Broken Social Scene

You Forgot it in People

(Paper Bag/Arts & Crafts; 2002/2003)

By Peter Hepburn | 5 December 2005

As we approach the end of the year it seems prudent to finally get around to reviewing an album that will, or at least should, appear on most critics' lists of best albums of 2003. Broken Social Scene's You Forgot it in People is one of those rare albums that hits you with its pure inventiveness and its ability to push the boundaries of pop music. In this respect, as well as the fact that the members of the group are indeed Canadians, You Forgot it in People deserves the same respect awarded to the other great pop albums of the year: The New Pornographers' Electric Version and The Unicorns' Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

You Forgot it in People is the sophomore release from the Toronto collective Broken Social Scene. The band has 10 members, and another five guests appear on the album, a rather significant upgrade from the two-member approach taken on their debut Feel Good Lost. The members come from a number of the experimental, prog-rock Toronto groups (KC Accidental, Raising the Fawn, Do May Say Think, etc.), and the musical background of the bandmates certainly contributes to creativity and especially the control of space that is seen throughout the record. Whereas The Unicorns album was driven by themes of mortality and death, and the New Pornographers' by more hooks than allowed by U.S. law, You Forgot it in People has a feel of fragility and centers on issues of time; at the end of "Almost Crimes," for instance, I'm convinced the refrain is "I think it's almost time" rather than "I think it's almost crimes."

The album opens with the two-minute instrumental "Capture the Flag." Shimmering keyboards introduce the track and an intermittent bass line, eventually taken up by a horn section, builds it to its apex at which point "KC Accidental" opens. The song begins hesitantly only to be suddenly powered on by a terrific drum beat and guitar lines. Vocals don't come in till almost 4 minutes into the album, and even here they are unintelligible, but are beautifully complemented by a violin, and then the drums and guitar crash back in, building the song up only to let it fade out. "Stars and Sons," one of my favorite tracks on the album, begins with a lightly plucked guitar and the another propulsive drum line drives the track. The lyrics here are again almost unintelligible but the delivery is flawless --the light, feathery vocals perfectly complement the guitar while the drums and hand claps persistently drive the track forward. For about 15 seconds in the middle of the song the drum line drops out, leaving mainly guitar and bass (and most likely many other instruments I can't even recognize--the other members of the band must be earning their keep somehow), and when they come back it's one of those perfectly triumphant moments that pop music tries so hard to deliver.

"Almost Crimes" uses a drum line that at first seems likes a clear Iggy Pop rip-off ("Lust for Life"), but these guys are no Jet; a multi-guitar attack leads the track up as the drum line splits and the vocals double out to a great chorus. The track builds into one of the hardest-rocking on the album and one imagines that delivery of the song live could be fantastic. "Looks just like the Sun" is built around much slower, but no less intricate percussion than any of the previous tracks, and is centered on a simple, repetitive guitar line. The vocals are equally repetitive, taking on an almost looped quality at points, but when they break the mold they are especially beautiful. By the second half of the song background singers have been introduced and sampled vocals are being spliced in liberally. The song completes and the last 40 seconds of the track build a new melody, which is overpowered by an electronic whirr that leads into the next song.

"Pacific Theme" has influences all over the place, most seemingly cheesy 60's pop, at least in the early instrumentation and especially the horn section. Unlike the album's first instrumental, "Pacific Theme" really seems to be a fully developed song. The instrumentation is huge and multilayered; as certain aspects retreat new elements become clear and keep the song interesting. The first side of the album finishes with Emily Haines getting her shot on lead vocals and her fragile alto, perfectly complemented by a violin line, makes the song. The lyrics are repetitive and the track eventually takes on a droning feel, but it works well to close out the first half of the album.

"Cause = Time" serves as a far better opener for the second half of the album than "Capture the Flag" did for the first, although there is a clear difference between the two halves. The track has another great driving drum line and multilayered guitars, but now the vocals emerge from the depths and appear both far clearer and far stronger. The third instrumental on the album, "Late Nineties Bedroom Guitar Rock for Missionaries" is another great example of how the experimental background of the band serves them extremely well. Built around an off-beat bass thump, the track uses simple guitar plucking for most of the song and then some remarkable percussion, keyboard, and guitar to create what could well be the best instrumental on the album.

For the first minute or so of "Shampoo Suicide" one is tempted to conclude that the first mediocre track on the album has come up (no, "Capture the Flag" really isn't). But then between 1:28 and 1:34 (when the track suddenly explodes) there is a change in the syncopation of the drum line that is one of the slyest, most clever moments on the entire record. From there the song just gets better-the instrumentation just builds as fuzzed-out, unintelligible lyrics are introduced and fade in and out of the guitar lines. As "Shampoo Suicide" fades out the listener is dragged into a song that immediately jumped out at me, "Lover's Spit." The song is pure pop music, complete with vocals that will make you swear Jeff Buckley didn't walk into the Mississippi six years ago. The lyrics on the track are the clearest they've been at any stage on the album up to this point, and the instrumentation is best described as gorgeous. Coming off the submerged vocals of the last track, hearing "all these people drinking lover's spit / sit around and clean their face with it" come blaring with full clarity is startling and wonderful --another example of the excellent production at work on the album.

"I'm Still Your Fag" is the only song that is really centered on vocals. The percussion is still done expertly, and a well placed trumpet section midway through the song helps it along, but the guitar lines and rhythm section seems almost hesitant in sections. "Pitter Patter Goes my Heart" finishes the album off with one more instrumental and doesn't really grab me as much as many of the other tracks, although it does seem a fitting finale.

So what sets this album apart from all the other hundreds of pop albums that have come out this year? It seems that there are basically two things: mastery of instrumentation and production, both of which set-up the overall fragile, almost damaged atmosphere of the album. The experimental background of the musicians allows for some really terrific instrumentation and are able to create huge, lush soundscapes and then also minimize the sound at times to create a more personal environment. The percussion is especially well done on the album, and there is the occasional perfect violin or trumpet line. The production on the album, coming from David Newfeld, is nothing short of virtuosic. This is certainly the single best produced album I have heard this year, which is saying a lot considering there was a Nigel Godrich-produced album earlier this year. The music is at times awash in a sea of reverb but then crystallizes perfectly at points to provide moments of great beauty. These two factors come together perfectly to create an album with 13 nearly perfect tracks unified into a proper album. Which isn't too shabby for a pop record.