Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew
roken Social Scene has always made the most unkempt of symphonies, haven’t they? They were too many people doing too many things together that couldn’t be—and shouldn’t be—teased apart. They recorded small songs that came out immense, each track seemingly funneled toward structural collapse in the studio. Many of its members had bands of their own on the side—from Apostle of Hustle and Do Make Say Think to Feist and Metric—and when they came together, those numerous takes on sound and song combined to give them their largesse, as well as their swelling, orchestral sense of pastiche.
So it’s only natural to wonder just what co-founder Kevin Drew’s “solo” project might sound like. Spirit If... is, after all, being issued as the first of the “Broken Social Scene Presents. . .” albums, with fellow co-head Brendan Canning’s to follow early next year. Recorded with Do Make Say Thinker Ohad Benchetrit and Charles Spearin over the last two years, and featuring most of Broken Social Scene scattered in bits and spots when they could make it, Spirit If... is at once just as roughly symphonic and visual as the best of the group’s past material. But it’s stripped and slivered in a way that reflects its birth—two, three, sometimes four guys in a house recording wide-eyed songs with lots of cotton and lo-fi noise around the edges. While it’s tempting to pick through the album by just where you can hear any given member’s influence, clearly Spirit If... is Drew’s baby, and Papa oughta be proud.
While the ascendant opener “Farewell to the Pressure Kids” and the frigid, lapping “Bodhi Sappy Weekend” feature the gaping, big-room sound we’ve come to associate with BSS, Spirit If... is at its most articulate when Drew’s voice is broken and his sound is bare. “TBTF” molds a simple, revolving acoustic guitar and patient kit-work by BSS’ Justin Peroff into a strident gallop, both spreading in circles around Drew’s reverie, while “Fucked Up Kid” slowly pools into the kind of weathered love song he’s long since mastered, its simplicity never unraveled by the tape manipulation and noises that slither through the mix.
Elsewhere, with its slide guitar and dusty expanses, “Broke Me Up” finds Drew in country mode. He shows a touching sense of the wastes of the heart; it’s lemon-juice music—acidic, dryly wet, with Drew sounding so tired and bound that it must have been one take and straight to bed. “Safety Bricks,” meanwhile, rolls through its melancholic bliss like so much autumn drift, and “Lucky Ones” is one of the record’s moments that shoots for BSS’ formless sense of swelling without sacrificing Drew’s barren use of song—an aimless brush with ‘yeeaaaaaahhh’s until Drew and co. finally stumble into its gorgeous chorus.
But if there’s one thing to qualify the successes of Spirit If..., it’s the album’s sixty-five minute length. The stop-start, broken motion of “Big Love” distracts from the album’s late-swoon, and the failed banner-antheming of “Backed Out on the...,” featuring Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis on lead guitar, is a more purposelessly noisy version of the kind of charmed ruckus of, say, “Almost Crimes” or “Ibi Dreams of Pavement.” And yet the whole thing closes with the drifting beauty of “Aging Faces/Losing Places,” “Bodhi Sappy Weekend,” and “When It Begins”—its most striking trio after the first—and quickly wipes away the memory of some of its excesses. “Bodhi” in particular is telling; Drew sounds like he’s fronting a band of three with fourteen ears fastened on the places where other things might have been—it’s grand and restrained, epic and home-taped. In fact, like so much of the album, it’s hard to tell just how it stretches so far and deep on so seemingly little. In that puzzle lies the reason that Spirit If... may be the second-best record any of those associated with Broken Social Scene have issued—whether together, apart, or kind of both.