion that we “reimagine God as just a mental illness” (“The Hope That House Built,” from Travels with Myself and Another)? How fair is “Fuck the Countryside Alliance” from Curses? If you want “fair” songs, listen to John Mayer or Jack Johnson or any of those other hack white guys who can write you a thousand songs about how everything is going to be all right. But don’t bring your concept of fairness to my Future of the Left albums; I like them just the way they are.

The second thing Cohen did to piss me off was start a sentence with the following assertion: “It’s a shame Falkous is playing to the cheap seats on The Plot Against Common Sense.” Fuck you, Ian! Not everyone gets the VIP access at Coachella, you classist dickhole. Some of us can only afford the cheap seats (and, more often, many of us can’t even afford that so we listen to our favorite records at home or with friends, wondering what it would be like to have the same access to music that so-called indie luminaries like the good folks at Pitchfork enjoy) and your implication that music needs to be dumbed down for our (apparently) limited comprehension is equal parts smug and ignorant.

I read Cohen’s review before I heard The Plot Against Common Sense (there’s that ease-of-access thing again. I couldn’t quite snag an advanced copy from up here in my “cheap seat”) and my first thought was, “I will probably adore this album.” And here I am, adoring it.

Image Isn’t Anything: War Widow Review

War Widow

War Widow

2011 Coming Home Records

war widow

War Widow

Typically when I pick a record to write about there’s an overall idea woven in to give you, the reader, something more than a standard track-by-track report of what I heard and why (or why not) you should hear it, too. I sincerely wrestled with this review for about a week because, while War Widow is easily a great album, it seems to exist absent of context. At least to me.

What that means is War Widow, though having ties to known artists (Mellowdrone), seem to have appeared, fully formed and confident, out of nowhere. I’m not saying that a band can’t keep the garage door shut until they’re good and ready but in their case the aggressive mystique of the band seems to enter the room a few seconds before the music. War Widow’s website, and by proxy their overall visual vibe, is dark, self-consciously edgy and littered with disjointed S&M detritus. Like the shy kid you knew from 8th grade who suddenly became Goth in 9th grade and had a meticulously developed “dark” persona that revolved mostly around Scott Walker lyrics, scowling through his hair and scratching anarchy symbols into the legs of his giant black cargo pants with a hobby knife, War Widow appear to be trying to impress upon you just how dangerous their music is with contrasty images of women in bondage poses and cat fangs and generic religious iconography. In point of fact guitarist Eric Blackwell said of singer JP Russell’s lyrics “It’s like being raped while you sleep….by a muppet.” If that doesn’t set a lofty precedent then I don’t know what does.

Now, granted, War Widow IS edgy, dark and more than a little skeezy but you get that in spades from the music itself. Despite the point of this review being to extol the appeal of that music, something about the band’s image is coloring how I choose to go about talking them up. The music is certainly awesome; the music is big, grindy and not afraid to grope you in public. It’s got the aural dry-hump sleaze of Queens of the Stone Age (“Good to Go”) with the b-movie gothic synth menace of Mellowdrone (“Heaven”) wrapped up in the fuzzed-out swagger of T Rex (“One Finger”). So, yeah, it’s got a lot going for it. War Widow have really, truly crafted a great rock record and it sounds great loud, as great rock should. It’s layered and thick with a dreamy, lucid slant which fits well with their whole decadent, goth/libertarian image. Russell’s voice has an air of detached amusement and a sinister sweetness like a smiling cult leader who’s got malice just below the surface. Tracks like “Tear It Up” and “Holy Roller” amble at an ax-murderer’s pace; slowly but persistently so no matter how fast you run it’s always just a room away. The music does a great job of being everything the band wants to appear to be all on its own.

So why can’t that be enough? I’m speculating here but I don’t really think the guys in War Widow are the deviants their image implies they are; I’m sure they’ve got families and houses and cars and pay their bills and sort their recycling like everyone else. Shit, even the guys from Insane Clown Posse wash of their ridiculous make up and sit down to eat dinner with their kids from time to time. Maybe I’m just getting old but the whole rock star image, that sexually charged, dangerous outsider, is-he-gonna-rock-me-or-rape-me thing is more or less worthless in comparison to the music. A scuffed up  image of a girl deep-throating a crucifix doesn’t make the album sound better and it doesn’t improve the image of the musicians in my mind. I’d be fine knowing that War Widow are three guys about my age wearing t-shirts and jeans playing music in a rented practice space. I was never really a huge fan of Metallica but when I saw images of them recording, James Hetfield wearing reading glasses, Kirk Hammett without product in his hair, Lars… well Lars still looked like a douchebag but the point is seeing those guys as actual people made the music BETTER for me. I was under no assumption that Metallica lived in an abandoned machine shop living on rock and eating only what they killed. For some the carefully crafted image of a band might enhance their appreciation for them, and in some cases (namely mid-90’s U2) it can work to add a layer of charisma and theatrics that you didn’t know was there. And I’m not saying War Widow are huge phonies on the level of, say, Lady Gaga or Marilyn Manson but they’re definitely trying to sell an image and I don’t think they need it.

So I suppose the theme of this review is that image isn’t everything and often times isn’t even necessary. If a band can rip out a thoroughly good album like War Widow then that’s enough for me. If I pull back the curtain and see something that resembles myself? Well, really that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Anything else is just deceptive marketing.

Nine Types of… Shit, I Had Something for This

Long-time readers of Bollocks! may remember that we used to have a pretty effective Imaginary Secretary here at Bollocks! HQ and you may or may not be wondering whatever became of her. There was a bit of an incident surrounding the last TV on the Radio album, 2008’s Dear Science, after which she quietly left our offices, never to return. I wasn’t given a concrete reason for her sudden departure, but I suspect that the Dear Science Incident might have had something to do with it.

But just the other day, completely out of the blue, she wandered back into Bollocks! HQ, wanting to talk. Apparently, the job market is pretty lousy for imaginary secretaries (I hear Tom Cruise recently fired his). We had what I thought was a pretty good conversation, which I’ve helpfully transcribed for you below.

Me: Well, well, well. The Prodigal Secretary returns.

Imaginary Secretary: You don’t know what “prodigal” means, do you?

Me: I’ll ask the questions here, Imaginary Former Secretary. What brings you back to Bollocks! HQ?

Imaginary Secretary: I’m going to be honest with you. There’s very little work right now for Imaginary Secretaries —

Me: I hear Tom Cruise is hiring.

Imaginary Secretary: Forget it. I don’t like to work with crazy people.

Me: So you’re not here to ask for your old job back?

Imaginary Secretary: (laughs) I had some good times here.

Me: Why’d you leave? Was it the Dear Science thing?

Imaginary Secretary: That was part of it. The other part was… well, you know how some offices have Casual Friday? It’s usually an option. People dress casually if they want to. I didn’t really appreciate your Mandatory Naked Time Fridays.

Me: moonbeam loves Mandatory Naked Time Fridays.

Imaginary Secretary: moonbeam is a hippie. Hippies love being naked more than they love food.

Me: You’ve got a point. So if I changed Mandatory Naked Time Fridays to Optional Naked Time Fridays, you’d take your job back?

Imaginary Secretary: I think so. Wait. What’s this we’re listening to?

Me: It’s the new TV on the Radio album, Nine Types of Light. I’ve been thinking of calling it “Nine Types of Awesome” for my review, but I feel like I should come up with something better.

Imaginary Secretary: Oh shit. How many times have you listened to this album in a row?

Me: What, today? I dunno. Like… (counting on fingers) probably only seven.

Imaginary Secretary: Are the doors locked?

Me: No, of course not.

Imaginary Secretary: (taking a cautious step toward the door) Does that mean this album is worse than Dear Science?

Me: I don’t think so. I like both albums a lot. I think TV on the Radio has achieved a pretty high level of consistent awesomeness. They’re one of the few bands that can spend a ton of time fucking around in the studio and turn out a really excellent record.

Imaginary Secretary: Unlike, say, R.E.M.?

Me: What do you mean?

Imaginary Secretary: Admit it: R.E.M. should have strict time limits imposed on them when they go into the studio and there should be signs on several of the buttons and boards that read, “Please don’t touch these, lest you make another Around the Sun.”

Me: But Collapse Into Now was awesome.

Imaginary Secretary: You say that, but when was the last time you listened to it?

Me: I’ve been busy.

Imaginary Secretary: Doing what?

Me: Well, listening to Nine Types of Light, for one thing. This album is fucking fantastic.

Imaginary Secretary: It is pretty good. And I didn’t think I’d ever be able to listen to TV on the Radio again after what you did when Dear Science came out.

Me: Well, I’ve grown as a person.

Imaginary Secretary: I have my doubts about that. What’s this song called?

Me: It’s called “You.” As in “You’re the only one I ever loved.”

Imaginary Secretary: It’s beautiful. Some of these songs have a sort of funky dance vibe to them that I really like.

Me: Yeah, “Second Song” is like that. It’s a little bit Bee Gees but I still like it. You know what else I’d like?

Imaginary Secretary: In no particular order: a cup of coffee, me to hold all of your calls, and to spend the afternoon listening to Nine Types of Light, hopefully while remembering to let your staff go home at a reasonable hour.

Me: Pretty much. But why not make it two cups of coffee, and you can listen to the album with me?

Imaginary Secretary: I don’t drink coffee.

Me: Tea, then.

Imaginary Secretary: Okay. Does that mean I have my job back?

Me: As far as I’m concerned, Imaginary Secretary, you never lost it.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon, drinking coffee and tea, and listening to Nine Types of Light Awesome. And, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t lock everyone in the office. But at the end of the day, no one wanted to leave. Coffees and teas turned into beers and mint juleps (my Imaginary Secretary’s drink of choice), pizzas were ordered, and the album spun on into the night. 

And into the next day. Which is today. I think. All I know is that pretty much everyone at Bollocks! HQ right now is in dire need of a shower. Also, drunk on mint juleps, my Imaginary Secretary revealed that she had a framed Roger Dean album cover above her bed (I assume it’s a Yes album cover, but she didn’t say).  

Anyway, the things you need to know about Nine Types of Light are as follows: 1) Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone are strong contenders for this year’s Curtis Mayfield Award for the Acceptable Use of a Falsetto at the Bollocks! Awards; 2) if, like me, you are fairly confident that banjos cannot be used in blatantly gorgeous music, “Killer Crane” will serve you your words with a side of garlic fries; 3) TV on the Radio has become almost dangerously good at writing strong melodies; 4) Nine Types of Light continues the band’s proud tradition of being totally fucking awesome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour mint julep and Guinness on some Frosted Mini Wheats and take a shower. Good day!

Turn It Up Until the Cops Come

If there is some sort of Presidential or Congressional Medal for Fan Service, Atmosphere should probably plan a trip through Washington, D.C. very soon. The Minnesota rap duo have a habit of filling the time between proper releases with awesome little gifts for the people who allow them to do this for a living. Between 2005’s stellar You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having and 2008’s even more stellar When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold, Atmosphere dropped – for free – a “party” album called Strictly Leakage which probably ranks right behind When Life Gives You Lemons as one of the two best hip-hop releases of 2008.

Of course, a follow-up to When Life Gives You Lemons will be a most welcome thing whenever it gets here. Until it does, Atmosphere has kindly decided to release 2 EPs on one disc (some of us would call that an album, being 12 tracks and all) and they’ve given the whole package the unwieldy full title of To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs. We’ll be calling it To All My Friends for short and whether you think it’s an EP or an LP, you can assure yourself of one thing: like the bulk of Atmosphere’s recorded output, To All My Friends is fucking awesome.

Pitchfork’s review of To All My Friends, which was mostly positive, contained a pretty hefty jab at When Life Gives You Lemons for its tendency to use (gasp!) real instruments. The P-forkers accused Slug (MC Sean Daley) and Ant (DJ Anthony Davis) of aspiring to be Gym Class Heroes, an accusation every bit as baseless as Pitchfork’s assertion that Sufjan Stevens is some kind of musical wizard. In fact, Sufjan Stevens is a trust fund kid’s Andrew Bird. Pitchfork isn’t wrong to be nervous about the use of live instruments in hip-hop, though: the usual result is something horrifying known as rap/rock, which seems to be all frat kids can come up with when rapping around a real live rhythm section. Here’s a test: can you name any good rap/rock bands? No? Me either. But Pitchfork is missing two crucial points that set Atmosphere’s use of real instruments in a different class than, say, Linkin Park. First: while there is a certain rock undercurrent to a lot of Atmosphere’s instrumentation, some of it is clearly soul and R&B based, creating funkier rhythms for Slug to flow over. Second, Slug writes better lyrics than your average Gym Class Hero or any of their ilk. I realize that’s not hard, so allow me to clarify: Slug writes better lyrics than the bulk of his hip-hop contemporaries and lyrics matter a lot in hip-hop, maybe more than in any other style of music. Besides, attributing the shittiness of Gym Class Heroes to their use of live instruments is overlooking a whole pile of more terrible features of their music. Like collaborations with Fallout Boy on songs that steal their chorus melodies from Supertramp. But – and I can’t stress this enough – Gym Class Heroes (and Rage Against the Machine, still one of the most overrated bands ever) notwithstanding, live band hip-hop can still be done well. If you saw De La Soul’s set at Coachella last year (or presumably anywhere else), you have a good idea of what I’m talking about.

About the time Sage Francis dropped the Lyrical Master ball and crawled up his own asshole to restyle himself as some sort of hip-hop Johnny Cash (which, you know, when you put it that way, sounds like a fuck-terrible idea), Slug picked that ball up and has been eking out Heisman-worthy yardage with it ever since, occasionally pitching on an option to fellow Rhymesayer Brother Ali. Slug crafts witty, humorous stories of life at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, a position he has had experience occupying. Even when he’s engaging in that tired old tradition of dissing other rappers, he’s legitimately better than they are – “Hope” provides the best example on To All My Friends, and it hinges on a jaunting electric guitar lick. Mostly, though, To All My Friends spends a lot of lyrical time being positive and reminding the listener to do the same. “Free Fallin” and “To All My Friends” end the album (er, EP[s]) with a one-two punch of 1) be grateful for what you have and 2) I’m grateful for what I have. Now, gratitude is nice to hear from rappers (I mentioned this in my review of Brother Ali’s Us, which you should own by now), but it struck me while listening to To All My Friends that it’s really difficult to do the whole positivity thing without sounding like a deluded idiot – Atmosphere pulls it off with style, largely because he seems to be operating in earnest. His optimism is hard-won to be sure, but that’s the best kind of optimism. If I can digress here (only slightly) for a minute, I think the reason a lot of overtly positive music (think Christian rock) sucks is because the positivity tends to exist in a vacuum. I don’t begrudge you your optimism if you haven’t suffered much, but I don’t find it very interesting either. If life has never really hurt you, of course you’re going to be positive. But if that’s the case, your life is probably pretty fucking boring. It’s much more compelling to me to see someone who can keep their head up even though life keeps throwing rocks at their face. I think Atmosphere and fellow Minnesotans the Hold Steady possess a gift for making decent positive music because they’re not just telling you to put on a happy face because Jesus loves you. Their songs acknowledge the negative aspects of life which help us appreciate our good fortune. To All My Friends will never try to kid you into thinking that everything is going to be all right because Atmosphere doesn’t believe that everything can be all right – things can be pretty good for quite a while and, if you calibrate your brain right, you can let the good shit carry you through the bad times.

Revisionist History

Gather ’round, children, and I’ll tell you how we got here, to this time of peace, prosperity, universal human respect, and free bacon for everyone who wants it. It wasn’t always like this, you know. In fact, it hasn’t been like this for very long. When did things change, you ask? Why, I’ll tell you when things changed…

It all started back in 1986, a time of great turmoil around the world. Hair metal was sweeping the globe and leaving a toxic trail of hair products in its wake. America was ruled by a senile actor President who saw Star Wars and thought a Death Star would be just an okey-dokey thing to build to shoot down Russian missiles. Due mostly to the exchange rate, things were less awful in Montreal, a city built on cocaine lasers (though nobody knew this at the time). This was why Montreal was chosen to host Expo 86, which is Canadian for “The 1986 World’s Fair.” People from around the world had gathered in Montreal to discuss transportation and communication; I know that sounds dull, but you have to remember that this was back before World’s Fairs were the orgies of music and, well, orgies that they are today. Things were so bleak in 1986 that, in order to break the monotony, people had to gather and talk about cars and phones. Sure, there was entertainment – Miles Davis even played the Expo. But Miles was aging fast – it was hard work being cool in the 80s and the effort would lead to Davis’s death in 1991, at the tender age of 64.

The Expo was going about how those things went when there was a sudden explosion at the Labatt’s Expo Theatre. The good news was that the explosion instantly killed Loverboy. The better news was that two men in new tuxedos emerged from the fire and smoke, one carrying a synthesizer and the other wielding an electric guitar. They led a pack of wild dogs, one of whom was a particularly badass drummer.

“People of 1986,” said the synthesizer guy, “I am Spencer Krug. My friend Dan Boeckner and I have come from the future to save the earth from shitty music. Do not be sad that Loverboy has perished in the conflagration that heralded our coming – Loverboy is not how the 1980s should sound. This is how the 1980s should sound.” With that, Krug and the band set up and launched immediately into a song called “Cave-O-Sapien,” a musical breath of fresh air that blew the blouses right off the young women in the crowd. Upon hearing Krug sing, “Bow your head into the wind/ my Cave-o-sapien,” Amy Grant renounced Christianity, stripped down to the buff and began grinding furiously against Princess Diana. Vice President George Bush tried to call in an air strike to stop the madness, but Johnny Cash garroted him with a guitar string, muttering, “Now I have killed a man just to watch him die.”

Next, it was Dan Boeckner’s turn to lead the band in a song called “Pobody’s Nerfect.” When Bockner sang, “I just don’t know how to stop it all,” the people realized that they didn’t know how to stop it at all. And hey, if “it” was “rock ‘n’ roll”, they didn’t really want to stop it. After Boeckner finished, a timid Bryan Adams approached, holding a Fender Stratocaster upside down. “I play guitar too,” Adams offered hopefully. Dan Boeckner punched him in the face and launched into “Yulia,” a tale of a cosmonaut left to rot in space – a “Space Oddity” with a twist of late Cold War alienation.

The crowd was in a frenzy. Miles Davis and Jacques Cousteau built a bonfire out of reefer and the smell of good weed permeated the air. A man who had, of his own volition, tattooed “This Heart’s On Fire” on his chest with blood from Bryan Adams’s broken nose yelled out between songs, “Who are you?”

Krug and Boeckner shouted, in unison, “We are Wolf Parade. We have traveled back in time to correct the mistakes of the early 1980s and usher in an era of musical bliss, world peace, and – perhaps most importantly – free bacon for anybody who wants it.” The crowd liked the sound of this and were quite impressed that two men could say so much and stay so perfectly in unison.

Wolf Parade began to play again. When Krug sang, “Oh You, Old Thing,” the crowd remembered Young Americans-era David Bowie, which led them to think of the many people who gained magical powers from sleeping with David Bowie – namely Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. And that led them to remember that this rock ‘n’ roll stuff wasn’t new and that no amount of hair product and gimmickry can replace good, old-fashioned rocking out until you break yourself. When Krug sang, “I can see into the future,” people had spontaneous visions of bands like the Hold Steady, the Screaming Females, and the Thermals and swore blood oaths to destroy their Motley Crue and Bon Jovi albums when they got home. The more Wolf Parade played, the more people realized that synthesizers don’t have to be used for evil.

The spirit of good will and raw sexual energy of the Wolf Parade Incident at Expo 86 spread out across the North American continent and then, unrestrained by borders of land or sea, it spread across the world. In England, Andrew Lloyd Webber was jailed until he promised to stop composing inane musicals. After 12 years in jail, Webber agreed and went on to a successful career as a certified public accountant. The Chinese government freed Tibet, the Berlin Wall came down, and Ronald Reagan stopped ignoring AIDS and poor people. The Chicago Cubs, fueled by the awesome power of improved 80s music, won an unprecedented five straight World Series, from 1986 to 1991. Upon his death in that same year, Miles Davis’s face was carved into Mt. Rushmore by order of America’s greatest president, Kurt Vonnegut. A rather obscure novelist at the time of his election, Mr. Vonnegut went on to negotiate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine (in a trilateral agreement with Canada, President Vonnegut was able to promise both nations first crack at new Wolf Parade albums, a full week before the street date in the rest of the world) before signing the “What the Fuck Were We Thinking” Treaty of 1992 that led to the nuclear free world that your generation now takes for granted.

And all that because Wolf Parade recognized that the 80s could’ve sounded a lot better and had the balls to go back in time and do something about it. What’s that? You don’t believe me? If none of the stuff I just said happened, then why is there a Wolf Parade album called Expo 86 that documents the whole thing? Answer me that, you little smartasses! And get me some fucking bacon!

Forgiveness Rock Record is Really Fucking Good

As a band, Broken Social Scene is like that really brilliant student in your class who occasionally, mid-book report, takes you on an agonizing detour from the salient facts into a windy labyrinth of shit that he or she thinks is really fascinating but which is, in fact, boring as all hell. That was for all you teachers out there. To stay with the metaphor, though, the best Broken Social Scene songs are amazing and the worst will leave you scratching your head and saying, “What the fuck am I listening to?” and not in that interesting, Captain Beefheart kind of way.

But seriously, Broken Social Scene (BSS, for you overly acronym-happy people out there) is fucking amazing when they’re on and when they’re not on, well, they range from interesting to infuriatingly long-winded. I don’t want to make a distinction between accessible/not-accessible because I think it makes bands sound like aloof elitists, which – granted – some bands are (*cough* Interpol *cough*). Broken Social Scene is plenty “accessible” – they’re a fucking rock band and to prove it, they’ve released an album helpfully entitled Forgiveness Rock Record. It’s not a Forgiveness Post-Rock Record or a Forgiveness Shoegaze Record (thank dog for that), but a nicely layered, mostly expertly performed rock record.

Does it rock? Hell yes, it rocks! Right out of the gate. Unlike Broken Social Scene’s previous two albums, where it took some sorting to get the wheat and chaff into distinct piles (I know You Forgot It In People was pretty awesome, but it’s okay to love it and also admit that it has a tendency to meander), Forgiveness Rock Record cuts right to the chase with lovingly layered instrumental parts propping up some truly excellent melodies. It’s as though, after two records, Broken Social Scene has decided that it’s okay for your song to have an actual chorus. Although it should surprise no one that a band that features Metric’s Emily Haines  is good at crafting pop songs. Forgiveness Rock Record, a longish fourteen tracks, makes its length forgivable by boasting the likes of “World Sick,” “Texico Bitches” (my current favorite. It’s really too bad “BP” doesn’t fit the rhyme scheme) and “All to All” – and that’s just the first half of the album.

At this point, I have to wonder if I’m aided in my love of this Broken Social Scene record by being blissfully ignorant of the solo/side projects of most of Broken Social Scene’s members. I know Feist’s stuff (it’s okay) and Emily Haines’s stuff both with Metric and Soft Skeleton (she, by the way, has to have one of the best voices in music. Listen to Fantasies and argue otherwise. I’ll call you names, a little trick known as the Christopher Hitchens Standard Debate Tactic), but I don’t really know what Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning’s albums sounded like. Wait, I did listen to the Brendan Canning album; it bored me to tears. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I benefit from not knowing (or much caring) what makes Broken Social Scene an indie rock supergroup. Besides, they weren’t an indie rock supergroup when they started – they were a bunch of friends who liked playing music and made an album together. Luckily for us, that album was You Forgot It In People but unfortunately, it was followed with the musical identity-crisis that was Broken Social Scene, an album that saw the band kinda lose their sense of humor and their sense of play, two elements that I think are essential to good Broken Social Scene music. The musicians in this band are so talented that they can throw out a lot of musical ideas, different rhythms, textures, and dynamics, and still – on their good stuff – come up with something that sounds relatively loose. I hate using the term “collective” to describe a band, but Broken Social Scene’s best moments make that tag sound less ridiculous.

Forgiveness Rock Record never really missteps, although the instrumental “Meet Me in the Basement” is too long (I know it’s not quite four minutes long, but it needs to be not quite two minutes long). Still, “Meet Me in the Basement” is tolerable because it represents, to me, a band that is playing in every sense of the word. When you play like that, sometimes you stumble onto pure musical bliss (“Art House Director” is just wall-t0-wall fun. If I were making you a mix CD for this summer, I’d put “Art House Director” on it. But I’m not gonna do that. Unless you ask me real nice) and sometimes you don’t quite get around to anything, but Broken Social Scene seems to have lost any reason they had to not swing for the fences every time out. Good thing, too – I realize this might be indie blasphemy but, start to finish, Forgiveness Rock Record is Broken Social Scene’s best album. It’s so good that I just want to pretend it’s the one that came after You Forgot It In People.

I realize it sounds like I hated Broken Social Scene, but I assure you I don’t hate that album. To hate something requires an excitement of energy that Broken Social Scene just couldn’t inspire. I literally don’t remember a goddamn thing about that album and, as I listen to Emily Haines knock “Sentimental X’s” out of the fucking park while I write this, I don’t miss anything about Broken Social Scene’s second record.

At the end of the day, Forgiveness Rock Record does what I suspect a lot of bands wish their music could do: it has a broad scope without ever sounding like it’s trying to have a broad scope. It’s arty, indie, poppy, topical, and, just in time for your summer mix CDs and makeout parties, a helluva lot of fun. If “indie” were ever to become a legitimate genre tag for an actual style of music (and who honestly gives a fuck if that happens?), that style might best be exemplified by bands like Yo La Tengo and Broken Social Scene, bands that can meld different styles of rock and pop into something that transcends classfication beyond the words “good music.” But they can have that debate over at Pitchfork; what’s really important here is that Forgiveness Rock Record is really fucking good. So if your friend who can’t read Bollocks! at work (where do they work, a coal mine? China? God help ’em if they work in a Chinese coal mine) asks you to sum up my review of the new Broken Social Scene album in seven words or less, just say, “Forgiveness Rock Record is really fucking good.”