Being a Canadian supergroup has to be tough these days. U.S. passport checks for a dozen-plus band members? Bring a sleeping bag. Kool-Aid jokes implying that your music commune is a cult? Demoralizing. Labatt Blue runs for guest artists, roadies, girlfriends, and merch flacks while on tour? More expensive than you’d think.
But if there’s an argument for the collective musical process, let it be Broken Social Scene’s third full-length and the bonus EP that comes with the first pressing. Together, these sprawling, unwieldy, frustrating, genre-snubbing constellations boast jazzy rock jams (“Fire Eye’d Boy”), slide-guitar-fed wank-offs (“Handjobs for the Holidays”), ambient squall (“Finish Your Collapse and Stay for Breakfast”), and even a paean to an indie-rock slacker mainstay (“Ibi Dreams of Pavement [A Better Day],” which features bandleader Kevin Drew on nasal, Stephen Malkmus-style vocals). The Tortoise-y post-rock noodling of 2004’s Feel Good Lost is a half-baked memory.
Powered by a mind-boggling assortment of guitars, strings, wind and brass instruments, drums, synths, and exotic sound effects, BSS build off their rock-operatic 2003 album, You Forgot It in People, for a multifaceted, densely layered sound that’s enhanced by guests as diverse as the Dears’ Murray Lightburn and alt-rapper k-os. Even “Swimmers,” which allows one band member — Metric singer/keyboardist Emily Haines — to sashay into the spotlight, seems like the musical equivalent of an AA meeting, with each musician offering his input on the theme. Maybe that’s why the emo-acoustic ballad “All My Friends” packs a megaphone wallop: Singing the words you’d normally save for your diary while standing before a big group of your closest friends is tantamount to writing a song for the whole world to hear.
In contrast to BSS’s all-is-one-and-one-is-all mantra, Emily Haines is Metric — at least as far as her band’s sophomore album is concerned. Initially, Live It Out plays like a poppy salvo against BSS’s cerebral forays, with the post-punk delirium tremens of “Handshakes” counterbalancing the synth-fueled blurps of “Police and the Private.” But even in these party-ready dance-rock songs, Haines isn’t afraid to let you feel her pain. The brass-knuckles rave-up of “Combat Baby,” from Metric’s debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, has been supplanted by more cynical feminist wisdom: “Every speed on our knees / Is crawling,” Haines sings on “Glass Ceiling.” And when she really opens up on “Ending Start,” you understand the complexity of what she’s feeling — the sense that no matter how big the group surrounding you, you can still feel alone.
GRADES: Metric – B+; BSS – B+