What exactly constitutes a side project? Is there such a thing in a collective where every member’s supposed “solo” works are produced with contributions from all of their friends and bandmates? With a laid-back, messy, indie rock album this good, does that question even matter?
p. These questions are raised by the newest import from the current capital of the indie rock world, the confusingly titled Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew’s “Spirit If…” Toronto’s Broken Social Scene is an amorphous collective of area musicians that covers the entire stylistic spectrum, from the straightforward pop of Feist to the instrumental jazzy experimentalism of Do Make Say Think. The band began as a side project of Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning; four years and 17 more members later, it has become one of the most critically acclaimed rock acts of the decade.
p. “You Forgot It In People” and “Broken Social Scene (Windsurfing Nation)” stand as two of the best off-beat pop/rock albums since the turn of the century, and the band members have used this success to ply their individual talents to a larger audience. This album by Drew is the first in the “Broken Social Scene Presents” series, in which the band plays and supports one of its members’ own work.
p. Not surprisingly, the album sounds very similar to BSS; Drew is the band’s leader and frequent lead singer. Here, his semi-obscured voice is set back into the music, rarely taking full control of a song. The kitchen-sink approach to production is here too, as all the instruments (including Drew’s voice) have a close-to-equal share of the attention.
p. However, one of the most redeeming aspects of a Broken Social Scene album is the group’s genre-hopping. BSS’s best tracks range from the pseudo-rap “Windsurfing Nation” to the sunny beach-pop of “Looks Just Like the Sun” (off “Broken Social Scene (Windsurfing Nation)” and “You Forgot It in People,” respectively). Part of the fun of listening to the group is the fact that it never sticks to one style.
p. On the other hand, Drew’s full control over this album eliminates much of the different influences familiar to BSS’s sound. Many of the songs sound like the band’s most straightforward rock songs.
p. This artistic control lets Drew’s influence shine through. The band’s Pavement-like sound is still present, of course, but a newcomer to the list of BSS influences is The Boss. “Lucky Ones” is a laid-back rocker in the Springsteen vein, with a powerful riff of piano and guitar surrounding Drew’s triumphant chorus, “I know we’re gonna be the lucky ones.” In addition, the Springsteen-isms team up with sounds reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine to turn what might be a Broken Social Scene classic into a messy anthem of feedback and flying guitars in “Back Out On The…”
Drew is also influenced by his closer contemporaries. His girlfriend, Leslie Feist (Drew, you’re a lucky man), lends the album its female vocals, a staple on BSS albums, in the very Feist-like “Aging Faces/Losing Places.”
p. Overall, very few songs on “Spirit If…” match up to the best of Broken Social Scene. The eclectic sounds of the larger collective are what you hope for in a BSS album, and these results are something wholly unique. But Drew’s talents are considerable, and this is a laid-back rock album that suits a Broken Social Scene fan as well as those looking for something a bit more grounded and consistent. We can only hope that other projects are as enjoyable as this one. Hopefully, the momentum from the band working together on each other’s songs will lead to an even more experimental and genre-exploding album from the entire collective.