Maybe because they're Canadian and so gosh darn nice, or maybe because they were all veterans of the rock 'n' roll game before pooling their resources, but the countless musicians who make up Broken Social Scene do not need to follow the typical rules that come with being in a band. In their case, musicians come and go, guests drop by, solo records are made and become wildly successful (see: Feist), all without threatening the mothership. The amorphous group has fingers in almost every pie on the Canadian front: Metric, Stars, Land of Talk, and countless other bands have members who are part of the Scene. But even if Broken Social Scene is a collective, a few core members have shepherded the project since its inception.
One of these is Brendan Canning, who in 2008 released what could be termed a solo album, but was released as Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning: Something for All of Us.... Canning tries to explain the distinction: "There's a difference insomuch as I got to have more of my say on the record that's got my title on it. But in the same breath, there's lots of Broken Social Scene members involved." Something follows the 2007 release of founding member Kevin Drew's Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew: Spirit If..., and together these records are the modern-day equivalent of the four KISS solo albums.
The current tour takes songs from both recent records, as well as the Broken Social Scene repertoire. Canning, Drew, and drummer Justin Peroff are joined on this outing by Charles Spearin from Do Make Think Say, Andrew Whiteman from Apostle of Hustle, Sam Goldberg from Uncut, saxophonist Leon Kingstone of Synthetic Folk Hero, and vocalist Lisa Lobsinger from Reverie Sound Revue.
A tune from Spearin's brand-new solo album (which is not being released under the Broken Social Scene Presents banner) will also make the set list. Spearin recorded conversations with different people in his Toronto neighborhood, and used the recordings as a backbone for the jazz-flecked The Happiness Project. Overdubbed instruments follow the speech patterns of his subjects, and their spoken words are stretched over a musical frame to take on rhythmic and melodic components. It sounds like a gimmick, but it's an astonishing listen, giving new context to both the forms of everyday speech and the craft of musical instrumentation.
"Vanessa" turns a deaf woman's angular inflections into a flurry of piano notes, while "Vittoria" transforms a child's inarticulateness into an emcee's swaggering hook and flow. "Mrs. Morris" brings back fond memories of the foggy-voiced schoolteacher from Peanuts cartoons. The Happiness Project's genre-busting presentation will get people talking, but the record's humanistic beauty is what will endear it to listeners.
"Last year we were previewing one song in our set, and the crowd would sort of perk up at the same moment in the piece," says Canning. "I think it could be quite a universal kind of record. Gauging by the way crowds reacted to it, at the same moment every night, I think it'll be appreciated. It's definitely a different take on music, for sure."
Spearin's incredible new record is just one more satellite in the ever-expanding Broken Social Scene universe. "We used to have a family tree on our website," laughs Canning. "I mean, now it would be enormous: That was when Feist was still playing with Peaches. It's all positive. No one's making any duds. I can't complain too much."