there's a head-scratching im-probability to the sudden success of Broken Social Scene.Frothing five-star reviews from critics, pole position atop forthcoming best-of-2002 lists and stories of local shops selling hundreds of copies of the group's You Forgot It In People disc in a couple weeks are rare enough occurrences for an independent band, but especially for an ensemble whose approach runs counter to every basic rule on forming a successful group.
Their structure alone should have sunk Broken Social Scene.
As absurd as it sounds, Broken Social Scene is an underground supergroup, an ever-expanding ensemble of instrument-switching Toronto pop musicians, built around the core of Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin and Andrew Whiteman, but often featuring singer/songwriter Jason Collett, members of Stars, Do Make Say Think and Metric and whoever else seems to be in town.
Egos are submerged, friends pitch in when a vocalist or guitarist is out of town, and as the name suggests, there's a genuine sense of community around the band. All of this has helped, in some way, to make You Forgot It In People one of the most charming, memorable records of the year.
"What's great about this group is that it's completely flexible, depending on who's around and what we want to do," Drew explains over tea in his downtown house.
"Kevin's done a really good job of setting it up so that there's a core band that can play shows and the rest of us can come in and out," Spearin adds. "It gets bigger and smaller as necessary. We did a show with just three people and it was great."
"I like us when we're small and I love us when we're large," Drew interjects. "We're whatever we want to be."
It's the group's infrequent, constantly evolving live shows that can be confusing. With so many different contributors in the band, the sound of Broken Social Scene shifts from tune to tune, so you never quite know what incarnation of the band is going to show up for the concert, or whether they'll play anything from their wildly celebrated new record.
"It's just so much more enjoyable to write songs than to work out the details and try to recreate the sounds on the record, which is what we've had to do lately," Spearin offers. "Back in the past, jazz musicians would write material and tour and at the end of it they'd have a record, so the record was an ending place rather than a beginning. I feel a lot closer to that."
"At this show, we're going to play music from the record, but that might be it for a while," Drew nods. "We're going to play Wavelength in a few weeks and we certainly aren't going to play any of those tunes. We're going to make up new stuff and have fun.
"We find it ridiculously easy to come up with new songs. Before we went into the studio, we had 70 songs, and since the record's come out, we've written two more. Everyone has suggestions and none of them come from the same place."
Recorded over nine months and immaculately shaped and sculpted by mad-scientist producer Dave Newfeld, the variety of different songs on You Forgot It In People is Broken Social Scene's greatest strength.
Drew might jokingly describe the record as a compilation disc, but the songs hang together remarkably well. Still, it's the sheer diversity here that gets you. If you get the impression that they could create an entire disc of Tortoisey dub cuts or shimmering pop songs, you might be right.
"Right now, we have five guitars, and we're really trying to chill that out," Drew laughs. "It works, but I'd also like to come in and have five keyboards. We have the freedom to change it because of what the band is."email@example.com
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), tonight (Thursday, December 12), $10-$12. 416-538-7405.