When Atlanta hip-hop genius duo Outkast released their magnum opus Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, it was praised not only for its musical virtues but also its adaptive ingenuity. Essentially two separate solo records packaged together under the Outkast name, the outing catered to each artist's creative needs (read: ballooning egos). The result was a modern pop masterpiece that won a Grammy for Album of the Year and went platinum 11 times.
Toronto indie-pop collective Broken Social Scene is never going to achieve that level of commercial success. (To be honest, who can these days?) But last September the supergroup (revolving contributors have included Leslie Feist, k-os and Metric's Emily Haines) pulled an Outkast with
Vol. 1 of their Broken Social Scene Presents series. Intended as a solo album for BSS co-leader Kevin Drew, Spirit If â?¦ 's countless guest spots by Broken Social Scene members on nearly every track rendered the experiment pointless.
This month sees the release of Vol. 2 in the series, Something for All of Us, which highlights the work of Drew's right-hand man Brendan Canning. Once again, the record features pretty much everyone from BSS, but this time, Canning's unintelligible murmur takes precedence. On 'Churches Under the Stairs,â?� Canning's hushed tones mesh fluidly with loopy synth in a way that approximates the brilliance of BSS' 'Stars and Sons,â?� from 2002's You Forgot It in People. Would-be single 'Hit the Wall,â?� however, lacks the charisma ' or
at least decent hooks ' of Drew's more adventurous range.
The rest of the album is up and down. The mood's kept mellow, the jams are tidy and the vocals are lush, but melody always seems to get secreted away behind a wash of reverb or designer feedback. Some of the best moments are blink-and-you-miss-them traces and whispers. On 'Chameleon,â?� Canning drifts aimlessly in a sea of string-switch keyboards until the last minute of the song, when far-off Otis Redding horns signal a heartbreaking group chorus. Lisa Lopsinger and Amy Millan team up on 'Antique Bull,â?� which is just romantic as all hell, but, absent Canning's voice, it feels more jarring than escapist. The outing fades out on a gorgeous, high-pitched siren cry out of nowhere that counterproductively reduces the rest of the song to nothing more than a build-up.
Much of the record sounds suspiciously like the kind of music BSS made before branching out, but the stylistic diversity suggested by the title can't dress up a boring song. And with Something for All of Us, that's a lot of naked.