Hug of Thunder is very much an album of anthems.
In any huge musical collective, individual artists will invariably take time out to pursue their own music, either forgoing a return or putting new albums on hold for extended periods of time. Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene has never had a set roster; members come and go, as individual fame calls for the likes of Feist or Metric. But BSS bandleader Kevin Drew has always worked around this, filling in gaps and seeking new Canadian talent.
That’s why their indefinite hiatus leading to a seven-year gap between Forgiveness Rock Record and Hug of Thunder felt so long. The former came five years after the group’s self-titled album, but that was excusable simply for the band’s collective status. They were never meant to regularly release albums every two or three years, as members wholeheartedly pursued side projects and solo efforts. BSS’s fifth album Hug of Thunder, at least, recognizes the momentousness of the group’s return with its triumphant, epic scope and reassembly of all 15 original members.
Hug of Thunder is very much an album of anthems and makes that clear from the start. After an atmospheric intro, the epic trio of “Halfway Home,” “Protest Song” and “Skyline” at once amp up the listener and prepare them for the sonic and tonal range of the album. “Halfway Home” is a more traditional indie rock anthem, with soaring multi-part choruses to match the uplifting message. The song itself wastes no time building up to this euphoria either; it opens on BSS bellowing that chorus before settling into verses. Ever the champions of gripping electric guitar lines, this single is no different and pairs it with this distorted squall of electronic noise. “Protest Song” is a much mellower track in comparison, built around funky guitar and percussion akin to that on “Fire Eye’d Boy.” Emily Haines’ unmistakable vocal swagger carries the track, balancing the bittersweet and the angry. “Skyline,” like “Halfway Home,” launches straight into things, this time with a din of acoustic guitars.
Hug of Thunder is guilty of not straying very far from the rockers that made BSS the powerhouse that they are, but it also illustrates the power of these trademark BSS anthems and how enthralling BSS’s smooth, funky shuffles can be. The ethereal title track falls under the latter category, complete with tongue-twisting talk-singing from Feist, stuttering guitar decay and a glossy chorus with ’80s gated drums. This ethereal sound is even more pervasive on the album thanks to the addition of Ariel Engle, a singer with more than a hint of Feist influence in her voice. She leads synthpop number “Stay Happy”—a track with a killer horn bridge—and offers a burst of carefree elation, while the sleek male-female vocal interplay on “Victim Lover” and the jazzy/R&B “Gonna Get Better” allow Engle to show off her broodier side.
But it is that collective aspect of the group that remains one of its greatest strengths. You can hear the collaboration on these 11 tracks and the interplay between musicians. “Victim Lover,” for one, is a track full of ideas, stacked with brassy swells, provocative harmony lines and supported throughout by a shuffling beat. Grungy “Vanity Pail Kids” erupts in a cacophony of industrial beats and squelching guitars, a departure from your typical BSS song. The interplay between that aggressive bass, brass blares, a slimy beckoning whisper and the brief explosion of a communal chorus turn the track into an onslaught of noise, but also the combination of a handful of out there ideas for BSS that come together in a cathartic rage.
Hug of Thunder may stick to the tried-and-true classics from the four previous BSS albums, but it firmly assures fans that they still have a knack for epic indie rock and crafting albums that can span everything from anthems (“Halfway Home”) to fuzzed out grunge (“Vanity Pail Kids,” “Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse”) to lo-fi chillwave (“Please Take Me with You”).