Hug of Thunder, the first Broken Social Scene record since 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record, is aptly named: It’s warm and familiar like an embrace, with just enough of a spark. Over 11 tracks, the band plays to their strengths and recalls some of their best moments, focussing both on pleasing longtime followers and attracting new ones. It’s a crowd pleaser in every sense of the term.
Listening to the record, you’d think the band never went on hiatus: the back-and-forth between the members is natural and effortless. The interplay between vocalists and founding members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning blend together like careful brushstrokes in a Bob Ross painting. There isn’t a hair out of place on tracks like triumphant single “Halfway Home” and Fleet Foxes-inspired “Skyline.” It’s as if someone tried to make the most Broken Social Scene of Broken Social Scene records: not only does it meet every expectation, but it hugs them tightly and doesn’t let go.
Fan favourites like Feist and Metric’s Emily Haines are in full form, and their experience with their own musical projects adds to the variety of styles at play. Highlights like the grimy “Vanity Pail Kids” and “Gonna Get Better,” whose chorus shamelessly quotes The Beatles, build on a foundation of solid instrumentation and a collaborative spirit. You can practically hear how much fun these guys are having making this music, and it’s infectious. In our interview with band member Andrew Whiteman, he noted how the band is still friends after 15 years of playing together, and it shows.
The downside of all of these good vibes is that the record doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Most of the cuts here would feel just as comfortable on previous albums like You Forgot it in People and their self-titled 2005 effort. You can definitely hear a few new influences, especially from other Canadian bands: there’s more than a little New Pornographers in the chorus of “Protest Song,” and several of these songs sound like they could have been co-written by Win Butler. But by and large, these tracks feel like they exist in a vacuum, taking notes primarily from the band’s impressive but limited discography.
This isn’t always a bad thing — there are worse bands to pull inspiration from. Those who’ve been with the band since the beginning will find a lot to love, especially those that grew up putting tracks like “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” and “Lover’s Spit” on lovelorn mixtapes. And to the band’s credit, there isn’t really a bad song in the bunch, even if some feel like retreads.
All of this is to say that Hug of Thunder is a very good record that chooses to play it safe. Like so many other albums of its kind, it starts strong, lags a little in the middle, and ends on a high note. Broken Social Scene stans will doubtlessly be pleased, and new fans will be drawn like fireflies to the charm and on display here. Just don’t expect any surprises.
Words by Max James Hill