But the qualities that are so often associated with Broken Social Scene – the instrumental overload, chaotic crescendos and big, brass-section blow-outs – are downplayed in favour of qualities that, up until now were heard mostly on rare b-sides and midnight BSS moments: Drew’s affectingly confessional and conversational songwriting and melancholic melodies, which, with the exception of You Forgot It In People’s “I’m Still Your Fag” and “Lover’s Spit,” have rarely had the opportunity to stand unadorned, on their own terms.
You can gauge the difference on Spirit If…’s titanic opening song, “Farewell to Pressure Kids,” which at first sounds like something that rolled in from Broken Social Scene’s self-titled 2005 release (and that’s to be expected, given that some of these recordings date back to January 2005, when BSS were still finishing their album). After introducing its central three-note riff, “Farewell to Pressure Kids” explodes into a cacophonous carnival of psychedelic swirls, its vocal melody almost suffocated by the density of texture. But two minutes in, the hurricane force comes to an abrupt halt and the song is reborn as a mellow mediation, that same vocal melody rising to the fore, free to breathe. This surprise turn lays down the playing field for what plays out over the rest of the record. These are songs of liberation and rumination, lamenting what we have lost, but still grateful for what we’ve got. It’s an album populated by “F–ked Up Kids” leading “Frightening Lives,” but it recognizes that, in the company of friends, we can be “The Lucky Ones.”
If the lines between Kevin Drew: Broken Social Scene Founder and Kevin Drew: Solo Artist occasionally blur on Spirit If…, it’s simply because such distinctions are irrelevant in the bigger picture, and the songs on Spirit If… easily reconcile the contrast between the enormous and the intimate. For every gentle, snare-brushed turn like “Safety Bricks” or “Broke Me Up,” there’s a mutant, synth-freaked mash-up (“Big Love”), an open-freeway rock anthem (“Backed Out On The…”) or celebratory group hug (“Lucky Ones”). On top of every Broken Social Scene member making an appearance, the guest list just keeps getting bigger and bigger: this is, after all, the first album in the history of rock music to feature guest contributions from J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Scott Kannberg (Pavement), piano master Gonzales, Joules Scott-Key (Metric), Andrew Kenny (The American Analog Set), Dave Mitchell (Do Make Say Think) and, yes, even Canadian FM-radio icon Tom Cochrane.
Like every record he’s ever played on, Spirit If… is ultimately a document of Drew’s current social scene. But unlike the last BSS album, there was no anxiety over living up to expectation or coordinating everyone’s solo-career schedules. If anything, Spirit If… represents a return to the original BSS ethos: music made in good homes, recorded casually with whoever was around – no pressure, no deadlines, no worries, lots of love.